Walk through the doors of the Piccolo Deli and you feel like you’ve been transported to Italy. The unbelievable aroma of cheeses and sauce cooking, and the conversation and laughter that is part of the service…well, it’s a happy place that brings back some of my own childhood, having grown up in an Italian town on Long Island. So the aroma, to me, is like a trigger to want to eat all the imported and homemade foods that Piccolo Deli offers, including homemade sausage ( be still my heart ) lasagna, freshly-baked bread and everything I can possibly get into a bag. Your senses are completely taken over and you’re in an Italian trance. So I might be making a few questionable decisions on what to buy and what to eat to get my Italian “fix” on. Just don’t tell my cardiologist you saw me here!
Actually I got quite an education about how healthy the food really is. Everything you love about the Mediterranean Diet is most of what Italians live on. You have to know your products, and Antonio and Josephine Dirende know their nutrition and are happy to share the information with their customers. The Dirende’s were not always proprietors of the Piccolo Deli. Having grown up in Brooklyn, Antonio was in the electronics business. Having several restaurants in the family including a Pizzeria in New Rochelle, NY, it was an idea that was slow coming. When asked what brought him and his family to Sarasota, his reply was that he was working for ADT Corp. and they had an opening in Sarasota, so they moved.
In 2006 Antonio resigned from ADT and bought an Italian deli on Rt. 41, but in 2008 moved the store to the present location. I have been at the deli on and off and it’s never slow. You’ve got customers in and out all day, including the many regulars who wouldn’t buy their Italian staples anywhere else. He told me that the family still has his grandmother’s house in Italy where there are many olive trees that are utilized locally.
On any given day there’s homemade sausage-making going on, chicken cutlets cooking, baked ziti and veal cutlets being prepared several different ways, and a store filled with products you won’t ever see in your local supermarket. There’s a pride involved in all of this, and I asked many questions of Antonio and he patiently answered them. For instance, did you know that the olive oil you buy in your grocery store says Italian Extra Virgin oil but if you turn the bottle around you’ll see in fine print: packed in Tunisia, packed in Spain, and you can never be sure you’re buying what you’re paying for. I learned that Piccolo carries many brands of olive oil, but also UNFILTERED extra virgin olive oil for the person who prefers the least “manufacturing” or changing of the basic oil. I had no idea about that.
Continuing along the nutritional aspect, I am gluten-intolerant as well as a Type 2 Diabetic. If I’m going to boil up a pot of pasta and put oil and parmesan cheese on it, I’ll be eating it in the closet so no one can see what a great time I’m having tell me it’s bad for me. Well, that’s true if you buy enriched pasta, according to Antonio. And he knows. He explained to me that the enriching process means that while the pasta is cooking, the water is cloudy. That’s all the good protein coming out into the water, due to the pasta being enriched. He brought to my attention that if I cook up a pot of non-enriched pasta, the water will be clear, the taste so much better, and with the protein intact, pasta is not dangerous to a diabetic. Think about it…diabetics are supposed to eat proteins regularly. This non-enriched pasta can now be a positive addition to the diabetic’s diet. Just not every day folks. Everything in moderation. But let me let the big cat out of the bag….2 weeks ago the FDA approved pasta makers to remove the enrichment and white flour from their pasta, because they now understand how that whole process isn’t really good for anyone.
Antonio and Josephine have three children…14, 12, and 9. So far none have expressed a great deal of interest in the store, but you never know. When Antonio and I discussed the prices of the wonderful products he sells, I asked if price is an issue, for people on a fixed income, for instance. Well, I was elated and enlightened to find out that he undercuts the grocery store prices and the prices of his competition so he can remain a healthy part of the local economy and an affordable choice for Sarasota.
If you haven’t been to the Piccolo Deli at 2128 Gulf Gate Drive in Sarasota, you’d better go. You’re missing something delicious and fun. They have a great website! And, tell them Laurie from the Sarasota Post sent you!