Deli’s success bodes well for the beach
It’s no secret that many of us sand dwellers silently pine away for our beloved ethnic cuisines and markets we left behind in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New York or Baltimore. So you can imagine the excitement when the front window of a tiny storefront in Rehoboth Beach proclaimed: “Touch of Italy - Opening Soon!”
Old news, of course. But as Touch of Italy enters its third year in Rehoboth Beach, it’s still nice to have an authentic Italian salumeria and pasticceria right smack in the middle of it all. The heady fragrance of olives and fresh bread blends with earthen notes of charcuterie and aged cheeses to whip your taste buds into a frenzy.
Those of us who count ourselves among the salami starved and cheese challenged have Bob Ciprietti, Joe Curzi and Lou Bascio to thank for bringing this little bit of the Bronx to the beach. Ciprietti’s father grew up in Italy and worked as a tailor (along with his father’s father and brother) in the garment district of lower Manhattan. Bob’s mother’s family owned an Italian restaurant in Pennsylvania that stayed open for 55 years. When Ciprietti bought a home at Sea Colony in Bethany Beach 12 years ago, there were no local places specializing in Italian provisions that compared with his childhood home in the Bronx.
So on holidays, he’d fill his car with all sorts of cured meats, cheeses and breads, trade some of it with friends for cookies and wine, and throw a huge party at his place in Bethany.
He and Lou hung out together, crafting delicious meals from the stuff Ciprietti hauled down from New York.
He moved to the beach in 2003, and it wasn’t long before talk of a deli and sandwich shop began. He, Joe and skilled deli-guy Bascio teamed up to make the Rehoboth Touch of Italy a reality. The smiling faces of Lou and his brother Frank, all decked-out in their deli whites, make everybody feel at home in that crowded little morsel of Italy just a hop, skip and a waddle from the water.
Of course, you can’t keep a good concept down, and the expanded Touch of Italy in Lewes adds sit-down dining, a full bar and wood-fired pizzas to the mix. The stores have been so busy that Lewes partners Ciprietti and Curzi are fitting out a storefront in Five Points where bakery operations will be consolidated. Bob is particularly proud of their baker, whose bread-making secrets made it all the way here from the Bronx. Traditional specialties include pane de casa (similar to ciabatta), prosciutto bread, semolina loaves and various focaccias. The bakery case overflows with a tantalizing mélange of Italian cookies and pastries.
Peer into the front window of the Lewes installation, and you’ll see the hallowed Mozzarella Room where Yonkers-born cheesemaker Mike Berardinelli caresses milky curds into creamy clouds. Mike was a student of Orazio Carciotto, New York’s mozzarella maven and owner of the famed Casa Della Mozzarella at 187th and Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Mike has perfected the softly striated texture of the snow-white cheese, adding a smidgen of salt guaranteed to set off a party right there in your mouth.
Ciprietti and Curzi aren’t finished yet. With the help of marketing director Anne Keehan, they hope to build a solid brand for TOI. Their plans include another full-service restaurant and deli in Rehoboth Beach, plus an extensive website where out-of-towners can click their fridges full of Italian groceries and bakery favorites.
So the beat goes on. We of the starved and challenged hope that the success of ethnic ventures like Touch of Italy will draw even more expanded menus and dining choices here to the beach. I think we’re ready for it.