When I walk into my favorite Italian store, I can’t wipe the smile off my face. It’s like coming home. There’s a smell Italian stores have; a combination of peppers and oregano with a little hint of salami and tomato sauce in there for good measure. I love it.
I just bought a little jar of Italian seasoning from a website called Ciao Pittsburgh just to try it out. I sprinkled it on some zucchini with onions I was sauteing and, not only did it taste great, but my whole kitchen smelled like the Italian store! I’m thinking about just sprinkling it on my kitchen counters so my apartment smells more authentic. Actually, I’m putting some in my bra right now, it could be the ultimate aphrodisiac.
I got my love of Italian stores from my mom, of course. When we’d walk into Italian stores back home in western Pennsylvania, her face lit up with possibility while my dad’s face registered terror because he knew what it would cost and saying no to my mother was pointless.
Walking up and down the aisles with our small cart on weathered wood floors I’d hear, “Robert, lettsa getta somma dis,” as she filled her cart. Twenty somma dis and somma dat’s later, we’d leave with sharp cheeses and salami, proscuitto — if we were lucky, lupini beans, jars of antipasto, those oil-cured dry black olives that my mom loved, pasta, mortadella for my dad and a bag of pastel colored candied almonds or chocolates for me. It was heaven for a food lover like me, so I enjoy revisiting that feeling as often as possible.
My passion for food started at an early age and I have embarassing proof. When I was about 12, the age most girls post photos of cute hearthrobs above their beds, I had a picture of figs and proscuitto above mine. (That’s me in bed with orange juice cans in my hair. The shot is grainy, and I’m yawning, but that is a picture of figs and proscuitto above my head.
My favorite local Italian store is in Burbank, California. It’s called Monte Carlo. It’s white inside with lots of glass cases showing off beautiful olives, meats, pastries and gelato, yum. In fact, it’s so cool that an episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine was even filmed there. My kids recognized it –I didn’t, proof that food eclipses everything for me. So, when I need an Italian fix, Monte Carlo is there for me.
I need an Italian fix about once every six weeks or so because I am my mother’s daughter. I am very clear on the fact that things like salami, proscuitto, sausage and mortadella are not health foods. But listen, Italians have been eating them for centuries and they all live to be pretty old (my dad made it to 97, mom to 78) so the stuff can’t be that bad for you, especially if you enjoy it in moderation, a word my mom never grasped, but I do — mostly. And if you’re going to buy it, then for God’s sake get the good stuff! Life is too short to eat desiccated crappy salami when you could have something really delicious.
My favorite brand is Citterio. Strangers at the Italian store must see a celestial glow about me as I’m ordering because they always ask what I think is good there. I unfailingly point them to the Citterio soppressata and mortadella with pistachios. Dear God, it’s good –so good you almost don’t want to put anything on your sandwich but bread and meat.
So, this week I made a pilgrimage to my Italian store. (I don’t own it, I just think I do.) My daughter brought her boyfriend, Reef, who’s never been there, to show him the wonders of aisles of Italian deliciousness. There’s nothing like seeing the appreciation on the face of a newbie you’ve just introduced to your favorite Italian goodies. Monte Carlo has a pretty great selection for a fairly small deli. (The restaurant on the other side is called Pinocchio.)
If you go to a full-on Italian grocery store like DeLallo’s in Jeannette, PA where the selection is even more amazing — newbie’s eyes go wide because they think they’re in heaven. I swoon over their pastries. The Pennsylvania Macaroni Company in Pittburgh’s Strip District is another totally cool Italian store with a great cheese counter, olives in big barrels and vats, and loads of nuts for baking — another heavenly location. And if you’re at Eately in New York City or Chicago, you actually are in heaven. (One is finally coming to L.A. in 2017, You really have to go there to believe it.)
So, we took Reef up and down the aisles and I bought the usual meats and olives, basil, peppers and ciabatta rolls, plus some torrone because he’s never had it. (It’s a nougat candy made of egg whites and nuts that Italians love.) I also got a handful of Jordan almonds for old times sake and a bag of Baci chocolate candy because I love it and was lying about me understanding moderation.
