Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cheese & Love

Later this month, I'll be hosting a tasting at my favorite local cheese store, Quince, on Philadelphia's Girard Ave. But today, I have to write about my love affair with Datillo's, an Italian deli in the Northeast that I visited last weekend. Picture an Old World hole in the wall with cheeses hanging from the ceiling, narrow aisles stocked with olives and tins of fish, and stooped old men with lots of ear hair waiting in line to buy bread.

It's not easy to find Datillo's. Forget searching on the web -- there's no web site. You need a good map of North Philly's erogenous zones or a good-natured local to show you around. Our friend Joe, an Olney native who later moved to Rhawnhurst and now lives in Fishtown, ferried us up into the northern wilds for this adventure, and it was well worth the drive past miles of stone facades, each block as homogenous as the one before it.

Datillo's, 8000 Horrocks Street, is located in Rhawnhurst. Think far Northeast. The store is flanked on one side by a very appetizing fish shop (which is saying a lot) and on the other side by a patio with access to Datillo's sandwich window. In the summer, I imagine the neighborhood must dump out here to nurse water ice and gobble hoagies. The flagstone looks well worn by generations of flip-flops.

Even if you don't plan to sit, Datillo's is worth a trip to load up on crusty bread, homemade sopressatta, house-cured olives, and local sweets. And you'll find local and imported cheese here that's a good deal less expensive than other places, especially for Prima Donna, my favorite Gouda-esque love child. You can also find planks of salt-crusted cod, a specialty that our friend Joe likes to use for a Portuguese stew. He soaks the cod in water for a couple days, then boils it up with tomatoes, peppers, and spices.

I walked out of Datillo's with a week's worth of groceries for under $40, including two kinds of cheese, two pints of olives, a big link of sopressatta, a bag of milk biscotti, a snack sack of dried chick peas and fava beans, and a loaf of bread the size of our lap dog. It was perfect for a housebound picnic, and it got me through yesterday's snow.

We've got great cheese shops here in downtown Philly, but I can't help loving Datillo's. It's the real deal, ear hair and all.

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