Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lil 'ol Ittly

After a couple of days at seminars during the recent Vino2010, where along with others I was hosted by the Italian Trade Commission, I noticed one of my friends getting a little stir crazy. Sausage Paul wasn’t used to sitting around, talking about wine. He was Joneseing for a field trip, so when he suggested we cab it to Little Italy so he could visit some of his purveyors, I jumped at the chance.

Mind you, I’m a lover of luxury and ease, just as much as the next person, but New York isn’t always about the easy. It is a challenge to live in the city, as I learned that lesson so well 35 years ago when I decided to immigrate to New York from sunny California. It was a short lived move as I missed sunsets and horizons, wide open skies and the feeling of individuality. And while that might sound a little Rod McKuen-ish, somehow I always felt more unique in California than I did in New York. And Texas, forget about it. We’re all uber-independent here in the Lone Star State. This all plays into my Italian pathology, which imagines they all love us, "for who we are", as much as our mother does. Uh huh.

Somewhere between Little Italy and Chinatown, Sausage Paul noticed a sign for foot massages, and before I knew it we were high-tailing it out of the cab and looking over the massage menu. It was a mean cold day in February in New York, and I was hungry. The last thing I was thinking about was getting a 30 minute foot massage. Paul remarked, “What can they do to your feet in 45 minutes? What could they do that would take that long?” I told him to ask Joey the Weasel, aka Joe Strange Eye. “Joe’s the one with the foot fetish, he could enlighten us.”

Outside of Di Palo’s I could see Sausage Paul coming to life. He was in his element. And it was a great thing. After taking him to Italy a few years ago and seeing him respond to all things Italian around him (even my Italian style of driving) this time the shoe was on the other foot. People were coming out of their stores and shouting at him, "Hey Paulie, whatcha doing in New Yawk? Come on in, have a cannoli or a sfogliatelle.” It was like that all over the place, Sausage Paul was part of the fabric of Little Italy. This time I was the visitor, and glad to be part of his entourage.

Inside Di Palo’s, Lou and Paul talked about this little Italian deli on Mulberry that uses only American made products. We sprinted over to Torrisi Italian Specialties just in time for lunch. Inside, there were all kinds of wonderful offerings of little vegetable plates, from potatoes with peppers to broccoli rabe to lupini beans. I was set. Paul ordered a Hero. When it arrived, I did a double take. It looked like something I knew as a grinder, growing up in Riverside Country, but the same effect. A crusty bread outer and thinly sliced ham and capicola and cheese, littered with spices and a chiffonade of lettuce. Paul sliced me off a corner of it and man, was it food-lust at first-sight for me. I was going to Paradise via the Van Wyck of pork.

Torrisi partner, Mario Carbone

After stopping by the counter to give the owner an attaboy, we headed back towards a place Paul wanted to visit, his music and t-shirt supplier. Ernest Rossi’s family has been in business for over 100 years, all on the same block. A sweet guy, who has everything under the sun in the way of swag, Italian Style. I was eye-balling the Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey t-shirts, really wanting one. But we were moving fast. Paulie's got a lot of friends in Little Italy and he was only there for an afternoon.

We did make one diversion into Ferrara’s for an espresso and trio of mini pastries. I inhaled the cannolo, while Paul savored the moment.

This is a guy who can hold his own when discussing the merits of zampone or cotechino. I just watch in admiration as he spars with the giants of Little Italy as they discuss this sausage maker or that baker as if they were talking about the Brooklyn Dodgers or the New York Giants. I was in awe.

And wine, on this field trip to lil ‘ol Ittly? With the exception of the brief moment we stepped into Di Palo’s enoteca wine shop and looked over the Valtellina and Basilicata wines, this was all about food. To be perfectly candid, it was a welcome break from wine 24-7. And even though my food lust is in remission, it is a rare event to walk the historic streets, once the epicenter of Italian American life with one of the new ambassadors of that movement, one who keeps my home town well supplied with all the necessities for a well equipped pantry.


Marco Diplomatico said...

I can smell everything. Grinders are what they call 'em in little Rhode Island too. As for cannoli, we favor this place:
"Handsome" Jack Giordano had an office in back. The part about him being a wrangler at an upstate dude ranch is a hoot.

Anonymous said...

Great field trip....and a Hoagie by any other name......!!!

Michele Connors said...

Dominic the Italian Christmas Donkey t-shirts!? I never knew such a thing existed, I am going to go look for one online now!

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