by Corin Hirsch
Since I'm forever bemoaning the lack of an Italian deli in Burlington, it's ridiculous that I'd never made it to Al Ducci's Italian Pantry — until this week. It's not as though Al Ducci's is a new spot; this deli has been doling out prosciutto sandwiches and balls of fresh mozzarella on a Manchester side street for ... um, 23 years.
Walking into Al Ducci’s is like stepping off the street of Ozone Park, Queens, and into an old-school Italian deli, albeit one with Vermontiness layered in: Pressed tin ceilings and beat-up wooden floors are offset by broad windows that look out onto a quartet of tables on the front porch.
In the middle of the store are metal shelves full of bucatini and bottles of oil and vinegar and novelty Italian cookies; to the left is a cold case stuffed with eggplant parm, sautéed broccoli rabe, and a kaleidoscope of salads — chicken, farro, pasta. Next to that is a robust cheese display, where local rounds such as Jasper Hill's Bayley Hazen Blue rubs up against Italian taleggio and piave. On top of the case are tubs shimmering with six kinds of olives.
If it's a food that ends in a vowel, you can probably find it here: Puttanesca. Housemade ravioli. Baggies of arugula. All the glorious flesh of Italian cured meats, from guanciale to prosciutto to capicola, the last fatty, sweet, studded with peppercorns and shaved so thin you can almost see through each slice. Al Ducci's stocks a hot version, too.
Co-owner Al Scheps is the son of an Italian cheesemaker — his dad turned out fresh mozzarella and ricotta for years back in New Jersey — and he carries the torch by rendering snow-white, slightly saline balls of mozzarella every day. It comes in two sizes, or you can take it melted atop a slice of Al Ducci’s kick-ass housemade pizza, where a luscious, oozing layer fuses with the bright house sauce and charred crust.
Nancy Diaferio, Schep's partner in life and business, says that they had to close the business briefly this spring due to landlord troubles, but reopened in May after locals raised a ruckus. “We’ve been here for 23 years, c’mon,” says Diaferio.
I spent a half hour here loading up with asparagus-studded risotto, broccoli rabe, a wedge of piave, shaved capicola, fresh cheese-and-parsley sausages and a ball of that heavenly mozzarella. Then I went home and made the best antipasto I've had all year, dressed with my own fresh tomatoes and basil. I wish Manchester were closer.Al Ducci's Italian Pantry, 133 Elm St., Manchester, 362-4449.