There is something inexpressible about watching an artisan at work. “Get ready! This is gonna be quick,” Carlos bellows. You can see the passion in his eyes as he yanks the cheese upwards so that it stretches past his diamond-pierced ears, before he drapes the mozzarella back into the bowl.
Casa Della Mozzarella is Carlos’ workspace, an air pocket on E 187th street between Arthur Avenue and Hughes.
Growing up in Westchester, palatable delis are few and far between. Fortunately, with its proximity to New York City, world renowned cuisine is never far from reach. While Brooklyn may have amazing bagels, and Manhattan has Restaurant Row, the Bronx has the most authentic food.
I remember being nine years old and waking up on a Sunday morning to the sound of my father coming home from Arthur Avenue. My weekend brunch did not consist of french toast or pancakes. Instead, it consisted of fresh cheese, warm bread, spicy sausage, and on the best days, pastries. Then at 16, I learned to drive. My dad taught me how to drive on the Bronx River Parkway on the way to the Bronx. It was risky, but the bocconcini balls from Casa Della Mozzarella were well worth it and served as motivation to get there with all parts of the car intact.
Now eighteen and a freshman at Fordham University, I have the chance to rediscover the taste of my favorite borough on my own terms. For the first week of my excursion, I went back to my roots.
The venerable Italian deli is narrower than a supermarket aisle, but one won’t mind strolling through. You can take home anything from olive oil, cheese, paninis, roasted peppers, to all the pasta shells and biscuits located along the walls of the deli. You can tell the staff members care about the customers by the way they interact. They carry actual conversations with the customers instead of just trying to get them in and out. “Hey five dollars per picture!” they tease me while snapping shots The workers joke around with one another as well, leaving everyone else in the deli feeling like they’re at a close friend’s house; laughing about something that happened years ago.
Before I order my sandwich one of the workers strains two mini bocconcini knots from a bucket filled with salted water for me to taste. The cheese is still lukewarm from preparation and melts in my mouth. Miraculously, the cheese is gooey and tender while maintaining its shape.
I’ve never tasted one of their sandwiches before so I choose the first one on the list. The Casa consists of prosciutto, mozzarella, sun dried peppers, and balsamic glaze served on ciabatta bread or a hero. I decide to pass on the prosciutto and select ciabatta bread. While my sandwich is put together, Carlos invites me to the back of the deli to watch the mozzarella master himself work magic on some cheese. He churns for a while then draws the cheese apart from itself as I stand there in awe.
To say The Casa exceeded my expectations is an understatement. I peel the logo sticker off and unfold the parchment paper protecting my sandwich. Looking down and I see two precisely sliced halves waiting for me. I pick up one half and am hit with the aroma of pungent, sun dried peppers. As I carry the ciabatta in my hand I can see the mozzarella laying over the peppers in slabs almost two centimeters thick. Above that, I spot the balsamic glaze soaking into the bread, making a home for itself in the crevices of the ciabatta.
Before I take my first bite I can’t help but grin in anticipation. I chomp down and the peppers smack my taste buds right away; tangy but not enough to make my cheeks pucker. The ciabatta tears apart as I pull away my bite. Not surprisingly, the cheese is creamy enough to be cut with a spoon while serving as an essential barrier between the fun peppers and the tip of the tongue tart balsamic glaze. The mozzarella tastes like Spring: light and buttery. The balsamic is stabby and sour, but what really stands out to me is the texture. Many delis will inaccurately call balsamic vinegar glaze. This glaze earns its name while marinating with the cheese and bread without becoming slippery or soggy. The ciabatta was more supple than I was expecting. The crust did not crack or flake and the middle wash stretchy rather than dense. The powdery taste and texture of the crust leaves your tongue yearning for the rich contents of the panini.
As I leave the deli I thank Carlos along with the rest of the staff. When passion is put into food it is not only tasted in the food, but felt in the entire experience. Not only is Casa Della Mozzarella a formidable deli, it is a home. It’s a home for food, caring artisans, and a girl remembering her favorite way to spend Sunday mornings. Next time you’re looking for a restaurant to try with your roommates or your family, spend some time in Casa Della Mozzarella.