For Joe DiPasquale, a trip to Italy when he was twenty-one changed his life. “I went to Abruzzo, Campagna and Sicily where my grandparents are from and I got totally immersed in the culture,” he explained. “I came back and drove everyone crazy telling them: ‘That’s not how it’s done.’ What Americans think is Italian is not.”
DiPasquale’s Marketplace, an attractive brick building at 3700 Gough Street, is the result of Joe DiPasquale’s passion. The entrance to the marketplace is lined with green plants: herbs, tomatoes, figs and peppers that are all used in the marketplace. They grow in bins and old wine barrels alongside the brick steps to the double glass doors.
Inside, Frank Sinatra sings The Way You Look Tonight. The scent of tomatoes and spices waft pleasantly. “Whatever we are cooking — tomato, garlic, fennel — filters through the store,” Joe DiPasquale said. The crowd of fifty or more is eating, chatting, laughing, browsing the vast display of Italian products and waiting for orders at the counter where you will find Joe DiPasquale.
There is passion inside the walls of DiPasquale’s Marketplace.
The Food Network’s Guy Fieri figured that out on a segment of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. DiPasquale’s four minute segment can be accessed on their website.
Fieri placed DiPasquale’s Marketplace up there with “the best Italian food ever.”
So I tried one of the features on the Fieri segment: the arancine, a Sicilian rice ball. Arancine is offered with meat or vegetables for $4.95; shrimp or crab for $6.95. Thinking they were probably small, I ordered two, a meat and a shrimp arancine.
But half of an arancine would have been enough for me. They were about the shape and size of an avocado and the meat arancine had peas in it, a delightful blend of tomato sauce and mozzarella. The rice texture was spongy, delicious and the crust was crunchy. The shrimp arancine was covered in a creamy, mouth watering sauce with plump, pink shrimp. Wonderful.
“The arancine is made with aborioria rice, an Italian rice that absorbs without breaking,” Joe explained. “We cook it with parmesan cheese, butter and saffron. We form them into balls before we deep fry them.”
Joe’s sister, Anna Marie, recommended the eggplant caponata. Made of Italian eggplant, capers, olives, peppers, it is sold with tomato, prosciutto and served on toasted Italian bread as bruschetta for $6.95. The eggplant caponata was sweet, a delightful blend of the ingredients.
Anna Marie also recommended San Pellegrino limonata to drink with my meal. It was tart and bubbly. Good.
Anna Marie is the second oldest of the six DiPasquale siblings: Louis, Anna Marie, Angela, Donna, Joseph and Robert.
“I eat everything, bread, pizza, anything,” the slight, dark haired Anna Marie smiled. She added that her grandparents, Luigi and Anna, opened DiPasquale’s in 1914. Her father, also named Luigi and her mother, Mary, took over the business that her brother, Joe, now operates.
“They boiled pasta on a two burner stove,” Joe DiPasquale explained of the store he inherited. “We expanded the kitchen and opened up some space in the back so people can eat, socialize, shop. They come here from out-of-town to meet, catch up, listen to some Italian music and eat some good Italian food.”
Joe will take an Italian recipe and put an American twist on it. “Meatballs are not Italian,” he said. “But we will take them, experiment with them and put them out there. I feel like I’m on a mission. Food is what keeps me going.”
Anna Marie reported that all of the DiPasquales started early, selling candy and Tastykakes at their parents’ Conkling Street store to the students of Our Lady of Pompei Parish School, which was next door.
“The children could go home for lunch, then,” Joe added. In 1988, DiPasquale’s moved to its current location on Gough Avenue, one block south.
Joe DiPasquale married an Italian, Sabrina Parravano, two decades ago. His partner in life and business, Sabrina cooks many of her family recipes for DiPasquale’s Marketplace. She is prominently featured with Guy Fieri making pasta from scratch for lasagna. An enthusiastic Fieri declares, “Now that’s old school Italian!”
In the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives segment, Joe DiPasquale shows Guy Fieri how he makes mozzarella and adds that they use two hundred pounds of their home made mozzarella each week at DiPasquale’s.
My companion had DiPasquale’s cheese ravioli for $9.95. It was beautifully presented on a large, white porcelain plate with a piece of warm, Italian bread. The bread was fresh, soft. It had a delicious, crunchy crust. The cheese in the ravioli was smooth, rich. The pasta was thick and the tomato sauce slightly sweet. The ravioli tasted homemade and it was excellent.
DiPasquale’s serves a couple of hundred people on Saturdays. The marketplace is open six days a week, Monday through Saturday nine a.m. to six p.m. On a weekday, they will serve an average of one hundred and fifty customers. DiPasquale’s Marketplace also caters.
“A lot of people want to hold onto traditional foods, but they don’t have the time. We will make it for them,” said Joe DiPasquale. He and Sabrina work side-by-side. “It’s a good and bad thing,” he laughed. It is difficult for Joe to leave; he and his wife can’t get away just to spend time together. The DiPasquales have four children, Marcella, Domenico, Ivana and Luigi DiPasquale V.
Back outside amongst the potted plants on the steps, I carried the aracine I could not eat in a take-out container and asked my companion what she thought of DiPasquale’s. “I had no idea this place was here!” she said. “And it’s got great food. Reasonable prices.”
“I just enjoy it,” Joe DiPasquale said about the business he was warned by his father who had been warned by his father to “get the hell out of the business, because you work all the time.” When Joe sees something new, at a food convention or another trip to Italy, “It’s like Christmas to me. Exciting!”