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Nadya

A. Litteri

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Driving around New York Avenue, one does not expect to see fancy food. As one tools down, one glances over copious MickeyDees and KayEfCees with a tired, resigned eye.

This is why this little mom-and-pop shoebox of a deli cunningly buried in a row of sketchy Greyhound Station meets Port-au-Prince market storefronts is such a delight. Crammed to the hilt with all kinds of Italian goodies, wine, pesto, pasta, cookies, fancy anchovies, Litteri's has been there for allegedly close to a very long time.

In addition, it churns out very satisfying subs, a half of which I just happily devoured for lunch under the resentful glare of my Lean-Cuisine-lovin' coworkers. In case you are wondering, the other half has been reserved for a healthy afternoon snack.

I feel happier about living in the 'hood knowing that it is there.

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Driving around New York Avenue, one does not expect to see fancy food. As one tools down, one glances over copious MickeyDees and KayEfCees with a tired, resigned eye.

This is why this little mom-and-pop shoebox of a deli cunningly buried in a row of sketchy Greyhound Station meets Port-au-Prince market storefronts is such a delight. Crammed to the hilt with all kinds of Italian goodies, wine, pesto, pasta, cookies, fancy anchovies, Litteri's has been there for allegedly close to a very long time. 

In addition, it churns out very satisfying subs, a half of which I just happily devoured for lunch under the resentful glare of my Lean-Cuisine-lovin' coworkers.  In case you are wondering, the other half has been reserved for a healthy afternoon snack. 

I feel happier about living in the 'hood knowing that it is there.

Litteri's is great. Their olive oil and balsamico selection alone is worth a visit.

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How do the prices at Litteri's for, say, a can of tomatoes, a pound of parmigiano, and a bag of risotto compare to here?

I've been quite satisfied with the products at Teitel Bros., but would rather not make the drive to Arthur Avenue if Northeast DC will suffice.

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I buy Cheese and Balsamic/Oil and other goodies from dibruno in PA. I have done mail order, been to the store and have had no issue.  I would give it a shot.

I have done large purchases with coworkers and have received discounts on volume.

http://www.dibruno.com/

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When you get into 50 year old Balsamic you're approaching rarified territory.  Several days ago we opened a corked bottle of gold label Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale that I bought in Bologna about five or six years ago.  At the time the Euro was .83 to the U. S. dollar; this was Euro 120, so it cost me about $100.00 for 100 ml.  Today, this would be around US $150-200 for about 5-6 ounces.  There are two lesser grades of Aceto Balsamico (silver and bronze) but they are still horrendously expensive.  We all tasted this from a spoon without anything to interfere/color its flavor.  Syrupy, intense, actually sweet:  I was told in Italy that this could be eaten over Vanilla ice cream and having tasted this I agree.  God, it was like nectar with absolutely nothing in common with any image or taste of vinegar, balsamic or otherwise that I could ever imagine!  I've seen this in America at a few places usually under lock and key. 

In any event the empty bottle is now on a prominent shelf in our house, displayed as a one time indulgence with reverential envy for anyone able to taste this more than once in a lifetime!

Euro 204 at Volpetti in Roma. Click

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Disclaimer: The following records first impressions only. It is written while weary and digesting and somewhat distracted. I wasn't planning on writing up the trip in any great detail, so I regret not taking notes.

In a quest to check out all local options for stocking up on Italian groceries, I decided to begin at what is arguably the best-known of the lot.

Getting There: via public transportation proved simple after calling the store and getting directions: get off at the New York Avenue stop on the red line, exit onto Florida Avenue, going R under the bridge, up past a liquor store and large pale blue charter school before crossing Florida and heading L on 5th, then hanging an immediate R on Morse. You're now at the far right end of a wholesale market, 1 1/2 blocks long. At 517-519 Morse St. NE, Litteri's is easy to overlook: the second establishment in on a narrow concrete platform, front painted green, a little darker than one third of the Italian flag. Wait for the two large people carrying bundles to emerge from a screen door that could have been on a front porch in Brooklyn. Within five minutes, you see, squeeze by and stop to chat with someone you know. It's that popular, compact and crowded.

