If you’re looking for a meatball sandwich or fettuccine alfredo, you won’t find it here.
But “cinghiale” — a salty, robust dried wild boar sausage? There’s a heap of it piled on a rustic wooden board, and it’s tasty.
Walter Bergamaschi and Marti Printy Bergamaschi opened Dolce Vita Italian Grocer last year in Mesa, hoping to bring a taste of the country they love to their Alta Mesa neighborhood.
Six years ago, the husband-and-wife team brought another Italian specialty — gelato, made fresh daily — to the old Broadway Palm strip mall at Higley and Brown roads. The new grocery operates next door to the dessert shop.
“Everything’s imported. These are the flavors of Italy — what Walter grew up with and the foods I knew from living there 21 years. These are the flavors we were missing,” says Marti.
Shelves are stocked with authentic items labeled in Italian, from panna da cucina (cooking cream) and sale al tartufo (truffle salt) to Pan di Stelle chocolate and hazelnut cookies sprinkled with icing stars.
They’re items Walter, who grew up in Bergamo, about 40 kilometers from Milan, remembers. Pictures of his hometown decorate the walls of the space.
There’s also a deli counter, where customers can buy meat, cheese and homemade pasta to take home, or order a sandwich, salad, antipasto platter or pasta plate to eat at one of the grocery’s red-and-white-checkered tables.
Meats include porchetta, mortadella, prosciutto crudo and the aforementioned slightly gamey cinghiale. There are “cheeses I’ve never even seen or heard of even after living there so many years,” says Marti.
Some products are special, like the luxurious “guanciale,” or pork cheek, which rings in at $36 per pound.
“That is something you don’t find anywhere,” says Walter, holding up a cut of the delicate meat. He likes to prepare it “all’Amatriciana,” or with a red sauce and pasta.
Another gluttonous delicacy: “lardo di Colonnata,” or cured pig fat from a tiny village in Tuscany.
“It’s sliced extremely thin,” says Marti. “You put it on sliced bruschetta, and it just melts into the warm bread. It’s delicious. We have several customers who have been waiting months to get it, and when it arrives, we’ll be lucky to get 2 pounds of it.”
Some imports are hard to come by, say the couple, in part because the items come from small-batch producers in Italy, and restaurants and food shops all over the world are vying for a share of a very limited supply.
The Bergamaschis make their own gnocchi and ravioli, changing up flavors with the seasons. Ricotta and spinach ravioli sells well year round; last fall, pumpkin and amaretti (almond cookie) ravioli with butter, sage and brandy was in demand.
Pasta plates (think tagliatelle, pappardelle, panzerotti and tortellini with accompaniments like lobster, cream and prosciutto) run $11 to $18.
An Italian club meets at the grocery every Saturday, when the shop is typically bustling and lively. Customers with a more distant knowledge of Italian cuisine are also coming around, though they occasionally don’t know what to make of the items on the shelves or the bold, unfamiliar flavors on the menu.
“People didn’t know what gelato was when we first started. We had to educate them as to what it was for them to start getting into it, and they loved it. We’re kind of starting the same thing here again,” says Marti.
If you go
What: Dolce Vita Italian Grocer
When: Open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sundays
Where: 5251 E. Brown Road, Suite 103, Mesa
Cost: Antipasto and salads run $3-$15; sandwiches are $7; pasta dishes are $11-$18. Grocery prices vary.
Information: (480) 641-8482 or search Dolce Vita Italian Grocer on Facebook