July 20, 2006

My New Favorite Italian Grocery

Since moving to Pittsburgh from Washington, D.C., we had not found a little Italian deli where we could pop in to get some homemade pasta, prosciutto, parmesan, olives, and other goodies.

Sure, there are some great Italian stores in the Strip. Penn Mac and Sunseri Bros. have a good selection of all of the above. But (no offense to anybody with particularly strong allegiances to either place) they are kind of like Wal-Mart, when we wanted a mom-and-pop shop—you know, the small, family-owned joint like our beloved Da Marco in Silver Spring, Md., a place run by a guy and his wife, where after you’ve been in a few times and dropped some dollars on the imported prosciutto and a some homemade tortellini, you get the warm hello and knowing gaze that confirms you’re now a regular, that little secrets about the parmesan can be shared, that pizza-making advice can be offered.

Nothing like this exists anywhere in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh. So on a recent Sunday, we hopped in the car for the half-hour jaunt down to the city. We planned on running up our credit card with sizable charges on meat and fish from the Whole Foods in East Liberty. But based on a tip Sarah got from a colleague at work, we added a second stop to our itinerary: Groceria Italiana in Bloomfield.

We pulled onto a raggedy side street off of Liberty Ave. and could see the store’s diminutive sign donning, of course, an Italian flag. With Julia the 23-pound drama queen in my arm, I opened the door to Groceria Italiana. My leg was bouncing. Call me a freak, but I felt like a kid on Christmas morning with a sneaky suspicion I was about to get my first Big Wheel.

I got it alright.

We were greeted by a woman with short black hair, lightly highlighted with some tans and browns, and with wispy snakes of gray poking through here and there. Her skin was tan, a bit too much makeup. In her hands was a large tray of nearly soccer ball-sized rounds of freshly baked bread, a dusting of flour on top. And, she informed us (in response to our Homer Simpson-like moans of hunger), they were still quite warm.

My eyes followed the tray as she set it on the glass counter, but were yanked downward to a small box filled with one of the most wondrous delights of my childhood, little bags of fried bread dough. Holy crap: A Big Wheel and a remote control car!

Shelves were filled with some half-decent olive oils, imported tomatoes (including the San Marzanos that are a must for making pizzas), sardines, anchovies, dried pastas. Deli counter in the back with the usual suspects: olives, cheeses, cured meats. Some freezers with housemade pastas.

We grabbed one of the breads and, somehow, only one bag of fried dough—5 small rounds of desire generously coated with cinnamon or sugar. Some pecorino romano and prosciutto. From a freezer on the far side of the store, two dozen of Groceria Italiana’s calling card: Ravioli, 12 cheese and 12 artichoke and gorgonzola.

While checking out, we chatted with the woman who had initially greeted us with the bread tray in hand. She told us how her mother makes most of the food they sell: all of the pastas, all of the baked fish on Fridays during lent. On one Friday, she told us, when all 60 pounds of fish had been sold and customers kept coming in asking for more, she told them to wait and threw together a gargantuan frittata with “everything and the kitchen sink in it.”

We ate some of the ravioli last week: Big Wheel, remote control car, and the coolest Hot Wheels money can buy. That’s what I call Christmas in July.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Loved your description of your "Favorite Italian Grocery". I'll have to pass this on to my favorite Italian friends who just moved in to my neighborhood. They're always looking for authentic "eye-talian" anything.