Friday, January 9, 2009 at 7:35 a.m.
Fuggetabouit! If you're hungry for a neighborhood Italian deli, the kind where Tony Soprano got his cannoli and mortadella fix, look no further than Niccoli's Deli (www.niccolisdeli.com). Joe and Peppy Niccoli run this small but stellar spot on 16th Street, north of Bethany Home in Phoenix.
The business has been in the family since the 1950's. Every day the Niccolis turn out handmade pizzas, sausages, breads and baked goods, the likes of which you'd be hard pressed to find outside of large cities with ample Italian populations.
The deli's sub sandwiches -- the four meat Italian in particular -- have a near cult following. And so do both Peppy and Joe, as warm and charming as their food. And while family-run gems like this are a throw-back to an earlier era, the Niccolis are embracing the future with Joe's new blog, blog.niccolisdeli.com.
Chow Bella: How long have you been here, in this location?
Peppy Niccoli: It will be 14 years in May. This is our smallest deli, though. Joe has been doing this for 40 years. My husband's parents started the business with two uncles and an aunt in 1954. He brought me in as a manager in the 60's. We bought the business from his uncle and have been running Niccoli's Deli since 1970.
CB: Do you have customers who have been with you the whole time?
PN: Yes, absolutely. We have second and third generations of families who have been coming to us since the 50's and 60's.Their grandchildren are now our regulars.
CB: I imagine things have really changed for Niccoli's since then.
PN: In the old days, it was basically just the Italian families. Now with the food shows, and people who have traveled the world, you get people with discerning tastes. At the time, only the Italians would make their own pizza. Now, people are trying new things. They aren't afraid to make their own pasta or marinara. They buy our sausage or pepperoni and make their own pizza. People will come in and say, 'Peppy, help me make pasta', and I'll help them. I'll even give them my recipe and I'll write it down. I'll show them what tomatoes are the best.
CB: How many pounds of sausage do you make in a day?
Joe Niccoli: It depends. On an average day, between 20 and 30 pounds. On the weekend it will be alot more, and during the holidays even more than that. It's usually between 500 and 700 pounds a week.
CB: Wow! That's a lot of sausage!
PN: That's not all he makes, either. Every day he cooks and bakes - breads, rolls, cookies, cannoli, sfogiatelle, pizza dough.
CB: Do you cook, Peppy?
PN: I do now. I asked my mother-in-law to teach me how to make Italian food. I wasn't Italian, but I am now (laughter). It was like she gave me a million dollars, when she taught me to cook. I learned how to make sauces, pastas, and pizelles. You can do a lot of things with those, they are delightful! It takes me hours to make pizelles, and you need a special machine.
CB: After all these years, you must have some special memories. What is your favorite?
PN: Our first store was a lot bigger back in the 50's. We had proscuitto hanging from the ceiling, live snails, lots of things the health department won't let us have now. Frank Sinatra came in and put his arm around me and said, 'This is just like back home in New Jersey'.