Monday, March 22, 2010

Russo's on March 18th

Ah the second wonderful sunny day after a seeming eternity of dreariness and heavy rain. It almost makes me believe that Spring really is right around the corner….but don’t worry, Im not fooled, I know that Boston weather is notoriously fickle during this time of year, and even when Spring does finally arrive, Summer will be right on its heels. New England isn’t very good at representing the in-between seasons. Grumble grumble….Anyway, the weather and subsequent lack of a need for a coat convinced me that I ought to take the opportunity to get the hell out of the house and clean some of the winter cobwebs out of my brain, and no better way to do this than to make a trip to Russo’s.

A. Russo and Sons Inc as it is officially known, is exactly what their website professes it to be: a true food lover’s store. Located in Watertown and looking suspiciously like the warehouses that it shares the area with, it wont immediately catch your eye if you’re just passing through (probably part of the reason that it remained the secret of local chefs and foodies in the know for so long), but inside is a virtual wonderland for anyone who likes to cook (or even just graze) and needs a refresher after too many months staring at the wilted winter produce at the local grocery store. You will see exotic fruits and vegetables that you rarely find anywhere else: like Buddha’s hand, custard apples, and prickly pear, taro root, fresh water chestnuts, thai basil, and morel mushrooms. The produce is not all local and whether it is organic or not is certainly questionable, but I have never seen quality like this outside of a farmer’s market before. In fact, it rather puts Whole Food’s to shame, especially since they can offer only a small produce department, while Russo’s has an entire store. Not to mention, the prices are so good they will leave you reeling in disbelief.

Though produce is king here, the cheese, prepared foods, and bakery sections are nothing to sneer at. Local mozzarella, freshly prepared pasta, crispy baguettes, and pastries are only some of the highlights. During the growing season a large portion of Russo’s parking lot is closed off and turned into a mini nursery. Here you can find perennials and annuals of all sorts, herbs and heirloom seedlings, local compost, etc. Pretty much the only thing you can get here is toiletries, but who needs those anyway? :-P

Now, if you go to check this place out, which you most definitely should, keep it to yourself and don’t bring a friend. When Jeff and I first moved to the area, Russo’s was still under the radar but was ‘discovered’ soon after. Now days it is nearly impossible to find parking there during the weekend, and even on a weekday the place is packed. Maneuvering a basket down those narrow aisles, while constantly bumping elbows with other shoppers is a true lesson in patience. So shhhhh don’t spread the good news too far.

On most visits I prefer to walk to Russo’s and today was the perfect day for that. I know I know, Im crazy, its about two miles from my house in Newtonville, and on a good day, a round trip usually takes me a little under two hours. I would not recommend such an endurance test for everyone, but Im an avid hiker, and after spending last summer hiking for eight hours over mountains in New Hampshire every weekend, carrying twice my own body weight, a nice stroll across town with a small backpack of groceries is literally a walk in the park. Besides, part of the route I take runs along a portion of the Charles River, and after the past week of rain, it was a sight to behold. The River had burst its banks and the water had encroached all the way to the path, consuming part of the boardwalk and leaving the surrounding trees standing like forlorn little islands. Oddly it was the most peaceful sight I have seen in a long time…the usually brisk and choppy river, suddenly swollen and sleepy, everything submerged beneath several extra feet of murky water, blotted out, made quiet. I took my socks and shoes off and rolled my pants up to wade across the drowned portion of the path and laughed at my white winter feet. I felt like a bit like an unshelled mollusk, naked and cold, bravely stepping out into the unprotected world for the first time in ages…..but as usual I digress.

The real point Im trying to hit with this commentary on how much I go through to get to Russo’s is that I love doing it. I love how long it takes me to get there because it makes the trip special every time. The foods that I pick out have to be carefully evaluated in terms of preciousness and weight, and when I get them home, I swear to you, those hard worn delicacies taste far better than anything I could pick up around the corner. I think its important to have pilgrimages like this of all sorts in our lives. Go out of our way to make a journey to something we love. We do this because it makes us stop and appreciate the mundane. That apple that is only in season in September and can only be found at a farmer’s market, or that beer that can only be bought at its home brewery a couple states over have a savor and a satisfaction to them like nothing else. So once in a while forget about convenience and take a little time out to work for something you really appreciate. Whether it’s a hike or a long car ride away, I promise you it will be worth the trip. Er, but pick a place that isn’t Russo’s. I don’t need anymore competition in the aisles

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