Thursday, March 1, 2012

Out and about: Cassano's Italian Market

"Out and About" is an occasional feature documenting some of the unique, quirky and/or totally fabulous aspects of living in the fair city of Bermtopia.

I have been a total slug when it comes to "Out and About" over the last few months. Don't worry. I haven't been curled up in a fetal position in the darkest corner of the Nine-One-Four waiting for winter to pass. Okay. Maybe a little. But basically: I just haven't been organized enough to write about my "out-and-about-ings."

That ended last week with a stop at Cassano's, Bermtopia's iconic, yes iconic (and truth be told, only) Old School Italian Deli. At least as I imagine one. Let's face it, we take 'em as we get 'em here out here on The Palouse. . . . because, whoa! THIS may come as a surprise to you, we are not exactly New York City here in Bermtopia.

Don't worry. I myself am constantly taken aback by this small, ironic fact of existence.

But I think Cassano's comes close to fitting the bill. . . It may be scaled down Old School Italian Deli, but its history and heritage are humbling, and a shopping run there never disappoints.

Cassano's opened in 1922 here in Bermtopia, a locus for our the city's strong, lively and still colorful Italian-American community. It's changed hands over the years, but always among visionary, family-centric Italian-American entrepreneurs who have loved and cultivated Cassano's comforting Old (and Other) Worldly atmosphere while continuing to stock its shelves with a fantastic carnival of imported olive oils, pasta, tomato product, anchovies, capers, peppers and other staples critical to Italian cuisine and culture.

Cassano's amaretti are addictive. They have been banned from the Nine-One-Four.

There is an entire aisle -- left to right --
dedicated to dried pastas.

And you can always find fresh-baked bread, homemade sausage, zip-lock bags bulging with hand-made ravioli and tortellini, and our personal favorite, take-and-bake lasagna ("Italian mac n' cheese" in Cassano Speak). Frankly, I stopped making lasagna once I discovered this little pan of pasta perfection.

Montegrappa. Scamorza. Fontina Val Dosta. Casatica buffulo. Capocallo. Sopresseta.

The names of meats and cheeses in the deli case are lyrical -- they are delicious too.

I love watching the deli gal slowly and methodically shave off my order of meat on a slicer the size of the Titanic (probably of the same generation as well). And back in the day, when co-owner Carl used to man the deli counter, you might even get a taste of torrone, a heavenly nougat confection dotted with sliced almonds traditionally ordered for the holidays. But that's only if the stars were in perfect alignment.

So this is Cassano's.

I try to stop by at least once a week under the pretext of needing a certain type of pasta or a quarter-pound of pancetta, but secretly, I'm happy just walking up and down the aisles, exploring their colorful contents, sharing its remarkable past . . . and savoring a secret world where a tiny shop, run by charming people, can make a go of it for 90 years.

Meat! Cheese! Wine!
I bow in awe of the Holy Trinity.


  1. Never heard of them....I'll certainly be investigating them now!

  2. It's odd but I still get taken aback when you call Bermtopia a city. I guess because of your stories, I tend to think of it as a slippery neighbourhood floating in a sea of fog and ice.

    Every city needs oldtime family run stores like this. We used to have quite a few in our neighbourhood but the high rents drove them out. Hello franchises :(

    This reminds me it's time to make some spag. Have been souping lately in an attempt to lose the muffin top.