Eating Wyoming: Authentic Chicago Deli Meets Traditional Italy At Casper's Steamboat Deli

Frequent customers of the downtown Steamboat Deli & Outlet in Casper say the eatery is more than just a spot to grab a quick sandwich, it’s an authentic Chicago deli experience with a unique Italian twist -- all created by a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef.

DK
Dale Killingbeck

February 10, 20246 min read

The Steamboat Deli offers artisan sandwiches and scratch-made Italian meals.
The Steamboat Deli offers artisan sandwiches and scratch-made Italian meals. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

CASPER — Frequent customers of the downtown Steamboat Deli & Outlet say the eatery is more than just a spot to grab a quick sandwich, it’s an authentic Chicago deli experience with a unique Italian twist.

That acclaim, they say, stems who's behind the menu: a trained Chicago chef who does her food research and knows how to make authentic Italian cuisine that goes along with the Italian songs streaming from the overhead speakers.

Toni Dovalina, 71, was recruited in 2017 — the year Casper was the focus of the total solar eclipse — by a former partner to open the sandwich and retail store that not only offers scratch-made food, but Wyoming wear. She has since bought out the partner and is using her food expertise to expand the menu that keeps the regulars coming back.

“I grew up in Chicago and my father was a restauranteur, very successful for many decades, and then I went to culinary school,” she said. “I went for a couple of years and then ended up training under some very good chefs. The primary mentor I had was Fernand Guttierrez, the executive chef at the Ritz Carlton in Chicago.”

Her training led to work as a consultant for restaurants, where she would design menus and help launch new concepts for restaurant owners. She learned her culinary skills at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago.

And now her Casper deli becomes the city’s hottest Italian restaurant for dinner three days a week at 251 Center St..

Casper’s Toni Dovalina is a Chicago-trained chef who now owns and operates Steamboat Deli at 251 Center St. in Casper.
Casper’s Toni Dovalina is a Chicago-trained chef who now owns and operates Steamboat Deli at 251 Center St. in Casper. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

Italian Dinners

Doing new things is what Dovalina still believes is important for success. On the wall of the deli is a dinner menu of Italian cuisine that she offers Thursday through Saturday.

“I have been experimenting and got a liquor license and am now doing dinners,” she said. “It’s a very limited menu, three entrees, two salads, and there is always two or three appetizers.”

Almost everything is made from scratch, including the sauces and desserts. She does not make her own pasta because it would require a much larger kitchen.

During a visit by Cowboy State Daily, the entrees included cioppino — or Italian fisherman’s stew that offers shrimp, muscles, clam and cod in a tomato-based broth with fennel. Other entrees were lasagna with Italian sausage and rigatoni featuring chicken, sun-dried tomato, mushrooms and a cream sauce.

There is a wine and beer menu that is available as well.

“We do sell nice little cocktails as well,” she said.

Sandwiches

On the deli side during the day, there are 11 sandwiches to choose from, four salads and dessert options that include cannolis, lemon bread, cinnamon coffee cake and chocolate chip cookies.

“I feel like our sandwiches are chef-driven,” Dovalina said. “We roast our own beef. We poach and roast our own chicken. We do the very popular Cuban sandwich, so we will marinate our pork for 24 hours in a Cuban marinade and then slow roast it for five hours.”

Dovalina said her Italian deli meats are all imported along with the condiments, and the deli makes its own dressing from scratch. Some of the bread for the sandwiches — such as for the turkey and Havarti — comes from a supplier in Montana.

“We have less processed sandwiches, they are a little more artisan,” she said. “I try to get breads that have very few preservatives.”

The Steamboat Deli’s hot sandwiches includes the popular hot Italian beef, Chicago style.

Dovalina has cut back on her retail clothing space to make room for about 40 people inside and in the summer a patio and deck.

“I am hoping to do some remodeling this spring for the dining room and put in a more full-service hot kitchen for more hot food,” she said.

  • Cioppino, or fisherman’s stew, is a popular Italian dish offered at the Steamboat Deli.
    Cioppino, or fisherman’s stew, is a popular Italian dish offered at the Steamboat Deli. (Steamboat Deli via Facebook)
  • Hot sandwiches at the Steamboat Deli include the hot pastrami and swiss sandwich.
    Hot sandwiches at the Steamboat Deli include the hot pastrami and swiss sandwich. (Steamboat Deli via Facebook)
  • Linguini with garlic toast.
    Linguini with garlic toast. (Steamboat Deli via Facebook)
  • The Steamboat Deli's version of a shrimp po'boy.
    The Steamboat Deli's version of a shrimp po'boy. (Steamboat Deli via Facebook)
  • The homemade lasagna and rigatoni.
    The homemade lasagna and rigatoni. (Steamboat Deli via Facebook)
  • Nothing hits the spot like a hot sandwich and soup.
    Nothing hits the spot like a hot sandwich and soup. (Steamboat Deli via Facebook)
  • Thursday through Saturday nights feature authentic Italian specials for dinner.
    Thursday through Saturday nights feature authentic Italian specials for dinner. (Steamboat Deli via Facebook)

Helped Open Jackson Restaurant

Dovalina came to Wyoming when she was recruited to help open Nani’s Genuine Pasta House in Jackson, and worked there for a couple of years.

“We got great reviews,” she said.

After marrying a man who wanted to move to Casper, she arrived in 1994, and found that the culture was a little different than in Jackson.

“It was hard to get a chef position here,” she said. “Everyone wanted a male chef.”

She did some work in local restaurants, traveled to Chicago, and then one day received a call from her former mentor’s wife who wanted her to come to Baltimore and work doing food research for a company that provided sandwiches, salads, soups, and more for airports, hotels, hospitals and gas stations.

“I went to Baltimore and did food research and development, learned a lot about fresh food and packaging and shelf life,” she said. “That’s where I became trained in HACCP (hazardous analysis critical control points) that was something NASA developed in the 1960s when they were putting man on the moon. … They didn’t want their astronauts to get sick.”

That training was required for the company to send food across state lines. She developed recipes and tested them for shelf life.

“That was interesting, that was a whole new facet of culinary that I was introduced to,” she said. “It’s interesting that you can be in the food business and constantly learn something new.”

Name Change

The deli’s name when it initially opened was called “Pokes.” But the University of Wyoming had some objection to that because of its licensing. So, the facility needed something different.

“One of our former employees said, ‘Why don’t you do Steamboat?’ So, I looked into Steamboat and we were allowed to use it,” she said. “And we thought it was a good idea.”

For the future, Dovalina would like to see her place transform to “Steamboat Deli and Trattoria” to reflect a more Italian emphasis.

“I’m hesitant about using the word ‘trattoria,’ because so many people don’t know what that is,” she said.

A typical day sees Dovalina arriving early to start prep work. She has four part-time employees and is looking for a potential fifth. She still enjoys making people happy.

“This is not an operation that is going to make me rich where I can retire,” she said. “But it does fulfill the sense of: ‘I like to provide a wonderful meal that is also affordable, but will also allow me to keep the business open.’”

  • Authentic Italian desserts.
    Authentic Italian desserts. (Steamboat Deli via Facebook)
  • Wyoming clothing is also a part of the deli and owner Toni Dovalina said July and December are her biggest months for that part of her business.
    Wyoming clothing is also a part of the deli and owner Toni Dovalina said July and December are her biggest months for that part of her business. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The Steamboat Deli offers artisan sandwiches and scratch-made Italian meals.
    The Steamboat Deli offers artisan sandwiches and scratch-made Italian meals. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at dale@cowboystatedaily.com.

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