I like to eat. Because I like to eat, I like to cook, especially for friends I like to eat with. That’s what this blog is about: what I like to cook for people I like to eat with. In this I am my mother’s son, who says, “I like to feed people.” She’s Italian. My friends like to call me a gourmet, but I’m not a gourmet; I’m a home cook, and a bigoted one: I only cook the food of my people, because I think the food of my people is better than the food of any other people. By my people I really mean my mother’s people, from a mountain town in Campania east of the city of Salerno called Sacco – my mother is a Saccatara.

What my friends love about my mother’s cooking is that it’s so tasty. Like her people’s native land, it’s also sun-kissed: golden, glistening, and rosy. It has the lively sound of their chatter (no lethargic simmers, no violent searing). It’s highly aromatic—the aromas waft out the window and tease the passers-by, Italian and Gentile alike. It makes you eat too much. It makes you want to forgive your enemies and your family. It makes you friends.

My mother and my father were part of a late immigration of Italians to Brooklyn in the 1950’s. They came from parts of an impoverished post-War Italy where their life more resembled the 19th century than the 20th.. When these fugitives of post-War poverty crossed the Atlantic, they crossed centuries. The cuisine they brought with them was the distillation of centuries of local tradition, and they were keen to preserve the traditional integrity of their native cuisine in this foreign land in a way that the Italians they left behind were not. Those Italians modernized. My mother did not. BUT, she did mingle with other immigrants, and all these émigrés of Sud-Italia synthesized their traditional cuisines with one another and with the abundant fruits of American prosperity. In a new world they cultivated an ancient cuisine. Out of American soil they raised up an Italian cuisine not to be found in New Italy. This all happened in Brooklyn, in my mother’s kitchen, among others.

My mother learned old dishes from new friends, then at home gave her own turn to each dish all’improviso, as seemed right to her in the moment. That’s why you need me. My mother can’t explain herself. Trust me. You try to cook it as she says she does; it comes out disastrously; you call her up, and she says, “Well, didn't you add water?” – No, you didn’t say to add water. – “Ma, non e logico, bella mamma? Do I have to tell you everything?” – YES!!! you have to tell me EVERYTHING!!! ­‑‑“You don’t cook; you play house.” You see how sweet my little Italian mother is not, when she wants not to be? And so, as did Aaron for Moses to the Israelites, I'm going to interpret my mother for you. And for good measure, I’ll throw in all my own opinions about all matters bearing on eating as a human being should want to eat.

The Stores I Like

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Brooklyn


Annapolis/D.C.


Brooklyn Groceries 


Bari Pork Store  is where I go to get Bensonhurst's best Italian sausage:  both sweet links (no fennel!) and skinny pinwheels (with cheese & parsley!), and also dried sausage for antipasto (but I pick out a soft one).  Also, they make the best fresh mozzarella and fresh ricotta in Brooklyn, if you ask me.  Get cold cuts here too:  mortadella, capicola, prosciutto, sopressata, et al. 
18th Ave & 64th St, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.  Bari Pork Store on Urbanspoon


Pastosa Ravioli Company is my go-to for Italian staples at fair prices (—shame-shame on all chi-chi!):   Madre Sicilia Extra Virgin Olive Oil ~ Mengazzolii Aceto di Vino (true wine vinegar, both red and white) ~ Pastosa Pomodoro Pelato Italiano (whole peeled tomatoes—blue can being good, no need to pay for pricey San Marzano) ~ Parmigiano Reggiano ~ Locatelli Pecorino Romano ~ Medaglio D'oro Decaf. Espresso ~ Pastene Tonno (tuna packed in olive oil) ~  Agostino Recca Capers in Salt ~ Agostino Recca Caper Berries in Wine Vinegar (specialty item hard to find and delightful to guests) ~ Bellino Anchovies (in clear glass jars—never use canned!) ~ Arborio Rice and Funghi Porcini ~ sundry Olives (especially beefy cerignola!) ~ and Italian Cheeses such as Piave, sweet Gorgonzola, & Taleggio ~ and of course, best big round (never little square!) cheese RAVIOLI!!   New Utrecht Ave. & 75th St., Brooklyn.




Brooklyn Bakeries

Villabate Alba Pasticceria offers the premier pastries of Brooklyn, and this is no secret—you name it:  cannoli, sfogliatelle, ciardoni, eclairs, Lobster tails, and many, many others I don’t even know the names of.  Of their fancy cookies, I favor their amaretti and croccantini (—everyday biscotti I get from the bread store, not the pastry shop); on offer is one of the finest and most fanciful selections of pasta di mandorla (a.k.a. marzipan) to be found worldwide , including Paschal Lambs at Eastertide.  18th Ave. & 69th St., Brooklyn.

