Editor's note: This is the sixth article in a series exploring grocery stores in the Baltimore area, finding the best shops that cater to different cuisines.
About three times a year — and always just before Christmas — Ron Frezzo, his wife, Camille, and their family, including grown daughter Cristina, travel from Silver Spring to Baltimore, where they raid the aisles at Trinacria Italian Deli on North Paca Street before heading to lunch in Little Italy.
"We buy olive oil, tomatoes, wine — because the prices are spectacular — fresh breads, pasta," says Frezzo. Growing up in New York, he says, shops like Trinacria existed "on every other corner," but these days in the D.C. suburbs, they are harder to find, making the family's pilgrimages necessary to stock his kitchen.
At Trinacria and the handful of other Italian markets in and around Baltimore, shopping for food is something that becomes part of family traditions and is woven into the cultural fabric of the city.
Rebecca Murphy, a Roland Park resident and fourth-generation Baltimorean who grew up in Mount Washington, frequently visited Trinacria with her family as a child.
"We would come every Saturday and shop and make pizza for dinner," she recalls. "That was 35 or 40 years ago."
As an adult, Murphy fell out of the habit of stopping by the store, but on a recent Saturday, she popped in for the first time in years; she said the visit made her want to call her mother.
"It remains exactly the same all these years later," Murphy says. "That's lovely. It's one of the things that keeps Baltimore Baltimore."
The products found in Italian groceries — meats and cheeses, seafood, pastas, tomato sauces, olive oils, vinegars, herbs and spices, baked goods and wine — will look familiar to most American shoppers. But at Italian markets, the versions of those products are often more authentic than what is available at chain groceries.
When Joseph Gardella, owner of Joe Benny's in Little Italy, needs something specific and authentic, he often heads to DiPasquale's Italian Marketplace, a Highlandtown shop that celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014.
"When I try to replicate something from Sicily, I try to be as authentic as I can," says Gardella. "I could go to Safeway or Harris Teeter and buy some oregano, but it's not a fair representation of how it's supposed to be. I have to go to DiPasquale's."
During those trips, Gardella finds himself both excited and nostalgic.
"Every time I go into the markets, it inspires me and makes me think of back home. It makes me feel like I'm over there still," he says. "I miss my aunts and uncles, but [the markets] bring a part of Italy back here to America. It's such a cool feeling — you're just transported back to Italy."
Gardella's family is from Sicily, so he's especially interested in products used there. Italian cuisine varies regionally, though, with more emphasis on meats, polenta and cream sauces in the north and seafood and red sauces in the south.
"It's so diverse," says DiPasquale's owner Joe DiPasquale. "They have their own twist, and it's amazing." DiPasquale notes that his customers' families hail from all parts of Italy, so he's sure to carry products from all over the country.
As a child, delivering groceries for the family store he now helms, he made a habit of asking customers what and how they were cooking. "That's how I learned, as a little boy," he says. Today, that knowledge is on display in the selection at his store.
To find the most authentic Italian ingredients, check out these markets in and around Baltimore:
Ceriello Fine Foods
Belvedere Square, 525 E. Belvedere Ave., Baltimore, 410-532-1840; and 3700 Toone St., Baltimore; 410-342-1100, ceriellofinefoods.com.
This small New York-based chain has two Baltimore locations: one in Belvedere Square and a newer spot in Canton. The company sells high-end versions of staples like olive oil and vinegar, house-brand sauces and frozen pastas and an impressive selection of meat. Lucky shoppers will arrive just as a fresh batch of mozzarella, still warm and wrapped in plastic, is placed on tables for sale; the first bite of that salty cheese is unforgettable.
DiPasquale's Italian Marketplace
3700 Gough St., Baltimore, 410-276-6787; dipasquales.com.
With over 100 years in Baltimore, DiPasquale's has made a name for itself among residents and chefs. Germano Fabiani, the chef and co-owner of Germano's Piattini in Little Italy, praises DiPasquale's for its basic Italian products. "They do them extremely well," he says. The mix of goods at the shop includes pasta, cheese, meat, baked goods and nuts — in the shell and available by the pound — and an impressive selection of Italian wines and liqueurs.
