At the Italian Village, Italy arrives in muffaletta and a meatball sub

Although we honeymooned in Europe, we never made it to Italy those 21 years ago. But my wife, Jane, and I took a small step in that direction when we visited the Italian Village in West Duluth's Spirit Valley neighborhood one warm day in mid-May....

Although we honeymooned in Europe, we never made it to Italy those 21 years ago.

But my wife, Jane, and I took a small step in that direction when we visited the Italian Village in West Duluth's Spirit Valley neighborhood one warm day in mid-May.

Spring had finally arrived. Flowers decorated the sidewalk near the deli, courtesy the shop next door, Imagine That Florist & Gifts.

We walked in the door and an old-world charm greeted us. Aromas of spiced sausage, Italian cheeses, garlic and simmering sauce seemed to fill the whole space, from the worn floors to the green-checked tablecloths to the high, pressed-tin ceiling.



"This your first time here?" deli manager Tom Napoli asked, his order pad poised. We nodded. "We have a little surprise for you," he said.

After asking a few questions, Jane got a meatball sub ($6.19) and asked for a cup of good Italian coffee. I got the half sandwich and soup ($8.29) with a San Pellegrino sparkling water. (We later asked for a plate of antipasto.)

"These are Sicilian olives," said the young woman who brought them out to us.

"What makes them Sicilian?" I asked.

"They're short-tempered," quipped Napoli from behind the deli counter:

"It's the spices we put on them," offered our server.

Savoring it, I tried to remember the first time I had a really good olive.

"Definitely in Spain," Jane said.


"How you two doing over there?" Napoli asked.

"We're falling in love," my wife replied.

Kathy Gannucci-Resberg, the deli's owner, brought out Jane's coffee on a silver platter. It wasn't espresso-style, but fresh, strong black coffee, with cream and flavorings on the side. Our sandwiches, soup and antipasto followed a few minutes later. As we ate, we studied the black-and-white family pictures on the wall and noticed that a huge rosary's beads were draped between the frames.

Napoli came to our table bearing two small plates. "Here's a little something for you," he said: "Raspberry Tiramisu." The dessert was two small slices of cake, with a fresh raspberry spread between the layers and frosted with whipped cream.

We finished our meal, paid and left, discussing our impressions as we walked back to our car. "The presentation of the coffee was excellent," Jane said, even though itwasn't espresso-based. "Authentic ingredients, a friendly vibe, everything was delicious. What more could you want?"


The Sicilian olives that inspired our discussion were a large, firm green variety, bathed in a marinade of what tasted like olive oil and balsamic vinegar, pepper and oregano. Delizioso.

My Italian sausage soup had a tomato-based broth and a beefy flavor that reminded me of a slow-simmered "sugo" (called ragu in other parts of Italy), only thinner. The chunks of sausage had a mild spiciness, a pleasant texture and a kick of garlic or onion. It was a perfect partner to my muffaletta sandwich, served on rich, springy focaccia with the olive tapenade, capicola ham and provolone.


A couple of quibbles: The sandwich was cold (OK, it is a deli, not a restaurant, but still), and it could have been a bit larger for the price ($8.29 for the soup and sandwich). All in all, though, a lovely first introduction to la dolce vita in dear old Duluth.


Gannucci-Resberg says the recipes for many of the deli's offerings have been in the family for years. Others she has acquired from friends and colleagues in the food business, including chef/caterer Arlene Coco, who gave her a muffaletta recipe from New Orleans' Central Grocery Store, an Italian institution. "I put it on the menu to shut her up," Gannucci-Resberg laughed.

As for the Italian sausage soup, it's based on "our own really good Italian sausage, beef broth and some tomato, and that's all your going to get," she said.

Italian Village makes most of its offerings, excluding the salamis and cheeses. The Italian sausage and sugo recipes were Grandma Annunziata Gannucci's. Gannucci-Resberg said her cousin, Ernie Conito, founded the shop in 1978 and she took it over in 1994.

The goal was to provide Northland customers with Italian specialties "so they wouldn't have to go to the Twin Cities to find them. Now I'm waiting on the children and grandchildren of those original customers," she said. The deli's known for its porketta, a classic garlic and fennel-flavored roast pork dish (served here as sandwiches) made with pork loin, as well as fresh-daily cannoli, meatballs and lasagna.

"I enjoy so much what I do and the people we can help," Gannucci-Resberg said.

Tom Wilkowske for the News Tribune.

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