Royal Crown Bakery is the place to go for rustic, homestyle loaves of Italian bread.   The bread's delicious, in part for the right amount of salt, and in part for the real (and rare) brick oven.  Now, usually bread-makers are not good pastry-makers, and vice versa, but this is my mecca for sfogliatelle as mid-morning or mid-afternoon collation, and the lobster tails make for fantastic dessert.  14th Ave. & 65th St., Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. 

Palermitana Bakery is the place for authentic Sicilian semolina bread, with its yellow crumb inside and sesame seeds outside.  This is also my go-to for bread-sticks and friselle (a rustic specialty:  dried crusty bread-rings that you wet with water and then dress with olive oil and oregano; could also add a bit of salt, pepper, or vinegar, to taste).  As for sweets, the lemon-drop cookies are the best, and the biscotti are good too (although their quaresimali have too much cinnamon in them for my taste).  17th Ave. & 78th St., Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. 

18th Avenue Bakery.  For Italians, bread-making and pastry-making are separatee arts, so that a good pastry-maker is rarely a good bread-maker, and vice versa.  I go to Villabate for desserts, but to 18th Avenue Bakery for biscotti—not the silly gourmet kind you pay $1.49 a piece for at chi-chi coffee bars, but the simple home-style every-day kind you buy by the pound and have with your morning coffee everyday.   Besides these biscotti, 18th Ave. Bakery makes the best quaresimali I know, because they don't overdo the cinnamon—these traditional Neopolitan biscotti are called "Lenten" because they're made with eggs only, and not lard; the addition of both ground and chopped nuts to the flour makes them expensive, but worth every penny.  They're hard and crunchy for dipping in coffee.  This bakery also make the bread I grew up on, the standard bastone or batard made from white flour, shorter and fatter and with a much better proportion of crust to crumb than the baguette. 18th Avenue bread is neither too light nor too heavy and is both crunchy and tastey.  Last time I was here, I also got a delicious home-style ricotta pie for Easter.  18th Ave. & 60th Street, Brooklyn.




Brooklyn Wines

Caesar's Wines & Liquors has a range of Everyday to Dinner-Party Italian wines of a breath and variety not easy to find.  Lots of nice finds and values to be had here, and an accommodating staff besides.  As for high-range wines, I would only buy what I am ready to drink, because bottles are shelved standing up instead of lying on on their sides; I haven't had a problem, but I'd be ready to go back and exchange a pricey bottle, if the wine were compromised by a dried out cork.  I never pass up a chance to pick up a mixed case from Caesar's when I'm in Brooklyn!




Annapolis/D.C. Groceries

Giolitti Delicatessen is part Italian deli, part Italian grocery, and part Italian wine shop.  The offerings are limited, but very well selected and well priced.  The owner is more than accommodatingsometimes I buy more than I need just because she's so nice about it.  The deli offers such basics as mortadella, prosciutto, and capicolo, which the competent staff knows how to slice right-thin (if you ask), and standard cheeses, like Piave and Fontinella.  They have such specialties as bread and sausage (albeit with fennel) from Baltimore, and little frozen sfogliatelle you can bake at home (or order baked from them).  They also offer specialty Italian groceries at a fair price, such as savoiardi biscuits and mascarpone cheese to make tiramisu, and arborio rice to make risotto.  It's just off Route 2 South, across from the new Fresh Fields at the old Parole Shopping complex:  2068 Sommerville Rd., Annapolis Towne Center.

Trader Joe's is my go-to for gourmet staples at proletarian prices.  There are caveats, however.  Quality is uneven, I'm selective.  Then there are those sanguine youths that run the place.  It is a law not only of nature but of all being, Gentle Reader, that everything loves its like.  Well, the young love to change, which means they love change, which means they love to keep changing the location of things in the store and, much worse, to replace familiar things I've come to like with new ones I don't like.  Having a middle-age affection for dependability, I don't like it, not at all.  That said, I nonetheless depend on Trader Joe's for these select items:   raw almonds (to toast for antipasto); the Sorrento Blend of arugula greens; the well-priced Baby Bella mushrooms; the mid-sized artichokes, when in season; cheeses (Castello blue; Iberico; aged Gouda; Parmigiano Reggiano, with as little rind and as much center as possible; Grana Padano; Parrano; Morbier); dried sausage for antipasto (Volpi Sopressata Salame; Trader Joe's Pinot Grigio Artisan Salami); Trader Giotto's Chocolate Almond Biscotti; Trader Giotto's Aged Balsamic Vinegar;  Trader Joe's Spanish Extra Virgin olive oil, but only in a pinch; and no fewer than 4 packages at a time of Ritter Sport Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts (Nature's very own anti-depressive). 