Mastellone's Deli and Wine
7212 Harford Road, Baltimore, 410-444-5433, mastellonedeli.com
For about the past 17 years, Mastellone's has shared ownership with DiPasquale's. DiPasquale's products, like meatballs, are available in the Harford Road shop, but the location retains its own welcoming personality. With wine in the front, central shelves packed with pasta, oils, vinegars and other treats, and a glass deli case shielding a wide selection of cheeses and olives, the shop is a visual treat — and smells fabulous.
Pastore's Italian Food Store
8646 Loch Raven Blvd., Towson, 410-825-5316, pastoresdelly.com
Narrow and deep, with a deli counter at the back, take-home meals in cases along the aisles, and a variety of cookies and other sweet treats at the front, Pastore's is homey and packed. The staff is welcoming and friendly, offering assistance to newcomers and warm greetings to regulars.
Pastore's of Rosedale
8442 Philadelphia Road, Rosedale, 410-686-1884, pastores.net
Pastore's in Rosedale is an open spot with a wide selection of deli and catering options and shelves stocked with Sun of Italy products, from olive oil to spices to artichoke hearts. Behind the deli counter, the staff stays busy but friendly, getting to know customers who come back regularly for their popular overstuffed sandwiches. Though it is a separate business from Pastore's in Towson, the owners are related to one another and to the owner of Baltimore-based Sun of Italy. All three businesses have roots in Jonestown, near Little Italy, where the Pastore family operated an Italian food business years ago on Lombard Street.
Roma Sausage Co.
6801 Eastern Ave., Suite 230, Baltimore, 410-675-0786; romagourmet.com
Roma isn't a market in the traditional sense, but the well-known sausage company operates a cash-and-carry business out of the offices attached to its manufacturing facility. The company, which started its sausage business in a Highlandtown rowhouse and moved into larger Eastern Avenue digs about eight years ago, celebrates not just its Italian heritage but also all things Baltimore. The walls of the offices are decked out with Baltimore-themed art and with sausage mixes that incorporate Old Bay and Natty Boh, and the products show pride in both the Old World and the company's home city.
Scittino's Italian Market
1701 Edmondson Ave., Catonsville, 410-788-2369, scittinosdeli.com
A Catonsville staple for 44 years, Scittino's is a small and bustling shop packed with staples like pasta, baked goods and cheese alongside a wide variety of seafood and meat and a busy carryout business. The deli grinds meats in-house and makes nine types of sausage; the plump links are on display in a glass case next to thick steaks and pork chops.
Trinacria Italian Deli
406 N. Paca St., Baltimore, 410-685-7285; and 111 W. Centre St., Baltimore, 443-759-4082, trinacriabaltimore.com
Opened in 1908, Trinacria's original location, a narrow building on North Paca Street, is packed full of pasta, meats, cheeses, breads and, in the back, some of the best wine deals in the city, with many bottles under $10. In 2014, the family behind the market opened a second location near the Walters Art Gallery that is part market and part restaurant, featuring great pizzas alongside some of the sandwiches made famous by the original location.
Joseph Gardella, owner of Little Italy focacceria Joe Benny's, makes his grandmother's cookies each year at Christmas. "She made them back in Sicily and her recipe lives on through my family here in the States," he says. "Best cookie around, I might add!"
Nonna Carmela's holiday cookies
Yields about 50 cookies
2 sticks of butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups flour
1 12-ounce box confectioners sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix butter, eggs, sugar and sour cream until combined.
Add baking soda, baking powder, vanilla extract and flour and mix until combined.
After mixing well, place the dough the refrigerator overnight.
Grease a cookie sheet.
Spread the confectionary sugar on a clean surface.
Form the dough into small round balls about the size of a quarter. Roll each ball in the confectioners sugar.
Place the balls on greased cookie sheet, about two inches apart.
Bake for about 8 minutes, until the edges start to slightly brown.