Any Day at Viviano’s Is A Good Day

On Friday, Christian took the day off and we all went to St. Louis. We went shopping, took the kids to visit the doctor who delivered them, and then went to the one place we absolutely must go at least five times a year, just to keep our pantry stocked: Viviano’s.

If you are ever in St. Louis, you simply must visit this place:

Yes, that says “grocer.” (Oh, no, here she goes again–it’s all about the food.) Why is this a must-visit place? Well, first of all, because it’s on The Hill, the original Italian neighborhood in St. Louis.

When you walk in the door, the smell of all good things Italian hits you: “Pow!” as Christian says. Viviano’s imports the real deal, and markets their own products, too, homemade pastas and sauces:

If you think pasta is pasta, you are WRONG. You’ve simply got to try these homemade spaghetti’s, fettuccini’s, and linguini’s, sold in five-pound packages wrapped in freezer paper.

We meandered down the aisles cram-packed with canned olives and capers and artichokes and clams…

…and the notorious sugared almonds that my mother-in-law mentioned in a recent post:

Then there is the deli:

Who can even process that many choices? I have been intoctrinated into the Basi family’s favorites: prosciutto di parma and mild capicola. And just below the “menu” you see this:

Buckets upon buckets of olives. Who knew there were so many kinds?

While I stood at the deli counter waiting my turn, I watched the man in front of me. He was very clearly Italian, wearing a Gatsby cap (the quintessential Italian hat), with his hands stuffed in his pockets. The young man working the deli counter set down a gallon bucket full of huge green olives, marinated and stuffed, in front of the Italian man. “How’s that look?” he asked.

The man pursed his lips and stared. It was patently obvious that he wasn’t convinced. “Well…” he said, “I don’t know. I’m feeding eight people…”

The worker’’s eyebrows shot up. “I think you’re covered,” he said, putting it on the scales. “That’s four and a half pounds.”

Meanwhile, around the corner, the rest of my family was perusing the selection of cheeses and sausages:

Nicholas was trying hard to peruse more closely than he had any business doing:

The only thing missing in the case was the one thing we simply had to have: Locatelli grating cheese.

Tangent alert! First, if you have anything as horrific as those stupid plastic containers of “Parmesan” cheese that you get at the store, please…please…PLEASE…go home this instant and THROW IT AWAY. It was an eye-opening experience for me to eat my first meal prepared by Christian and put Parmesan cheese on it. That was the day I discovered that Parmesan cheese is supposed to melt!!!

But Locatelli is in a class all by itself. I won’t even try to describe it. Locatelli far surpasses any other grating cheese we’ve ever had. And yet on Friday, there were no blocks in the case. We asked the deli manager, who apologized profusely. “We have a block, but it’s too cold to cut,” he said. “I’m waiting for it to warm up so I can cut it.” But after he learned that we lived two hours away, he said, “Let me go check on it.” He disappeared into the back, reappearing three minutes later. “How big a chunk do you want?” he asked, and brought Christian and Alex back to watch him cut our custom cheese block:

He packaged two big blocks for us and then presented us with some cutting scraps as a treat:

(We tried to get a picture of the cheese in her hand, but it disappeared too fast. What does that tell you?)

We left Viviano’s with a heavier van and a lighter bank account, and went to Red Lobster for dinner on the way home. As you might imagine in a place named “St. Louis” on a Friday evening in Lent, Red Lobster was jam-packed. The little ones did their utmost to put more food on the floor than in their mouths, all while uttering ear-rattling shouts.

Julianna didn’t feel well enough to eat much dinner, but she latched onto the dessert menu and stared longingly at the picture of the ice cream. She kept turning to Christian and saying, “Euh?” as she tapped primly on the delectable image. Poor girl. She doesn’t realize it’s Lent!

Nicholas wanted to shriek, to stare, but not really to eat. It was driving me nuts, but Christian couldn’t stop laughing. When we finally started packing up the remnants of the meal, Nicholas howled with outrage. Christian, who likes to put words in our children’s mouths, said, “What are you doing? Don’t put the food away! I want to stare at it and yell!”

I liked watching Christian with the kids, but I was too busy trying to keep them from disturbing everyone else in the jam-packed dining room to really enjoy them myself. I mean, I’m well aware of my kids’ prodigious vocal abilities. But then, an elderly man stopped on his way out and put his hand on my shoulder. “You have three Christmases every day,” he said. “Every day. It may not feel like it, but you do. I had six kids, so I know.” And then he went on his way, and left me to smile at my family.

A good day, indeed.

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