Get a Peek Behind the Scenes of Federal Hill's Best Markets
Southern New England AAA
December 31, 2006

By Megan Weeden

For three hours, we visit old-world bakeries, Italian specialty stores, and the kitchens of some of the Hill's finest chefs and fill up on antipasto, bread, cheese, and wine. But, we also hear stories of the old neighborhood and are introduced to the people who grew up here.

"Most of my groups are Rhode Islanders," Ms. Salvato says. "Some of them have never been to Federal Hill or it's been a long time. Others want to go, but just don't know where to begin. The tour brings them to the places and introduces them to the retailers. They like knowing who the people are and almost always come back."

Our first stop is Tony's Colonial, where Tony DiCicco offers us a sampling of Parmesan cheese and prosciutto that practically melts in your mouth. As we admire the endless shelves of pasta, spices, and olive oils, Ms. Salvato points out her favorite brands and shows us where to find the anchovy paste — an ingredient required for her own Pasta Foriana.

At Venda Ravioli, we are introduced to each of the departments in this specialty shop and learn that the real magic happens across the street, where the raviolis are made and stuffed — by hand.

"In this day of automation, you just don't see this anymore," Ms. Salvato says, as we watch a team of women making the divine specialties. "Nowhere else do they make raviolis by hand."

From the back room, the heavenly smell of freshly baked bread tickles our noses and when we follow the scent, we meet Cosimo Della Torre, Venda's head baker, who is just taking the day's loaves out of the oven.

At Scialo Brothers Bakery, which is now run by the Scialo sisters, we are led to the baking room by Lois (Scialo) Ellis. Two huge, brick ovens take up the entire wall and are used for all the baking here, of recipes passed down through the Scialo family.

"These are the original brick ovens from when we purchased them in the 1930s," Ms. Ellis says. "We also only use fresh ingredients — no preservatives or artificial flavorings."

On to Zooma Bar and Restaurant — where we meet Chef Eddie Scarpone and watch him prepare calamari using a special breading made only here in Rhode Island, sautéed, and sprinkled with white balsamic vinegar.

Once we're full of tasty treats, the tour ends at Gasbarro's Wines — the oldest remaining family business on the hill — where Mark Gasbarro welcomes us with a new arrival of a limited edition Italian red wine.

Ms. Salvato hands us each a goodie-bag full of recipes, samples, and coupons and sends us out on our own with the confidence we needed.

Tours start at $45 per person. For more information or to schedule a tour, visit www.SavoringRhodeIsland.com.

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