DeFazio’s: The Pride of Troy’s Little Italy
Is it crazy to drive all the way to downtown Troy, NY, to buy marinara sauce and frozen meatballs made by an 86-year-old Italian grandmother who has been using the same recipes for half a century? It would be crazy not to.
After all, De Fazio’s may not be around forever. It’s one of the last Little Italy mom-and-pop grocers with homemade prepared food. You should not only fill your freezer with Josephine De Fazio’s deeply flavorful sauces—Alfredo, Calabrese, Neopolitan, pesto, clam—but also sit with her in the rudimentary kitchen at the back of the shop and listen to her talk about what’s important in life. She’s endearingly old fashioned and believes in family, loyalty and community. She considers food nourishment for the spirit as well as the body. “We don’t use cheap ingredients here,” she says. “We don’t shop at the Price Chopper.” She warns you not to cook her garlicky clam sauce. “Let it get to room temperature and toss it on hot pasta. If you heat the sauce, the clams get hard.”
More Than Meatballs: Seven Other Things To Do in Troy
• Attend a classical or pop concert at the 19th century Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, which dates to 1875. It’s an architectural and acoustical marvel that rivals Carnegie Hall.
• Visit the Hart-Cluett House, a fully-furnished white marble banker’s house c.1827.
•Browse the Troy Antiques District, especially Living Room Antiques run by Elizabeth Young.
• Take a self-guided tour of the city’s impressive collection of Tiffany windows.
• Shop at the producer-only Troy Waterfront Farmers Market, which operates in the Uncle Sam Atrium on Saturdays from 10 AM to 2 PM, November - April; the Summer Market runs May - October at Hedley Park Place, 433 River Street, from 9 AM to 1 PM
• Stroll around Washington Park, a square surrounded by 19th century townhouses. It’s where Martin Scorsese shot “The Age of Innocence.”
• Dine at Daisy Baker’s, an 1892 brownstone that was built as a YMCA; the current dining room was a Christian Science Church chapel from 1920 - 1970.
In the front of the shop, Mrs. De Fazio’s 91-year-old husband, Anthony, stocks the shelves with imported jars and cans of hot peppers, artichokes, tomatoes and olives as well as cellophane packages of biscotti and organic whole wheat pasta from Italy. He painstakingly slices Genoa salami and Provolone to order. Mrs. De Fazio confides that their marriage was an arranged one. “That’s how it was done in my day,” she says. “He was from a good family.” You notice that she has a stack of “Hillary” pamphlets up front and photographs of the Clintons by the cash register, and you ask if she is supporting the senator for president. “Absolutely,” she says. “She’s my friend. She’s been here. She stayed by her husband. That’s what marriage is about. I admire her.”
And I admire Mrs. De Fazio. Every Tuesday, she and her husband make 1,500 meatballs, and they roast them in the wood-fired oven at their son’s pizzeria next door. ( Order a pizza before visiting Mrs. De Fazio, and when you are finished shopping it will be ready. Don’t worry if you have a long drive home, the pizzas reheat beautifully.) “That’s one of our secrets,” she says. “We don’t fry our meatballs.” I think the real secret is Mrs. De Fazio herself. She still cares. She takes great pride in what she produces in her kitchen. As corny as it sounds, I think integrity and love are her secret ingredients. God bless her. Marinara sauce $2.95 pint; meatballs $5.95 for nine. 264 Fourth Street, Troy, NY; 518-274-8866
Monday - Saturday 8 AM - 7 PM
Sunday 8 AM - noon.