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Imports with Panache at Panozzo's Italian Market

By John DiGilio in Food on Dec 28, 2010 5:00PM

For those looking for a real old world experience and truly authentic ingredients, there is no substitute for a neighborhood Italian grocer. You have seen them in old mafia films like The Godfather and they are storied in East Coast cities with large Italian-American populations like New York and Philadelphia. The mercato Italiano, with its imported meats, cheeses, pastas and pestos is almost thing of legend. Thanks to Panozzo's Italian Market in the South Loop, this legend is alive and well right here in Chicago.

An unassuming little shop, Panozzo's is well stocked with everything an Italian cook dreams about. From dried and fresh pastas to imported sauces and oils, the space is packed with tempting options. The deli section features a large selection of fresh meats and cheeses as well as pre-prepared meal choices and made-to-order sandwiches. There is even an enviable selection of wines and sweet treats. The staff is as friendly and helpful as any paesano would expect. If you are going to sell niche foods of this kind, you have to know your stuff. To that end, Panozzo's staff know their stuff.

We visited Panozzo's while gathering the ingredients for an Italian Christmas celebration. It was a little pricey, but worth every lira spent (OK, so the Italians use Euros now. Humor us!). The aged, sharp white cheddar with its delicate vein of blue cheese just melted in our mouths. That went home with us. So did a bottle of deep, red 2006 Langhe from Malvira. We knew this to be a delicious and dry wine, but were not accustomed to finding it on store shelves. From the selection of frozen ravioli, we ogled the butternut squash and lobster options before choosing the ones filled with goat cheese. To round out our meal, we picked up some imported pistachio torrone (nougat candy) and a gorgeous fig and chocolate panettone from Rustichella d'Abruzzo bakeries. A cross between bread and cake, this traditional Italian treat was the centerpiece of our Christmas breakfast.

Panozzo's Italian Market is owned and operated by Mike and Ellen Panozzo with the help of their "amici", Tony Gierczyk and John Asbaty. Asbaty, who cut his teeth working at Alinea and Trio, is the chef behind the prepared foods selections. In addition to a fantastic array of Italian goods and specialties, the Panozzo's crew offers catering and gift baskets. Their motto is "Eat. Drink. Live. Italian." With good food, a wonderful selection, and a great staff, they certainly make it easy. We will be back soon.

Panozzo's Italian Market is located at 1303 S. Michigan Avenue in the South Loop.

Photos by Panozzo's Italian Market.