Sunday, January 29, 2017

Foodie Field Trip- Graziano Brothers

Have I ever said how much I HATE shopping? The mall is so depressing to me. I never go there. The worst part of the holiday season- shopping. Back to school time- shopping. Mindlessly shuffling through the giant tomb of consumerism just sucks the soul out of me. 

Unless it's foodie shopping. Ohhhhhh ya. Then I am alllll about hitting the store. Not just the everyday grocery store. Foodie shopping. Gourmet groceries. Unusual produce and ingredients. Ethnic foods. Kitchen equipment. Spices and herbs. Oils and vinegars. Wines. Cookware. Knives. All the knives. Now you're talking to my heart, folks. My foodie friend Mary was in town for the weekend. We met for sushi on Friday evening and decided we better hit Graziano's in the morning so she can restock cooking supplies for her Missouri home, and I can stock up on a few things too. A few things- ha! Who are we kidding here?

So Friday night over dinner at Sakari Sushi Lounge and sake bombs Mary, our friend Angi and I munched on fabulous sushi rolls and discussed the upcoming Chocolate Affair in Hannibal. Angi and I are planning a road trip for the event- yay!! Girlie Foodie Field Trip!- and the discussion turned to Graziano's. For those of you who aren't familiar, Graziano Brothers is a landmark food store in Des Moines. Founded in 1912 by Louis and Frank Graziano, two brothers who had emigrated to Iowa from San Morello, Italy, and made their way to Des Moines. Louis opened the grocery store while Frank remained employed by the railroad company until the store was well on its feet. The grocery store sits just south of downtown Des Moines in an area that was once known as Little Italy and has supplied Des Moines with authentic Italian groceries, pastas, breads, homemade sausage, meatballs, imported deli meats and cheeses, bulk spices and herbs and some of the best olives on the planet for over 100 years.

The quaint store facade is suited perfectly for the old time feel of the store. Not a huge store, they have a small collection of shopping carts at the door. You'd think you wouldn't need one here, but if you know me...... ya, you do. The first items in the door are the bulk spices on the right, olive oils on the left. This is where Mary and I began our stock-up shopping. Graziano's house blended Italian seasoning is the best thing I have ever tasted. Herbs, garlic and bits of crushed red pepper are the perfect seasoning for any Italian dishes from pasta to pizza sauce. I grab the usual size bag for our house, it's priced at $3.25. I kid you not, there is a good 3 cups of seasoning in this bag, easily enough to last us a year or more. At home I transfer it to an airtight container to keep it fresh. I also grabbed a bag of crushed red pepper, again easily a year's supply, for $3.45. You just cannot get a better deal anywhere.

We love mushrooms at our house and in the same section of the store you will find beautiful dried mushrooms, like porcini, portobella, and woodear. I grabbed some porcini and woodear because, well, you just might need them, and at $2.75 and $1.15 respectively, I just can't say no. I also snuck a nice bag of sun dried tomatoes, soft and raisiny, not dried and crispy into my shopping cart. I am often searching the supermarket for sun dried tomatoes and most of the time find just the oil packed kind. That's not usually what I want for cooking and baking. Sun dried tomatoes that are packed by themselves like this are excellent in breadmaking.

Continuing down the aisle, Angi had lots of questions. Recommendations for a pasta sauce? Type of olive? Recipe ideas? For a first timer in the store she was suitably impressed by the variety and selection, especially when we got to the meat and cheese counter. Italian sausage was bought by all, and Angi grabbed some of the extra hot sausage. Mary tried a couple different imported salamis and cheeses that were new to her, Angi got several of the hot pepper cheeses and I went with the traditional famous Italian sausage and provolone cheese- sliced to order every time. It's hard to beat the Iowa classic Italian sausage sandwich especially with the best sausage hands down.

The pasta aisle was like an amusement park for food lovers. Every shape, every size. Every pasta you can possibly imagine in sizes from one pound packages to giant bags I'd guess to be 5 pounds or more. I grabbed some fusilli and some cavatelli as my mind had trouble focusing on just on or two types. I am not kidding when I say it's so easy for any self respecting foodie to go absolutely freakin bonkers in here. In the same aisle I was just as tempted by several different kinds of arborio rice and risotto mixes and seasonings. Bags of wandas tempted me, but I resisted. Italian cookies and candies also beckoned to me, but I was strong. After all, I did have a giant tub of Graziano's olives in the cart- a whole quart container for $4.75.

South Union bread is sold here, and the aroma of that freshly baked bread was so welcoming. Italian rolls, breads, focaccia, loaves, so so many options. I did not get out of that aisle without a focaccia in my cart. I can't wait to eat it.

At the front of the store there are several large frozen and refrigerated cases containing fresh mozzarella, Italian sodas and beverages, more sausages like salami and others, marinated peppers and......more olives. Different types of olives. Yes, again I fell victim to the lure of olives. This time I grabbed some castelvetrano olives. If you ever get a chance to try these you simply must. In the frozen case you can find prepacked Graziano's Italian sausage in one pound hunks, pasta sauces from some of the local Italian spots, and housemade meatballs- even miniature meatballs. I grabbed a pound- they will be awesome with the cavatelli! Here again, pasta is king with probably 20 or more varieties of handmade ravioli, lasagna, cavatelli, pastas, manicotti, and the whole reason for coming here in the first place- cannoli. Oh. Em. Gee. Creamy ricotta cheese, just the right amount of sweet, chopped pistachios, bits of bittersweet chocolate and that crunchy cannoli shell. You bet I got one!

Also at the front of the store is this amazing piece of history- this beautiful and old old old butcher block. How I'd love to sit around that table with an espresso or macchiato and talk about the old days with the many people who have labored over that surface, kneading bread, rolling pasta, cutting wandas, chopping, singing, feeding their family and sharing the love. It had to be a prominent part of someones home kitchen at one time. The top is worn with years of use- Mary and I wondered about the many generations of cooks who stood beside this table and thought about all the meals prepared by hand. Kind of gives me the shivers to think about all that table has seen over the decades.

I'm happy to say Mary and I got Angi off to a good start with some Italian marinara sauce, delicious olives, some giardinera she picked out, and her sausage and cheeses. I'm pretty sure she will be back. I KNOW Mary and I will! Now........ off to go cook something............

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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