One city block. Four (Italian) specialty food shops. Countless options for Sunday dinner.
265 Atwells Avenue,
Established: 1938 (current owner took over in 1972)
Owner: Alan Costantino
Go here for: What else? Pasta (handmade in dozens of shapes, with hundreds of fillings).
The vibe: Jamming (low prices equals high volume). The lunch crunch starts at 11 a.m. and doesn’t end till dinner. The glassed-in open kitchen adds to the frenetic feel.
The look: Deli cases formed into a giant rectangle in the center of the room keep the traffic flowing from antipasti to braciole to marinated olives (there are seventeen different kinds). A forty-eight-seat cafe (with table service) lines the perimeter and a small espresso and gelato bar percolates by the checkout.
Who shops here: Judging from the lines: everyone. Even out-of-staters.
What we bought: Truffle ravioli, $12/dozen (the earthy delicacy, made with white or black truffles, is available from November to January), and a container of truffle butter, $7/2 ounces.
310 Atwells Avenue, 331-8620
Owners: Rosanna and Sisto Grillo
Go here for: Basic prepared foods and traditional Italian sweets—zeppole (flaky, custard-filled pastry), cannoli, wine biscuits and a half-dozen types of biscotti.
The vibe: It’s not uncommon to see the same few guys gathered every morning in the cafe section drinking espresso, speaking Italian, and giving cappuccino maven Kelli the occasional unsolicited tutoring session. Lunchtime is more hectic—grab your chicken parm or manicotti and go.
The look: There’s nothing modern about Roma. The interior feels like Nana’s apartment, with random displays of everything from gourmet gift baskets to Italian pottery; the shelves are on the sparse side, but the refrigerated cases are always full of Italian staples.
Who shops here: The same devotees who shopped and hung out here twelve years ago.
What we bought: A mini sfogliatelle, $1.35 (rumor has it people travel from Boston’s North End for these coveted rice custard-filled pastries), and a large cappuccino, $3.57.
286 Atwells Avenue,
Owners: Chef Walter Potenza and Carmela Natale
Go here for: “Free” foods—gluten, pesticide, hormone and antibiotic-free, that is. And, of course, certified organic.
The vibe: The cafe/market is quiet and has a laid-back, have-another-espresso feel. There’s a European sensibility and an Italian menu, but a largely American product list.
The look: The vibrant red and yellow walls (think paprika and tumeric) match the name “spezia,” which means spice in Italian. A handful of tables have a birds-eye view of Atwells or the Chef Walter show (you’ll find him sharing stories and recipes behind the counter).
Who shops here: Whole Foods groupies and the allergy-prone.
What we bought: Lunch: Pan-seared, air-cooled, hormone-free chicken breast dusted with potato flour, topped with a sauce of organic mushrooms, fresh tarragon and lemon, $8. (What we wanted to buy to go with it: a gluten-free martini.)
311 Atwells Avenue,
Established: 1965 as Tony’s (originally Gregory’s Colonial)
Owner: Tony DiCiccio
Go here for: Top-grade cured meats (sopressata, mortadella, capocollo) and Italian cheeses.
The vibe: A continuous feed of Italian TV sets an authentic tone. It’s not a big gathering spot (there are only three tables), but it’s primo for people watching (and overhearing).
The look: The star attraction—the deli case—lines one wall (don’t be shy about asking for samples) while the rest of the space is devoted to imported, often high-end, pantry items like truffle oil, seventy-five-year-old balsamic, chestnut flour and Illy espresso. The shelves are always immaculate—Tony often straightens them himself.
Who shops here: In a word: yuppies. A new generation has discovered Tony’s, but the old-school crowd still surfaces to prep for a special meal.
What we bought: A pound of delicate, slightly sweet Prosciutto di Parma, sliced paper-thin, $17.99, and a pound of Auricchio extra-sharp provolone, $9.99.