I lament the demise of the old-fashioned provolone-stinking Italian grocery store of my childhood. Such places certainly still exist on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, but as far as Manhattan goes, I don’t know. I can’t think of one. Faicco’s on Bleecker Street? DiPalo? Those are great shops, but not the all-encompassing, one-stop stink-bomb places my father used to bring us to for his “cold cuts,” where the sausages hung heavy and low and dripped on your head as you tried to wait patiently for someone to wait on you. Those where the days. There’s a place in Glen Cove, near where I grew up, called Razzano’s that’s still properly stinking, with tons of soppressata and caciocavallo hanging from the ceiling, the kind of place where you can pick up a board of rank salt cod and a jar of salty, rubbery lupini beans and walk out the door with a freshly made salami hero soaked with vinegar peppers.
BuonItalia, in the Chelsea Market, is a store I go to often. It is in many ways a great Italian food shop, though it’s one where much of the stuff is shrink-wrapped and thus odorless. It’s a strange sensation, seeing all that guanciale, bottarga, and pepato cheese and not being able to smell it. It’s not particularly romantic. In fact, the place can remind me of a medical supply house. But in their defense, they do carry a lot of hard-to-find items, stuff you’d never in a million years see at Razzano’s.
For starters they stock Setaro pasta from Naples (after Latini, my favorite), and they’re the only place I know that does. You can buy bright green pistachios di Bronte from Sicily, butter made with Parmigiano milk (amazingly rich), almond flour, chestnut flour, semolina flour, chickpea flour for making Sicilian panelle, Strega-filled chocolates, fish shaped-marzipan, orange-flower tea, Black Umbrian truffles, vincotto from Puglia, mostardo from Cremona, guanciale (the cured pork cheek indispensable for traditional pasta carbonara), bottarga di muggine (made from mullet roe), colatura di Alici (a pungent anchovy syrup from Campania), menaica anchovies, braised eel, porchetta, lardo flavored with rosemary, fresh Italian yeast, buffalo-milk ricotta from Naples and fresh stracciatella (both very fresh the three times I’ve bought them), Miscela d’Oro coffee, much cheaper than Illy and in my opinion every bit as good. They’ve got shrink-wrapped Italian dried beans galore with names such as verdolino, tuvalgiedda marrone, tabacchio, San Michele, panzaredda, nassieddu viola, ciuto, munachedda, and marucchedda. What the hell are all these beans? All that in addition to the expected olive oils, canned tomatoes, and vinegars.
Okay, the place may not smell like Razzano’s, but I have to admit it’s pretty amazing.
Bottarga di Muggine at BuonItalia
75 Ninth Avenue (in the Chelsea Market)
New York, New York 10011