Whether you call them salumerias, Italian speciality shops, or simply delicatessens, we have a lot of them in New Jersey and everyone has a favorite. My new favorite is Piccolo’s Gastronomia Italiana in Ridgefield.
Walking in, it’s wall to wall imported Italian goods. They have a vintage checkout lane that brings back memories, but it is modernized, and they do take credit cards. The impulse candy is Nutella-to-go, and there is a fresh produce aisle, so for some meals this can be one stop shopping. The deli counter is of course the showcase, and the top is lined with samples of fresh mozzarella, sausage bread, ricotta pie, apple walnut bread, and many more treats. There is also a display of olive oil and spreads to try on slices of fresh crusty bread.
They’re a little bigger than most, which gives them plenty of room for an impressive selection of imported olive oils and other foodstuffs, from eleven pound tubs of Nutella to the enormous millegherini pasta that my grandmother used to call “scarfatoons,” because they resemble gigantic rigatoni. On occasion you buy pasta in such stores and it has been sitting on the shelf too long, so the pasta breaks apart while cooking. Not these! They held together and made for a delicious Sunday supper. Piccolo’s does a brisk business, so nothing sits too long.
For lunch, I opted for the Tommy Salami special: a chicken cutlet on an Italian roll with fresh mozz and broccoli rabe sauteed in olive oil and garlic. Piccolo’s did not disappoint. The bread was crusty and full of flavor, the chicken tender and the breading crisp, the mozzarella creamy with that hint of tart. The broccoli cooked just enough to leave some crunch, the color bright and fresh.
They also have a full selection of the San Pellegrino flavored beverages. You can get Limonata and Aranciata everywhere, and sometimes the blood orange, but Piccolo also had Chino, made from the bitter chinato berry. It makes for a sharp, tart drink that pairs well with bitter broccoli rabe. My friend Anthony, a Staten Island native, had a chicken parmigiana which he declared to be excellent. Which means no words were spoken, only grunts of pleasure between bites. The sandwiches are a foot long and stuffed fat, and easily make two meals for most people.
The caprese salad of grape tomatoes and ciliegene (cherry) size mozzarella was also excellent, a bit heavy on the olive oil, but quite good. I’m not a fan of ricotta pie, but theirs changed my mind. I went back for more. The deli counter has a fine selection of cheeses and meats befitting a salumeria, and pre-made meals are available. They also sell fresh pasta and ravioli in the chiller case.
Piccolo’s Gastronomia is a bit out of the way for me, but it is run by friendly people who keep a fine selection and make great food, so I find my Mini Cooper heading there whenever I desire a sandwich bursting with mozzarella served by a smiling nonna who will happily suggest possible toppings you might have forgotten. Balsamic? Sun-dried tomato? Mangia, you look hungry!
It’s worth a trip for lunch or to peruse their shelves snug with delicacies. Try to pass up the jar of Nutella bigger than your head, though. This is New Jersey; temptation will find you on its own. No need to taunt it!
Besides, you can also buy online: http://piccolosgastronomia.com/
Piccolo’s Gastronomia Italiana
484 Bergen Blvd.
Ridgefield, NJ 07657
Tel: (201) 313-0200
Thomas Pluck is a writer living in Essex County, New Jersey.
He writes unflinching fiction with heart, and his work has appeared in The Utne Reader, Blood & Tacos, McSweeney’s, Crimespree and elsewhere. He edits charity anthologies to benefit PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children, and blogs about burgers, beer, books and buffoonery at www.thomaspluck.com
You can also find him on Twitter as @tommysalami