Wednesday, March 11, 2020
A visit to Russo’s Mozzarella & Pasta
Text and photos by Stacie Joy
As a longtime fan of Russo’s Mozzarella & Pasta I was excited to be invited to watch head cheesemaker and longtime store manager Jimmy Paleta create their delicious fresh mozzarella.
[Michael Paleta with his father Jimmy Paleta]
Store owner Jack Cangemi welcomed me in the classic Italian foods shop at 344 E. 11th St. between First Avenue and Second Avenue. We spend a few minutes looking at the varieties of fresh pastas and sauces as well as the meats and cheeses before I am told the cheese curds are patiently waiting for us in the basement.
We venture down the steep steps to a basement with low ceiling (no small feat considering Jack is 6-7!) to watch the cheesemaking process, which went surprisingly quickly.
Jimmy soaks the shredded curds in boiling water and stirs until the smooth, ropy stringy cheese comes together. He smiles as he creates individual pound-size cheeseballs and braided twists. Following a brief cold saltwater bath, everything is wrapped, brought upstairs, and made available for sale.
Russo’s has been in existence since 1908. Jack, who grew up on East 10th Street, bought the business in 1986. Jack used to work part-time at Russo’s as a kid and was toiling in an "unhappy, not-fun job at EF Hutton" when the former shop’s owner approached him about buying into the shop.
Jack answers my questions about the business ("lease is good, landlord is great") and speculates on whether his son, Anthony, will one day take over with Jack’s longtime — 25-plus years — managers. He shows me around the tiny shop pointing out his favorite food (roasted artichokes), while Jimmy’s son, counterperson Michael Paleta, slices up some of the fresh mozz that his father just made.
"No such thing as a typical customer — it's no longer just old Italian people, people who have shopped here for 50-plus years," Jack says. "Now we also have East Village artists and musicians, families from Stuy Town, NYU kids — it's a diverse crowd. People know and appreciate good food. And, I like to think, good prices."
Jack says that he doesn't have any expansion plans: having three stores is enough (the original location on 11th Street and two more in Park Slope). He says the plan is never to close. "Where else can you feed two people a homemade meal for $10 to $15, a dinner that includes pasta and sauce and a salad? You can’t even do that at McDonald’s," he says. "You should have a Big Jack, not a Big Mac!"
[Cangemi with Bobby Giurdanella, owner of Bella Tile]
You can keep up with Russo’s on Instagram.
Previously on EV Grieve:
A moment with Wayne Diamond as he checks out 'The Wayne Diamond' at Russo's
[Cangemi and Wayne Diamond]