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Phoenix Phoodies: Tony's Italian Delicatessen

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If you're looking for a little slice of Italy -- or even Little Italy -- in the middle of the desert, find your way to Sunnyslope. Tucked into a strip mall on the corner of 7th street and Dunlap is Tony's Italian Delicatessen (536 E Dunlap Ave # 1, Phoenix,602-944-5952). Started by Anthony Abramo, the family patriarch, in 1968, and passed to his son, Vincent, Tony's continues to stock a dizzying array of traditional Italian staples, from capers to semolina, spices to salt-packed anchovies -- and just about everything in between.

Not so much of a cook? Never fear, the Abramo family'll do it for you. Sausage, roast beef, pasta salad, cannolli. It's all fresh, and made by hand. And check the freezer section before you go. You'll find homemade marinara, lasagna, Italian ice, spumoni, and more, just waiting for you to pass it off as your own.

Still too much work? Grab a sandwich. With prices that hover around $2 for a small, you'll have enough left over to add a fresh pizzelle, the traditional Italian waffle cookie. Or two. When it's this good, and affordable, who's counting?

Chow Bella: How did your family end up in Phoenix?
Vincent Abramo: Our family is from New York. My father had been in construction. He developed arthritis and couldn't do it any more. We moved here and he opened up this deli in 1968 and here we are, 40 years later.

CB: Forty years! I'm sure it looked much different back then.
VA: There have been lots of changes, businesses have come and gone, the economy has shifted several times. There used to be a small post office across the street from us, and there were farms here. North of us was all desert. My dad used to go hunting on Bell Road.

CB: Wait - you could hunt on Bell Road? What kind of game?
VA: Yes, of course. Doves, rabbits, he'd bring home all sorts of things.

CB: Do you have a lot of customers who have been around since the 60's? 
VA: We do. They're in their eighties and nineties now. Some make special trips from Flagstaff and Tucson.

CB: You make a lot of things here, what's your favorite? 
VA: Everything? (Laughter)

CB: What do you have every day? Is there something you can't live without?
VA: Bread, cheese, some salami, and olives. I think I have that every day.

CB: What's the secret to making good spumoni? 
VA: You need dried fruits, cherries, some pistachio, and that's it!

CB: What ingredients do you need to have on hand to stock a proper Italian pantry?
VA: Garlic! (Laughter) My wife and my mother pile on a lot of garlic when they cook. Bread and a nice wine, too.

CB: Is it hard to work with your family?
VA: Not really, it's how we've always been. My dad passed away ten years ago. He gave me the business in 1980 and he says, "Vince, don't ruin the business or I'll take it back."

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