Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A-1 Imported Groceries and Italian Deli

You’ve probably noticed that I have several posts mentioning or focusing on Italian food.  Little wonder since this is one of my favorite cuisines!  Since I got married I’ve tried to cook dishes for my Italian father-in-law that would evoke memories of his childhood.  He fondly recalls that his mother always served polenta with pork sausages.  Conversely, he was not too fond of broccoli rabe.  So where do I go to get my Italian food fix?  To my favorite Italian deli of course!

A-1 Imported Groceries and Italian Deli

It is in a residential neighborhood across the street from a little park.  The place looks unassuming; the green, white and red awning above the door and their “A-1 Imported Groceries” sign propped up from the roof. Outside are bags of mesquite charcoal and potatoes.

A-1 Imported Groceries and Italian Deli

Once you step inside you will be transported as your olfactory sense gets inundated with the heavenly aromas of Italian food!  An Italian deli should smell like an Italian deli.  What will bring you back down to earth are the tidy stacks of goods on the shelves.  You may think the interior of this establishment looks old fashioned.  Rather, it is a classical neighborhood market where the workers are friendly and people know one another.  It is gourmet without the frou-frou or the high prices.  I meet with Emiddio Ungaro, the affable owner of this 67 year-old store.  He doesn’t need to give me a tour of the store as I’ve been here innumerable times.  Instead, he gave me a San Pedro history lesson.  A-1 was founded in 1947 by the Mattera family, and is the only surviving deli from that era.  Emiddio  told me that up until three or four years ago when the California Department of Public Health cracked down on food stores, this place was even more aromatic as house-made sausages and cheeses hung from the ceiling to dry cure.

The produce section is to the right of the entrance.  Emiddio told me he gets up at one o’clock in the morning to order fresh produce every day.  They carry the usual onions, Roma tomatoes, cabbage, etc.  But in addition to that, they have also have rapini, Savoy cabbage, escarole, cipollini, fennel bulbs, artichokes, Italian eggplants and other produce typical of Italian cuisine.  In the corner is an old-fashioned bread cabinet which houses locally baked breads like ciabattas, rolls, and other Neopolitan bread.

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Old fashioned bread bins

The freezer section has prepared foods like lasagna, tortellini, ravioli, stuffed artichokes, Italian ices, spumoni , and eggplant parmesan. But my favorite in this section is the sfogliatelle.  Sfogliatelle is a shell-shaped pastry made with a ridged, flaky crust and filled with sweet ricotta.  The ones sold here are imported from Italy and must be baked at 350°F for about 45 minutes.  This would make a great dessert if you’re having company! 

Around the back of the store are shelves groaning with the weight of Italian and American-bottled vintages.  The larger bottles sit on the lower shelves -  just in case.

Inside the aisles is where you’ll find some of the gems of this store.  At the end of the first aisle you’ll find Norwegian baccala, whole dried cod which must be rehydrated and desalinated before being used.  There are bags of breadcrumbs, polenta, semolina flour, beans and pulses, and Arborio rice.  There is one aisle dedicated to pasta alone! You’ll find interesting and delightful shapes such as creste di gallo, mezze penne rigate, tagliatelle, pappardelle, orrechiette, fusillata caserreccia, gigli del gargano, lumache rigate, stellette and pasta flavored with squid ink.

 Dried baccala
Different shaped and flavored pasta

Another aisle has different kinds of tomato products: whole, diced, crushed, sauce, paste, etc.  A-1 has a wide selection of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, giardiniera, tonno, prepared gnocchi, pasta sauce, muffuletta, crackers and cookies, pizzelle, torrone, panettone, chocolates, Jordan almonds, and other Italian staples.

Their refrigerator section holds American sodas as well as San Pellegrino sparkling citrus beverages, fresh pizza dough, house-prepared Italian favorites and bone-in skin-on as well as boned salt cod. 

For me the deli department is the heart of the store.  They have mortadella with pistachios which is a large Bolognese sausage made with finely ground pork, cubes of fat from the pork’s neck, and pistachios.  Different kinds of salami cram this section but our favorite is soppressata.  Our other favorite cured meats are: capicola and pancetta.  I buy domestic prosciutto for cooking, and the imported kind for sandwiches or antipasto.  Their cheese selection is wonderful as I can get Parmigiano Reggiano, fresh mozzarella, Pecorino romano, asiago, provolone, fontina and gorgonzolaIa any time.  Of course, cured meats and cheese are cut/sliced/grated to order.  If Victor is working the deli counter he’ll give you a slice of the meat and/or cheese so you’ll know what you’re buying.

House seasoned olives

A-1 receives their olives already cured but seasons them in-house according to old family recipes.  They also sell prepared salads like pepperonata, marinated eggplant slices, marinated mushrooms, olive salad, caprese, and more.

The deli also makes cold and hot sandwiches to order.  The sign board is on the wall by the Meat Department. 

The Meat Department has the usual pork, chicken and beef.  In addition, they have lamb and veal, and even a veal scallopini ready to be taken home to cook.  I would have to say that this department’s pride is their selection of house-made sausages of which they make six kinds!  One of the guys working there is Ante.  He makes cevapcici, a traditional Croatian sausage, which is one of their bestsellers.

House-made sausages

In addition to all of the wonderful things I’ve mentioned above, A-1 also caters.  Live far away?  Not a problem – they ship.  Emiddio told me he regularly ships baccala to a woman in Louisiana as his price is better than a store in Texas!

Their address is 348 West 8th St. in San Pedro, CA.  Their telephone number is 310-833-3430.

So what is your favorite Italian deli?

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