A Slice of New York's “Little Italy” in the Capital of the New South
I love making great little discoveries. So many travelers rely on familiar franchises and comfortable chains. I know of a man who is so addicted to a particular fast food drive-in chain that he plans his travel itinerary based solely upon that franchise's locations. And that's a shame because by doing so, he is denying himself the experience of landmark local places like “The Beacon” drive-in in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Such people miss out on so many marvelous opportunities to sample unique local flavors and customs. Life's too short to always be so bland and boring.
That's why I'm so thrilled with the East 48th Street Market, my latest bonanza in suburban Atlanta.
A note to small business owners: it pays to target your advertising dollars. As a subscriber to La Cucina Italiana magazine, I often check the section in the very back that lists Italian gourmet shops and stores across the country. I've seen the East 48th Street Market's listing in every issue for years and have always thought “I've got to find that place someday.” And the time finally arrived.
In town for the 2011 Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show at the Cobb Galleria Centre, I was staying nearby and decided to see where the East 48th Street Market was located in relation to my hotel and the show venue. Google Maps said it was only a few miles away in Dunwoody. I took a look at their website, which further convinced me that I needed to check them out. So with my iPhone GPS showing the way, I headed off on my culinary safari.
Now, my brain kept telling me that the East 48th Street Market should be on East 48th Street, so I couldn't quite understand why I was heading for Jett Ferry Road. My brain also kept telling me that I was looking for a big, free-standing Whole Foods Market-type edifice, so I was brought up kind of short when I almost missed the little place nestled down amongst a bunch of small shops and storefronts in a neighborhood strip mall. Albeit a rather nice strip mall in a very nice neighborhood. Having come this far, I committed to take the plunge.
As it was late in the afternoon, there were only a few patrons in the store when my wife and I entered. Since we were actually on our way to an Atlanta Braves game, we were appropriately attired in Braves t-shirts that immediately drew comments as soon as we walked through the door. Within two seconds of entering the place for the very first time, we were already talking baseball with the proprietors and patrons as if we were long-time regulars. That's a line-drive single.
A series of doubles and triples followed as we perused the merchandise, discovering dozens of Italian specialty items that we had previously only seen online. (I loaded up on my precious “doppio-zero” flour.) I started making calculations regarding how much room I had in my luggage versus how much money I had in my bank account. I could have done some serious damage to my financial well being.
The home runs started coming fast and furious as we placed our orders for food. Read almost anything else I've written and you'll know what I ordered first: pizza. And it was delicious! I splurged and had two slices while my wife devoured her generous portion of Penne Bolognese. I stole some of her breadsticks – hey, she wasn't able to eat them all – and was transported by the perfect texture and taste. Although billed as “Italian breadsticks,” these were not the grissini tradizionali duro, but rather a grissini morbidi e leggero. I'm a big enough man to admit it; my soft breadsticks are good, but these were great. All the food was casalinga fresca, by the way, and extremely reasonably priced. The vendors at Turner Field lost money on us that night. We were absolutely stuffed.
But what really made the place a grand slam – since I seem to be stuck in “baseball metaphor” mode – was the people. As I said before, we were treated like friends as soon as we walked in and we were like family by the time we walked out. Not too surprising, I suppose, since the East 48th Street Market is a family owned and operated business. And il capo di famiglia is Charlie Augello.
I could have talked to Charlie all night – and I nearly did! Only the fact that Tim Hudson wouldn't hold that first pitch until we got there motivated me to get up and go. But over the brief course of time that I sat at his table enjoying both his food and his conversation, I learned that Charlie, a first-generation Italian-American, is a native New Yorker, born and raised on Manhattan's East 48th Street. Hence the name of the business. He told me all about his journey from corporate America to suburban Atlanta, from being an engineer with a background in sales and marketing to owning an Italian market. (Atlanta was his ninth stop along that road.) He talked at length about his wife and children, all of whom are involved in his pursuit of a dream. The best accounting of the family's story, written by wife Anita, can be found on the market's website here: http://www.e48thstreetmarket.com/about_us.aspx.
Besides his family, Charlie's other most obvious passion is for quality Italian food, and his store reflects that passion. Along with the delicious prepared food we consumed on the premises, we purchased a variety of things to stock at home. I already mentioned the “double-zero” flour, the only flour sanctioned by the Vera Pizza Napoletana for use in authentic Italian pizza dough. We also came away with some marvelous speck and prosciutto di Parma, as well as some freshly made mozzarella. I picked up a common but somewhat hard to find brand of tomato paste that I like to use and my wife indulged her sweet tooth with some homemade biscotti and a couple of Baci, decadent little chocolate and hazelnut kisses made in Italy by Perugina and marketed in the US, but also rather hard to find just anywhere. And we acquired a bottle of Rosa Regale from Charlie's abundant wine selection.
Sidebar: When I returned home and made some of those ingredients into mozzarella in carrozza and pizza Margherita, I couldn't tell whether I was in heaven or in Italy. Fantastico!
We loved the 48th Street Market so much that we abandoned plans for a post-MCES dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant in favor of going back and having more of Charlie's cibo favolosi after the event. I only wish I could have convinced Giada De Laurentiis to come with us. She would have most definitely approved of the place. According to Charlie, Marcella Hazan did when she visited a few years ago.
Unfortunately, I don't live close enough to Atlanta to be a regular, but the East 48th Street Market is now a “must stop” destination whenever I am in town. And all is not lost; they ship nationwide.
Visit the East 48th Street Market at 2462 Jett Ferry Road in Dunwoody, GA (30338.) Call them at 770-392-1499. And be sure to check out their website at www.east48thstreetmarket.com.
Tell Charlie I sent you.