A. Littieri Inc. is hidden in a warehouse district off Florida Avenue (accessible from driveway off N.Y. Avenue).  It's a large Italian grocery store with all the staples and all at the best price you'll find in these parts.  It's the place I'll buy pelati (Italian whole peeled tomatoes) by the case, olive oil by the gallon, maccheroni by the dozen, and sundry jars of imported capers, caper berries, tuna, saphron, anchovies, etc.  There are also such standard offerings as common Italian cheeses, Italian bread and sausage (with fennel) from Baltimore, and a wide and varied range of affordable Italian wines.  The owner is as decent and accommodating as can be.  Go prepared to stock up:  bring cash and make room in the trunk.  517-519 Morse St., N.E., Washington, D.C. (off Florida and N.Y. avenues).




Annapolis/D.C. Bakeries

Palate Pleasers is an oasis in a baker desert.  The greater D.C. area has very little to hold a candle to Brooklyn bread or pastries, but this little chi-chi shop in the little Eastport shopping mall, not far past the bridge from Annapolis City Dock, offers some consolations to the exile.  Chief among these is rustic-style Italian breads, worth the chi-chi price (and sometimes available frozen at half-price).  Then there are the best scones I knowI never pass up the chance to buy one to gobble on the spot, and a bag of frozen ones to bring home.  Other baked goods I've bought have satisfy with that deep down homey taste.  I've never tried any of the appetizing looking gourmet take-out foods; they might well be worth the price, if you don't cook for yourself.  I wouldn't know.  :-)




Annapolis/D.C.  Wines

Mills Fine Wine & Spirits is known for one of the finest collections of wines on the East Coast.  Besides an impressive collection of high-end Italian wines, there is also a range of mid-range wines, and even some bargain carousels.  For the most part, the Italian selections seem to me to be slanted toward the Francophilic palate, so the offerings are more of the sort to be well regarded by critics than interesting to Italophiles.  Still, this is the place I'll blow my allowance on a choice bottle, when there's a sale, but also where I'll drop in to pick up a mixed (and discounted) case of everyday wines off the bargain carousel.  The staff, fortunately, is not snobbish, but ready to help you find the sort of the thing you're looking for.  This is the place I also pick up stuff like good sherry and creme de cassis.  City Dock, Annapolis.

Eastport Liquors has nice Italian wines at nice prices.  I find their mid-priced selection the best, better than their every-day, and they often have unadvertised in-store sales on their high-end wines that have more than once made me spend beyond my means.   (They even get me, now and again, to buy non-Italian wines.)  The selection is more smart than snobby, and so the more interesting to me.  This is also my go-to for sparkling wines, both every-day Cava from Spain and high-end champagne for special gifts and occasions.  I get my high-end spirits here as well, on sale.  This is a place I buy by the case.  It's in the same little Eastport shopping center as Palate Pleasers, on Bay Ridge Ave., not far from the bridge to Annapolis City Dock.

Giolitti Delicatessen is not just deli and grocery, but also has a very small but very smart and well priced selection of Italian wines, from Everyday to Dinner Party range.  Of special value is their Under $10 collection.  I buy my every-days by the case here, however always sneaking in a more expensive bottle or two, so that I don't actually save that much in the end, but you could, with a little more self-control.  Annapolis Towne Center, 2068 Sommerville Rd. (across the road from Fresh Fields).


The Italian Market in Annapolis is a store I dislike, but I include it here anyway because I buy wine there now and again, however grudgingly, on Mondays.  I dislike it because the prices are inflated, and I once had a dealing with the owner in which he proved untrustworthy.  Still, among their other offerings, they have a remarkably wide, varied, and knowledgeable selection of Italian wines, not easily found elsewhere, in the mid-priced to high-priced range, and they have 20% off all wines on Mondays, which brings the prices down to fair.  126 Defense Highway, Annapolis.

A. Littieri Inc. offers a very attractive range of Italian wines from the low- to mid-price range.  Someone who knows Italian wine is wisely choosing interesting specimens at competitive prices.  I come across makers and even regional wines I don't recognize, and I'm rarely disappointed when I give them a try.  I always come away with a mixed case, and often wish I would go back more often than I do.  Littieri's is hidden away in a warehouse district off Florida and New York avenues:  517-519 Morse St., N.E., Washington, D.C..





2 comments:

  1. I was wondering when the judgment on Giolitti was going to come down. They provide my only fond memories of that now-offensive mall-apartment-complex-whatever-it-is.

    Thank you for the DC tip, although I'm afraid I would have no idea what to look for at A. Littieri. I would appreciate a tutorial if you ever make the trip.

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  2. Taylor R.: Here's another D.C. tip: there used to be nice little Italian grocery in N.E. when I lived there, called Viareggio. I heard that it moved to Dupont Circle and is doing a nice business there. Check it out, and let me know what you find. T.

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