The sopressata never makes it home without being accosted. We usually drive about three blocks with the aroma of salami and mortadella taunting us until we can’t take it and yank the soppressata wrapped in white paper out of the bag, grab a ciabatta roll, rip it open, and make a makeshift sandwich that we split, so we don’t “die of hunger “on the way home.
We got weak right about the time Reef had to drop something off at his house, so my daughter ripped into the sopressata. We did show slight moderation by only eating a few slices instead of making the mini-sandwich. Most of the food made it home and we made scrumptious sandwiches and a roasted pepper, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella (quasi) caprese salad drizzled with olive oil.
Honest to God, sometimes there is nothing better than an Italian cold cut sandwich. We inhaled them so fast, we forgot to photograph them. Reef loved it and is probably making a mental list of what we should get next time we go. Then we sat at my too small kitchen table and did what Italians have been doing for centuries, we talked, laughed, ate and planned what to eat next. It was awesome.
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Chas MadonioAugust 11, 2014 at 11:10 am
I shouldn’t read your blog at work because I have drooled all over my shirt and may have to go home to change. I’m with you -bread, cheese, salami or Sopppresseta, olives and some dipping oil – and I’m in heaven. We have a place in Akron called DeViti’s, where we get our fix. But it is nothing like Pittsburgh’s Strip district. When we are in Cleveland, a stop at Gust Gallucci’s is a must. Great article. Really struck a chord with me.
Fran TunnoAugust 11, 2014 at 4:44 pm
Chas, you’ll have to bring a change of shirts from now on! Glad you enjoyed it!
Cathy FishburnAugust 6, 2014 at 2:10 pm
Fran, I’m speechless! My mouth is watering and my tongue is craving that bread dripping in olive oil laced with garlic!
Fran TunnoAugust 7, 2014 at 11:05 am
Well Cathy, how far is Burbank? I think it may be time for a little trip to Italy.
JoAnn JonesAugust 5, 2014 at 2:57 pm
Love it, Fran ! We have a store on The Hill inSt Louis that mom & dad would take me to John Vivianos, the great Italian foods all smelled. Soo good ! And I love those olives and salami thanks, love & hugs, JoAnn
Fran TunnoAugust 7, 2014 at 11:06 am
Thanks Joann, so glad you enjoyed a little trip down memory lane! Thanks for reading!
Nicol ZanzarellaAugust 3, 2014 at 1:02 pm
Fran!! You know I saw the title and couldn’t spare a second to get to this post! I had a ‘cheat’ day the other day and the only things I wanted to eat that day were from Monte Carlo (I affectionately call the entire compound “Pinochio’s”). Any time I go there, I never want to leave. It is my Disneyland – my “happiest place on earth!” I can’t wait to make a visit with you. We must go when a lovely gentleman named Mike is working the counter – One of the last few Italian men out here who really knows his stuff! So happy to have a like-minded friend and appetite partner! (Figs and prosciutto hanging over your bed! I couldn’t love you more than I do right now!!)
Fran TunnoAugust 3, 2014 at 4:13 pm
Oh NIcol, we have a mutual admiration society going right now! I knew you’d understand. It is like going home! We must do an Italian store day…I will call you tonight or this week and we will plan it!
Fran TunnoAugust 3, 2014 at 12:36 pm
We must meet there! Soon!
donraymediaAugust 3, 2014 at 12:35 pm
Damn it, Fran. It’s only the third day of the month and I’m already pinching pennies. But now, because of your delicious blog, I’m going to have to go down the street to that wonderful Italian deli and have them surround some Italian sausages with meet sauce and penne pasta, with a couple of slices of the more burned garlic bread. And then, sure as Sicily, I’ll load up on some of those delightful sweets. I only wish someone would join me. And I’m not up to waiting another six weeks for you and your kids to return.
Thanks for awakening my appetite.
Fran TunnoAugust 3, 2014 at 12:37 pm
Oh, OK Don…I’ll come. Twist my arm. I told you moderation is not my forte.
SuganoAugust 3, 2014 at 12:34 pm
Bravissimo. Ya got great taste Fran. I go there a lot. :+))) Sugano.