Last week my friend, Denise and I met at Rocco’s, her favorite Italian deli on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles. When I walked in, Denise was locked in conversation with a sweet, older Italian man, named Rocco, who was sitting beside her. Yes, this was THE Rocco.
If Denise and I were stronger, we would have kidnapped him – that’s how cute he was. He told us about his life, when he immigrated to the U.S., the different jobs he had, and more. His memory was remarkable — and he is no spring chicken! Then, his wife came in and was just as cute as he was. Then I met his daughter, Rosamarie and…well it was pretty much a love fest. I didn’t get to meet his son, Francesco, but I’m sure I would have loved him too. And, I haven’t even gotten to the food, which was delicious.
In a city as big as Los Angeles, usually, the best you can hope for in a restaurant is good food, served to you fast, and maybe with a smile. But I felt like I was in my parents house at Rocco’s, and that was the thing that kept me beaming all the way home. Even though Rocco occasionally uses a cane, he kept getting up and offering to fill our cups, or bus our table. His daughter did the same. The hospitality was not forced, it was real and we had such a wonderful afternoon there, we hated to leave.
Rocco’s is not big, it’s a small place with heart, and I’ll take that any day over other places where they don’t even remember your name.
I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, sharing food is how Italians show their love. I got that from a Thanksgiving story by New York Times Op Ed writer, Frank Bruni, an Italian who understands that whole mentality.
Rocco’s does that incredibly well. If you’re a homesick Italian, you’ll completely understand and will have to come by. But once you taste the sandwiches, stopping by won’t be enough, you’ll want to move in.
There are eight hot sandwiches and eight cold sandwiches on the menu. They also have others, not on the menu, including the Il Mio, where you choose whatever you want. And the good news here is Rocco’s does catering! Deciding wasn’t easy, but with a little arm twisting from Denise, I tried the hot porchetta sandwich, which was wonderful. They make their own porchetta (braised pork) in house. I am a wimp and got it without the pepperoncini, and with the Dijonaise on the side, and it was still great.
The last time I went, I got the proscuitto sandwich which knocked my socks off. (As you may recall, I developed an addiction to proscuitto as a child and have never grown out of it.) These guys do not skimp on the proscuitto, and they layer it with fresh mozzarella, tomato, arugula and olivo spread, with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. It was excellent.
My plan is to try every sandwich on their menu, but I’m going to have a hard time not ordering another proscuitto. When I got home, I realized I’d left the other half of my sandwich on the counter and almost cried. I actually contemplated driving back through L.A. rush hour to get it — that’s how much I was looking forward to devouring it.
I also tried their cappuccino and had a cannoli. Actually in Italian, one cannoli is called a cannolo, but since we’re in America, I’ll call it cannoli. I rarely buy cannoli in Italian restaurants because I was spoiled by my mom, who made her own cannoli shells. I have to say, the cannoli I sampled at Rocco’s tasted as close to my mom’s as I’ve ever had, without making it myself. (They import them from Italy.) It was very good, you could even taste the hint of wine in it.
Then I had one of their lemon ricotta cookies, and since I’ve mentioned my love affair with lemon ricotta cookies, no need to go into detail there, but if you get one, ask them to pop it in the oven for a minute or two to warm it up, so it softens. (They keep them refrigerated.) Or just let them sit on the counter in an L.A. summer for a half hour and you get the same result. It was moist, lemony deliciousness.
They also carry all my favorite Italian coldcuts, like Citterio Soppresata and Mortadella, plus their own homemade roast beef with big chunks of garlic in it that looks amazing. And, they carry groceries all imported from Italy, plus some really yummy looking frozen gelatos.
So, if you need some family time, along with wonderful Italian cold cuts, amazing sandwiches, excellent espresso and coffee drinks and wonderful service, do not wait, go now. Pick any sandwich and I guarantee it will be awesome.
And, if you’re lucky, Rocco and his family will be there and make you feel right at home. But you should probably visit a couple of times before you ask to move in.