Thursday, March 16, 2006

At Joe's...

The storefront is tiny and cramped and filled with things they used to eat as kids back in the old country. The air is humid, smells of warm milk and salumi and feels like your kitchen ought to feel. But, this is New York so no one really cooks and you come to “Joe’s” to escape the pristene stove top, the pretentious SoHo boutiques that ate Little Italy whole (like a mobster w. a meatball sub), the unremitting anxiety that you’ll never, ever meet your word count (your first born supplanting the final 150 pages of your novel).

The wooden countertop at "Joe’s" is 4 inches thick and bowed from decades of wear. Two scales are at the ready—though the second one is only put to use on Saturday mornings when the old neighborhood comes in from Queens and New Jersey to get a slice of childhood, a mouthful of memories, a taste of the uncomplicated. The mother and daughter team slice off hunks of the parmigiano and ricotta salata and piave while the father and grandfather stir a cauldron-like pot with the utmost care, rotating the enormous vat of fresh mozzarella on and off the heat at precisely the right moment. The fat white balls float contentedly in the milky water until one of the two uncles—both around 80 years young—wrap then stack the gorgeous soft cheese, readying it for the finest, over-priced Italian restaurants in the city. A caprese salad at "Cipriani’s?" That’ll be $25. A base-ball size portion of mozzarella at "Joe’s?" $4. I’m in the thick of Sin City and yet I feel protected, nurtured. Life is simple on Sullivan.

My order is consistent, my conversation with the mother never changing much except for the day I was in the "New York Post." She asked where I was from, what I was doing so far from home and then slipped a smoked mozzarella into the bag containing my usual order of gruyere, triple cream brie, lightly salted mozzarella. I got back home, poured a glass of Pinot Gris (because this is what I do after visiting "Joe’s") and found the sweet, little surprise in a place where the cynics claim nothing’s free and no one knows your name.

Joe’s Dairy, 156 Sullivan St, New York, NY

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