Listen to Merle on "Real Talk with Jim Lisa"
May 13, 2021
MANGA! ITALIAN DELICACIESWalking along Francis Lewis Blvd. I spotted a store sign that read, “M&S Italian Food Specialists”. I’m not sure whether it was out of curiosity or the leftover hour’s time on the meter, but I’m glad I was drawn here.
Joseph Prestia, one of 4 brothers, is part of the third generation at this locale. The store opened in 1949 as a small Italian grocery store owned by Vito Ferrara, Joseph’s great uncle. He and his brothers grew up in the store spending their younger years assisting their dad, Mike. Vito, a Sicilian immigrant brought Mike and his brother Sal to the United States, where they eventually took over the store and expanded the space and inventory.
M&S became sort of a hangout…in a good way. In the later days the neighborhood high school kids got part time jobs but lectured to make sure that their homework was completed. Did it make a difference? It appears that when Joseph needs some quick assistance, these are the now adults that are ready to lend a hand.
A long deli counter lines the left side as you first encounter the various cheeses. Not really knowing one Italian cheese from another, I sampled: Pinna Ricotta Salata; Imported Reggiano Parmigian; Drunken Goat; Pecorino Primosale; Manchego Sheeps Milk; and Flore Di Sardegna.
As you wait to be served, a television hangs from the ceiling to view videotapes of Lidia Matichhio Bastianich teaching us how to prepare her Italian specialties. You have a choice of buying the ingredients for each of her recipes or having M&S prepare it to go. In other words M&S specializes in Italian dishes that just need to be heated.
With a busy schedule and not wanting to cook, I stocked up hoping that the quality would be decent, at the least. I bought a number of items to taste with the intention of sharing with friends who might be looking for a new Italian caterer. They never got to taste any of it. Honestly, each time and had a taste of one dish, I wanted more. It was as if I were at a high class Italian restaurant.
So, what did I have, you ask? I’ll begin with the vegetables. Stuffed artichoke, stuffed red pepper (rice, chopped beef, mozzarella), broccoli rabe, escarole and white beans, string beans and almonds.
Pasta dishes using pasta that they make on the premises. Although there was only one designed to be a cold pasta dish, I have to come clean and admit that the only thing I warmed up was the stuffed pepper. If you taste the food, you’ll understand why. I didn’t even bother to warm up the chicken cordon bleu, or the chicken francaise.
One of their big sellers is the tuna salad. Tuna salad? Okay, that’s what Joseph said, so I bought some tuna salad. Something is added to it that gives it such a great flavor and he wouldn’t reveal it to me when I called him back.
Then there were two of their many sauces of which I chose the ala vodka and a jar of pesto sauce…and then there was that jar of chicken soup. Yes, I heated up the sauces and the chicken soup. Joseph told me that the jars are “canned” giving the advantage to leaving them in your frig for up to 6 months before opening.
Perhaps on my next trip I’ll indulge in spending my bucks on ravioli. Hmmm…the lobster or crab ravioli sounded good. Or maybe the salmon and broccoli rabe or John’s Cappellini with meat and chicken. I’ll pass on the ravioli with gorgonzola and walnut.
As for the catering portion, one of their specialties is antipasto on a stick, of which they use to decorate the subject of the affair and kale as the palette. Kewl!
Since Easter is around the corner (vs. the spring weather) expect Pizza Rustica, a pie stuffed with various cheeses and hams. The address is 34-23 Francis Lewis Blvd. No website but you can call them at 718-353-0822.
I should also inject that Joseph has a sister who was not allowed to work in the store. However, since this is still Women’s History month, let it be known that she wound up becoming a doctor.
And That's Not All...Joe Prestia started watching Lidia’s cooking shows recalling his experiences of sitting around the table and dining with the family. His decision to run the tapes of her cooking show were not just a nostalgia thing, but to give his customers some diversion from the long lines at his deli counter. His customers were not only content to view the show, but it also gave them ideas to try in their kitchen. Not only does Joe have his own recipes but the ingredients to make Lidia’s as well.
Joe doesn’t have his recipes printed in books, but Lidia does, her latest being, “Lidia’s Family Table”. So, why not have them meet with a book signing event? And thus on Sunday, June 5th, the lines were down the block. It was a hot day, but Joe and his staff were providing iced tea, cookies and samples of his sponsor’s products.
The event was a huge success with over 250 books sold and autographed by Lidia. One facture contributing to the accomplishment, was having Jim Lisa, publisher of the Queens Times, have both Lidia and Joe appear on a half-hour segment of his radio program, “Real Talk Family”, on local station WRTN, 93.5, the Thursday before the event.
One of the sponsors was Grana Padano a 100 percent cow’s milk cheese. In Lidia’s book, she describes it as being, “generally of high quality and less expensive then Parmigiano-Reggiano. Both cheeses are grana types, signifying that they have a granular texture, suitable for grating or shaving. To my taste, Grana Padano has more granularity and a milkier character.” As for my taste? I didn’t compare the two, but I found myself snacking on a few slices. I wonder what type of wine would go with it? Or perhaps an apple slice.
Summer is here and Joe is making it easy for you to buy the already prepared and seasoned foods for the BBQ. Various flavored sausages of pork or chicken, which is “stuffed” on the premises. Pork with broccoli rabe. Chicken with mozeralla. Burgers with bacon and cheese. Marinated skewers of chicken or beef kabobs. Pinwheels. You can count on the meat being of high quality.
March 17, 2005 - Queens Times
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