Okay, I admit it. I do most of my grocery shopping online with Acme and have it delivered to my door. Taking the chittlins to the market has become a logistical nightmare, meaning that I can only buy as much as I can stuff under the cart because the cart itself is loaded with 80lbs of boys. And they protest mightily if you want to pile anything on top of them; there is also the risk of suffocation should anything be, say, a 20-pack of toilet paper or the 10-for-$10 sale on frozen vegetables. With the latter, frostbite is also a threat. However, I don't buy my meats or Italian goodies from Acme. Those I buy at Altomonte's. And that, my pretty people, is one of my happy happy places.
You've heard me talk obsessively about Altomonte's. It's right around the corner from me. If I weren't lazy, or buying perishables, and my county had decent sidewalks I could actually walk there and back with mass quantities of goodness. But that's not happening so, moving on.
Altomonte's is an Italian market, replete with everything you need to play Giada in the kitchen. Maybe not Mario, but definitely Giada. They even have a giant $65 jug of Nutella on the bakery counter, which would make that pretty lady very happy indeed. It's not a large place, but every single space is packed with essentials. The pasta selection alone is outstanding, all shapes, sizes, and brands, even the good artisinal ones that Michael Chiarello so dearly loves.
Next to the pasta is the olive oil. Not as vast as you might find elsewhere but an amazing selection from both Greece and Italy. This is where I discovered my favorite extra virgin brand, Iliada, from Greece, pressed from kalamata olives. They also carry their own store brand, which I keep in my kitchen as well. It's best for salads as it's sharp and peppery and wonderful with balsamic vinegar.
They have a seemingly endless supply of canned tomatoes and they carry Pomi in the little cardboard boxes--spendy but the tomato flavor is outstanding. Condiments are next to the tomatoes with so many options: pickled vegetables, spicy peppers, caponata. Beans aplenty, too, and lovely tuna canned in olive oil (I love Flott). Anchovies, clams, little tins of seafoody bits, then you turn and find yourself staring down coffee and espresso and Nutella (both Italian and American), dried beans, and a generous selection of their own homemade sauces: marinara, vodka, wild mushroom, pizza, even salsa.
Take a right and there is a refrigerated section of smoked meats like bacon, ham, guanciale, kielbasa, hot dogs. A small but very useful selection of produce is offered and you can sometimes find cardoons, which you know you're not going to get anywhere else. One more turn and you're at the freezer section with a nice variety of seafood--mussels, shrimp, fish, squid--and many of their homemade sausages and meatballs and you can even find rabbit (although I don't believe he's wascally). The standing freezers are loaded with mass quantities of their sauces and soups--all homemade--excellent stocks (their vegetable puts everyone else's to shame), demi glace, and lovely pastas. You can find ravioli in a variety of flavors from lobster to mushroom to goat's cheese, tortellini, even fresh pasta sheets for lasagne.
After staring for a while here, you can turn left for the butcher or right for the dairy. We'll go left and eye up the beautiful steaks, veal, pork, and chicken (they carry Bell & Evans, yay!). They grind their meat throughout the day so you're guaranteed it's fresh and the beef, pork, veal combo--you won't get better anywhere else.
Turn around and look. Look towards the cheese. Run towards the cheese. See the Brie, be the Brie. Gaze adoringly upon the Huntsman. Take home a wedge of Gruyere and a container of freshly grated parm. Grab a roll of pancetta. It's all so freakin' good. Pick up a stromboli or a container of sauce with meatballs so you don't have to cook too much that night. Walk over to the breads, the wonderful semolina rolls and steak rolls and beautifully crusted loaves of yum. Don't forget the croutons. My god, the croutons. They are like crack to the bairns. Stop at the deli and get some proscuitto, some home roasted turkey, a little salami. Want some sides? Salads and meals are to the left, with a beautiful selection of roasted and grilled vegetables, silky soft fresh mozzarella (the marinated bocconcini--eek!), pasta salad, chicken cutlets. Order a hoagie or grilled veggie sandwich (my personal favorite, with broccoli rabe, of course), you simply cannot go wrong.
Finally, the bakery. Forget the gun, we have cannoli. And tiramisu. And cream cakes, and cookies, and biscotti and other gorgeous, gorgeous little nibbly things that go down a treat at the end of a meal. Or for tea. Or in the middle of the night. Hell, the whole damn store is good at any time of day. While you're checking out, don't forget that they have tomato pie, by the slice, the half, or the whole. Oh so freakin' full of yum. And grab a copy of La Cucina Italia so you have something to read while you're sprawled on the couch after taste-testing everything you've brought home.
Lastly, the people. They have nice people. People who say hello when they see you, say excuse me and please and thank you. They value you as a customer. Valerie and Cindy and everyone else, yes, they want you to shop there, they want your money, but they earn it. Even if I'm just stopping in for a gallon of milk it's a pleasant experience. Waiting on line to pick up my Xmas ham there was fresh coffee and platters of tomato pie, they give lollies to my boys when I drag them along. It makes a difference. Small stores like this are valuable. And to this food geek, they are a happy happy place indeed.