Independent grocery stores, though notable exceptions buck this rule, have been conspicuously absent from Edmonton's landscape. Indeed, it's all too easy to succumb to the Big Box Stores' siren song of low prices and "everything from a twelve pack of winter tires to a case of peaches" under one roof. This mentality underscores this city's historic overemphasis on suburban development rather than TLC for inner city neighbourhoods, and reliance on private vehicles instead of public transit. These individual concepts are all woven together, like the strands on a braid, and it takes more than several generations (and many terms in public office) to reweave these tresses into a 'do wholly new.
But, as easy as it is scoff at this trope, a quiet revolution is brewing. "Three years ago, something changed." This statement pervades Edmonton's food community, as if a culinary climate change instigated a return to simpler, hands-on fare. Small, meticulously honed restaurants popped up; antidote to a glaring, blaring plethora of franchises. Independent grocers and deli followed. D'Amore's Italian Mercato will be part of this velvet revolution. The original D'Amore's Italian Deli blossomed on the north side as far back as the late 1970s - a family run affair passed from father to son. I had the great pleasure of meeting Albert D'Amore when I wrote for Vue Weekly, and marveled as his uncanny ability to fit a grocery section, a deli, frozen foods (all house-made, I might add), catering, and a sandwich shop into a space of little more than 1000 square feet.
D'Amore's Italian Mercato brightens up a strip mall on a southern stretch of 99th Street. Shelves of tomato sauces, bags of pasta both straight and curlicued, gleaming bottles of olive oils, and a drool-worthy deli selection of cured meets and cheese are but one component of this sleek market. An entire wall of freezers holds the likes of eggplant parmigiana, lasagna, chicken cutlets, and tiramisu (later sampling will declare the tiramisu as more than worthy of adulation). All are hand-made and ready to be cooked at home.
A gorgeous forno pizza oven calls attention to the restaurant side of this operation. The original sandwiches from D'Amore's north side are represented, but pizza beckons on this dreary evening in early spring. A Caprese Salad swoons with sweet, milky bocconcini and commendably ripe half-moons of tomato. Piquant crumbles of mixed, dried herbs take the place of fresh basil in this incarnation.
Pizza commands respect. The "Mercato" special cradles black olives, artichokes, ribbons of salami, and the lightest blanket of cheese atop a tender, perfectly thin and perfectly round, crust. Not a spot is overdone - no black bubbles besmirch this creation. Each bite is a gustatory symphony of sweet and salty, mild and spicy. This room was just made to welcome joyous throngs of the hungry - those that are hungry for change as well as for pizza.