Di Palo’s is my favorite place to buy food in New York, despite the extreme inconvenience often involved in doing so. I first read about it in a piece by Jeffrey Steingarten, in which he described a tasting of Parmesan cheeses from different seasons. The first few times I went, I didn’t have hours to wait, so I stood around annoyed for ten minutes and then took off. Eventually, I learned that you can take a number and then go run other errands in the neighborhood for twenty or thirty minutes. These days, I don’t mind waiting for my turn in the store, because DiPalo’s is not a bad place to waste time, even when it’s bustling.
I usually go to Di Palo’s for Parmesan, which never disappoints and is the cheapest in this city or any other: $11.99 a pound. I leave the store with a bag full of cured meats and other Italian cheese. Yesterday, after waiting a modest 35 minutes, which I spent listening to various people from the five boroughs talk about their trips to Italy, their favorite cheese, and their favorite pizza places, I bought salty and delicate prosciutto di Parma ($20 per pound), soppressatta, a pound of fresh ricotta ($4, with which I made fabulous spinach gnudi last night), and a half pound of nutty Piave cheese ($10 per pound).
The reason one must wait so long is not bad service—it is ridiculously good service. It’s the best, friendliest, and most thorough service in town. You’re offered samples (and sometimes a history) of everything you order, and you’re encouraged to sample and discuss other products in a totally unpretentious way. Lou, the owner, stopped what he was doing at several points to talk about something to a gathering crowd. My instinct is to be annoyed, but when it’s my turn, I forget about everyone else in the store, and I’m happy to have my moment at the counter, which never lasts less than five minutes (a very tiny order by Di Palo standards; I see people ordering for 45 minutes and leaving with full grocery bags). The prices are low, and the products are excellent.
My only letdown yesterday was the soppressatta, and if someone in New York knows a good source, I’d love to hear it. I had been buying a local version at Murray’s and eating it gluttonously for months until I read the ingredients and found corn syrup second from the top of the list. This baffled me, and I called them out on it one day. They were surprised, and they steered me towards a different salami, from Niman Ranch. I enjoy it, but not nearly as much as the soppressatta. I thought Di Palo’s would trounce them in this department, but their version is fatty and chewy and not at all what I expected. I like it less moist and a bit harder. If someone knows something, please help.
Di Palo’s, 206 Grand Street @ Mott Street, 212-226-1033