Authentic taste of southern Italy settles in Arundel ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY--Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale

March 22, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

When Gino and Mary Giolitti moved to Annapolis, they walked up and down the historic brick streets searching in vain for a shop that sold good prosciutto ham.

They couldn't find a decent slice of the salted, cured meat, let alone any fresh mozzarella. It was impossible to create the dripping hoagies they liked, not to mention rigatoni alla fornaia, or pasta with tomatoes, pesto and ricotta cheese.

In two short years, the Giolittis have changed all that. They have brought an authentic taste of southern Italy to Annapolis with a trattoria on Main Street and a traditional deli and grocery store in Parole.

"This is exactly what I had in mind," Mrs. Giolitti said, relaxing for a moment in a booth at her shop one rainy afternoon last week. "I wanted a place where everything would be fresh, everything would be made from scratch, no preservatives, nothing. Everything here is fresh, right down to the salad dressing, which we make."

Her husband's family has lived for generations in Rome. His parents run a pastry shop and coffee bar, "Giolitti of Roma," near the Pantheon. They also sell pastries and Italian ices at two other locations in the ancient city.

When Mrs. Giolitti visited her in-laws, she was served some of the best home-cooked meals she had ever tasted. Enchanted by the whole atmosphere in the Giolitti pastry shops and nearby restaurants, she decided to try to re-create it in the United States.

The daughter of a working mother and one of five children, Mrs. Giolitti became fascinated with cooking at an early age. She spent her study halls poring over cookbooks.

In southern Italy, she learned recipes handed down in the Giolitti family and regional specialties. Now, the woman who acknowledges in a whisper that she's "German, not Italian at all," is as adept as a Roman native.

"She's the best Italian cook I know," said Kathy Briscuso-O'Brien, her partner in the grocery and deli on Somerville Road. "I'm Italian, and I can't cook at all."

The Giolittis initially planned to open a genuine Italian grocery store, complete with rows of pasta, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh meats and cheeses and Italian wines, in Northern Virginia. But in spring 1991, they stumbled upon a vacant restaurant on Annapolis' Main Street.

They had not planned to open a trattoria until several years down the road, but the space seemed so ideal that they started La Piccola Roma, now one of the most popular restaurants in downtown Annapolis.

A year later, Mrs. Giolitti and Mrs. Briscuso-O'Brien teamed up to open the Giolitti Delicatessen in Parole. They transformed a former bank near Sears into an airy grocery shop and small eatery, with the feeling of a southern Italian grocery shop.

Inside the Giolitti deli, the smell of fresh-baked bread competes with daily specials. Shelves are stacked with Italian wines, pastas, garlic cloves and porcini mushrooms.

One glass case holds an array of cheeses, including at least four different types of mozzarella and provolone. In another are the desserts, ricotta cheesecake and tiramisu, layers of Italian biscuits soaked in espresso and covered with creamy, beaten eggs and sugar. A freezer boasts a big selection of prepared dinners.

Italian-speaking housewives stand in line with yuppie businesswomen. A man stops by to ask about taking one of Mrs. Giolitti's private cooking classes, a family orders a pizza, an elderly woman tastes the pastrami.

"People come all the way from St. Michaels or Easton to buy our breads," Mrs. Briscuso-O'Brien said. "They buy a dozen of them and freeze them until they can make it this way again."

For the two partners, the enterprise created back-breaking work and 80-hour weeks. But it's beginning to pay off.

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