Stelle: Too soon to decide how many stars. Gut reaction is mezza mezza. Quite disappointed in range of meats, cheeses and items in jars, cans and bottles processed in Italy from Italian ingredients. Not really the place to buy your rice. Bread? Boh. ( :blink: though said with a little of this ;) going on) Reputation for a wide selection of olive oils, vinegars and wines is well-earned, though it should be said that the majority of the former are from Southern Italy, especially Puglia and Sicily. This is fine, since it is especially difficult to find a selection of Sicilian olive oils. To add to the list: excellent variety of canned tomatoes and dried pasta, though not all of them choice.

Hard to Find Items: Dried lupini (beans) and gigante (cannellini, but large). Even the dried fava beans looked superior to the ones from Goya, at about 3 times the price. Olive oil from Liguria (the folk who invented pesto and maro) which I found only at TJMaxx (fluke) and Balducci's before when I was searching for it. Mostardo for less than Whole Foods charges, even now, with its reduced price. Caciocavallo--well, they were out. There was scarmoza, a related cheese popular in Southern Italy, also in the family of pasta filata, or semisoft cheeses that are stringy when they melt. However, these were domestic. I just didn't want to spend $12 for a large ball of cheese from Wisconsin just to see what it's like. In the freezer were some unusual prepared dishes and stuffed pastas. I could swear I saw cavatelli w sheep's ricotta, but not on anyone's grave.

Caveat Emptor: 1) Check labels carefully when purchasing olive oil. Produced in Italy does NOT mean that the olives are Italian and Litteri does sell a number of Greek, Australian, and Californian oils. However, Litteri seems to specialize in Italian oils made from Italian olives. Look for DOP on the label for special oils that the govt recognizes as regional specialties, too. Most important, though: check for date. There are a lot of bottles there and some just don't move. I saw oils from 2003 and one that was "Best by 2005" which is probably significant since these are out on a shelf if not under intense light. 2) Be familiar w prices elsewhere. Farro, for example, runs for $8.99 a package (less than half a kilo); one brand quite elegant and artisanal might still be $2 less at Dean & DeLuca's! On the other hand, they sell Locatelli Romano which P St.'s WF no longer carries & at half the price of Giant ($7.99, I think).

According to John Mariani, of the 5 million Italians who emigrated to the United States between 1890-1910, 4 million came from the Southern regions of Campania (Naples), Calabria, Abruzzi, Puglia (Bari, Lecce) and Sicily. I don't know much about local historical patterns, such as the regional origins of masons at the National Cathedral. In any respect, it is understandable that the Italian-American store's focus is on Southern Italian foods and tastes.

I'd have to go back and verify my impression that there weren't many Tuscan olive oils, for example, though I noticed quite a few concessions to trends of the past 30 years or so; cf. post above on authetic, aged Balsamic vinegar, if concerning a purchase in Bologna. Plenty of balsamic vinegar, some bottles at prices that one hopes correlates to quality, though, I didn't look closely and lack the expertise.

I am cooking dishes from perhaps the two poorest regions of Italy this month: Basilicata and Calabria. I figured I'd be able to find some hot chili peppers, chili-concoctions and Calabrian items to bring home. Maybe, if I was lucky, something like the long, uninterrupted lengths of sausage Basilicata is known for. However, for much of the inventory, the Italian-American legacy of making-do with what's available--or making one's own--is in greater evidence than the recent demand for authentic, imported and true. (Nonna tends to be from Iowa these days and most shoppers did not look Italian-American.) So, I did find little red, bottled peppers. The brand was Roland, though, and they were from Spain. Nothing like the bright red hot, oily mixtures a housemate from Lecce introduced to me. Lots of pickled vegetables from Greece (and olive oil, etc.), jars of spicy sauces and oils with Chinese names. Indian. American Southern, even.

My purchases: 2 hot sausages. Cool dried pasta in shapes that are hard to find elsewhere: spaccatella, white-flecked curls resembling half of this site's quotation marks for only 99 cents; mafaldine, the love-child of dried lasagna sheets and linguine*. A tube of red chili paste for $4 I look forward to squeezing. Le Valle tomato paste for 79 cents. Calabrian green olives (delicious & bargain). I'll definitely go back for more.

