Garlic-laced steam sizzles from pizza ovens, milk frothers hiss and espresso grinders buzz, fried dough and marinara and cigar smoke mingle in the neon-lit night air: a walk through Little Italy, where it always seems a feast to this saint or that, is a meal in itself. Your senses are full before you even pull up to that checkered tablecloth — Italian food is visceral. Or rather, real Italian food is. We can’t think of a cuisine with more distance between the low end and the high: From overcooked pasta in watery ketchup to grainy, al dente pappardelle; freezer-aisle pizza to hand-tossed wood-fired dough; thimble-sized, syrupy espresso to venti peppermint frappuccinos. “Italian” and Italian, like Sears and the Sistine chapel. But Italian by way of America needn’t mean Boyardee. In fact, some of the most authentic stuff is made here, in radically un-Italian towns like Oakland and Cincinnati. So this month’s crate is a taste of the motherland. A Little Italy closer to home than you think.
T Bone Spice// Greenpoint Trading Co. // Brooklyn, NY
But if you’d rather cook the cow yourself, we have you covered. Or at least the steak. Greenpoint Trading’s blending warehouse on the industrial outskirts of Brooklyn is an incongruously fragrant portal to paradise: baskets and barrels of paprika and cayenne, coffee and turmeric awaiting hand-mixing into rubs like this. A life-changing replacement for your plain table salt, it also makes a perfect rub for any meat, not just the eponymous cut. We like skirt steak, a half-inch thick, brought to room temperature, rubbed, and quickly grilled.
Rosemary Chickpeatos // Watusee Foods // Washington, D.C.
Good food takes time, but bellies don’t wait — and the better the smells from the kitchen, the louder the rumbles. We know, you gotta snack while the sauce simmers or the steak sizzles. Born as a semi-secret munchie snuck into med school study groups (the crunch gave it away), Chickpeatos have you covered, wholesomely. Crunchy as a breadstick, addictive as chips, sized for the fistful, and fragrantly spiced. Leftovers? We doubt it, but if the salad course arrives before the snacking’s over, dump the remainder on top. You’ll never use a crouton again.
Roasted Garlic Olive Oil // O Olive Oil // Petaluma, CA
Roasting garlic, like caramelizing onions, is a take-no-shortcuts proposition. Either spend the time to slowly stir, or fuggedaboutit. Or open a bottle. O began as the first company in the US to press real citrus with its oils, instead of flavoring them artificially. Now they add other goodies to their hand-harvested Mission olives, like fresh California garlic, slow-roasted for forty-eight hours. What do you do with it, besides breathe deep and dream? Try this: sauté some good mushrooms in oil for a few minutes, season with salt and pepper and thyme, and toss with pasta. Top with a drizzle of oil.
Pappardelle // Community Grains // Oakland, CA
Nothing’s easier than cooking pasta. Nothing’s harder than making it, starting with the hunt for real, whole-grain, California-grown flour. It took years to build the right supply chains, but Community Grains did, and you reap the goods: hard amber durum wheat, milled whole (bran, germ, and all), mixed, rolled, cut (with real bronze dies), and air dried ever so slowly. And that’s just the beginning. Now you have to cook it. Thankfully, that’s the easy part — after all the work it took to make that single noodle, you can surely wait for a pot to boil. With pasta like this, it’s worth it.
A&B Pepper Sauce // A&B American Style // Brooklyn, NY
There’s a hot sauce arms race on, and your local supermarket condiments aisle can feel like a bio-war munitions lab. Bottles come with warnings — better fit for stripping paint and clearing drains; just reading the labels makes our eyes water. But not A&B’s. They don’t call it hot sauce, because it’s not about the heat, it’s about the flavor: Fresnos, carrots, onions, vinegar, and salt. Forget your Ghost Peppers and Carolina Reapers — Fresnos are perfect for sauce, a bit spicier than jalapeños, but with tons more citrusy, fruity flavor. Finally, a hot sauce fit for civilians.
Bourbon Barrel Smoked Pepper Steak Cuts // Taste Of Prime // Cincinnati, Ohio
Quality cuts, naturally cured, hung for three weeks, and coated in a rub we had to taste to believe: cracked black pepper slow smoked over the staves of used whisky barrels. Taste of Prime is classier, chewier, and more flavorful than a snappy stick of jerky, and its leaner cuts mean less grease than more traditionally Italian pepperoni and soppressata. Forget pizza topping, this is a dish in itself, a cured meat worth getting the good tablecloth out for.