Growing up in Connecticut, my parents often loaded us in the car and drove 45 minutes to West Hartford, CT, to stock up on Jewish delicacies from Crown Market. Their pickles, the big kosher hot dogs, pastrami and the coleslaw were all the real deal.
My Nana used to schlep me on several buses from her apartment in Yonkers to the upper West Side to shop at Zabar's- ah I still dream of the 20 types of lox. So, it is not too surprising that I enjoy driving an hour to go to find VERY good ethnic stores.
Mazzaros Market is on of those places you just might say, "what the heck, a tank of gas for all that homemade pasta, prosciutto and cannolis." Well that is what a mere 1,000 of folks like me did this past Saturday.
OK, truth be told, when I was first told about Mazzaro's in St. Petersburg, I thought, yeah but is it REALLY that crowed? Is it REALLY as good as the North End in Boston? Hush up all you cynics like me—it is Italy all the way.
I hadn't been in awhile and had NEVER been on a Saturday (word to the wise—go on a Thursday or Friday). Now, don't get me wrong, I love Piccolo's in Gulf Gate, Sarasota and Casa Italia on Constitution but there is something about the drive over the Skyway bridge (if you are coming from the south) that just makes you salivate even more. Just like driving to the Michael Korr's outlet in Ellenton.
There is a plan at Mazzaro's:
1. Make lists for each section and divide up. Did I mention to bring a large cooler and two friends to help?
2. Get someone to get online for sandwiches first and just shove right in there to get a number or you will NEVER get served. Get the eggplant parm—OMG! The only bummer is that the rolls are soft, but for $5 you can buy a 75-cent Rosemary roll at the bakery, which by now one of your runners should be over taking a number. Oh, I almost forgot, to the left of the sandwich counter is a refrigerated case. Buy the smaller pans of baked ziti and lasagna. There are bigger pans up front but you don't have to commit to a big pan if you don't want to.
3. The cheeses are in the wine room in the back right- do that last not as crowded.
4. Get two bone-in monster rib-eyes that are on the long French cut bones. if you are a vegetarian please drop them off at my house. Pick up 2 pounds of sweet Italian sausage bulk and 2 pounds hot Italian sausages.
5. Pasta time—past the sandwich counter—if you can get pass, there is another ticket to grab for deli meats and sliced cheese, prosciutto and fresh pastas. Get the spinach and cheese manicotti and 12 ravioli and 12 specialty ravioli like the chocolate ricotta for a special brunch dessert or the prosciutto spinach and cheese or lobster and ricotta. Now look to the right and you will find the sauces—get two containers of sausage Ragu. Turn to your left just past the prosciutto slicing machine and grab two pizzas—don't wait too long or the only ones left will be chicken and hummus.
6. Find your other runner that is waiting to take a ticket to order at the bakery. Get a half dozen cranberry-orange biscotti, a pan of Tiramisu, a few cannolis and those 75-cent rolls I told you about. If you are a chocolate lover, people say the chocolate, chocolate cream cheese rolls are good but I am missing the chocolate lovers gene so at best I will buy a whole Boston Cream pie—I KNOW, not Italian but it reminds me of my old city that I lived in and where we went to Mike's pastry for the lobster tails—no not Red Lobsters'—delicous flaky pastry filled with Bavarian Cream pastry.
7. Get a small cup of gelato next to the bakery because by now your blood sugar is low.
8. Go get your car that you parked two streets over and bring around to the front. Load everything up in the cooler—except the sandwiches.
9. Drive back home, eggplant parm sandwich dripping into your lap while you reach for a bite of cannoli and head home.
That is a day in heaven and well worth the trip.
2902 22nd Ave. St. Pete
Do you have a special place that you would drive hours to buy specialty foods at? Let us know.