*There were lots of dried, boxed egg pastas, including the garganelli DCDavid & wife produced at Porcupine's home. De Cecco at $1.59, though some names did not match shapes. None of the pricier artisanal producers from Abruzzo, for example.

P.S. I cooked one of the sausages for dinner last night and was very happy with it. Swelled in the pan--plumpest I've ever seen around here, juicy, just the right amount of fennel seed. Quibble: not really hot, but this is a minor point since there are plenty of ways to add a kick externally. Superior to sausages from Whole Foods and at the very least, as good as those from Vace.

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Had a great mortadella, capicola, and provolone sandwich with olives and hot peppers on a hard roll here today. Decided to forgo my usual prosciutto and fresh mozzarella and try something different. I can't say which sandwich is better. Both are very good but very different, I think it depends on what kind of mood you're in. When I was paying the check out girl was eating some of their meatballs which looked and smelled really good as well. Something to consider for next time.

I was there at 11:30 put my order in at the counter and waited about 10 minutes before it was ready. During that time I browsed the crazy amount of products they have in the store and watched the old Italian guy cut up samples for the people waiting in line and flirt with the young women. If you want to see a real cross cultural slice of DC come here at lunchtime. Cops, day labors, and guys in suits all waiting in line for sandwiches. Is this place as good as the Italian Store? Not growing up in a sandwich eating culture I'm not an expert and can only comment on what I like. I've been to the Italian Store once and had a muffaletta and a Milano sandwich that I enjoyed but I would never want to have to experience that crowd and that craziness again. It was probably a mistake to go on a Sun. afternoon during football season. When we arrived there were at least 50 people there with the same idea. It took us about 30 minutes to get our sandwiches after ordering and during that time there was at least one instance where somebody claimed somebody else's order to jump the line and get out of there faster. In terms of convenience, location, and stress level A. Litteri wins hands down.

I wan't aware this was posted under the Shopping and Cooking forum and had intended for it to go to the restaurants and dining posts.

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...Reputation for a wide selection of olive oils, vinegars and wines is well-earned, though it should be said that the majority of the former are from Southern Italy, especially Puglia and Sicily. This is fine, since it is especially difficult to find a selection of Sicilian olive oils. To add to the list: excellent variety of canned tomatoes and dried pasta, though not all of them choice...
Indeed. Finest variety of cooking and finishing oils in DC. While some of the rail oils and acids would be better used to lubricate and polish vintage mechanisms, the dizzying selection includes top shelf unfiltered first cold pressed Ligurian gold Raineri (silver filtered) and Ardoino Fructus, Calogiuri family Puglian “Affiorato” and vincotto, Sicilian Frantoia ($24/L!) and decent Greek oils. Very reasonably prices 3L tins. Not much in the way of authentic canned San Marzano tomatoes, but clever marketing on the labels to suggest so. Only 1 French oil and a lone 50-year sherry vinegar.

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What a wild little shop. Got lots of stuff here today. Wine, olive oil (sicilian), aged balsamico (lots to choose from and reasonably well priced, though some was a bit more on the outrageous side), salt cured anchovies, harder to find dried pastas and more. I'm shooting myself for forgetting the dried porcini though darn it.

I did not spend a lot of time in the freezer section or where the meats were (wife handled that part) but am told there was loads of what sounded like great frozen pasta dishes there as well as a decent selection of meats at the deli counter.

I'll go back......With the encroachment of the NY Avenue building boom, it may be that that market shopping area gets bulldozed and turned in to condos in the next ten years or so. There's a big sign across the street next to the Burger King showing a tall condo building that is already planned.

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One of the things I miss the most about not working in dc anymore..... Meatball marinara from a.litteris. I get a 6 inch soft white and grab a cold cut outta the fridge on my way out( I love it when the Italian cold cut has a chance for all the Italian dressing to soak into the bread).

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A few years ago my mother took a cooking class in Tuscany from a chef who had lived in DC.  She asked for suggestions for olive oil to bring back as gifts.  He told her to go to Littteri's instead.

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