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Piccolo Gourmet — Now, That’s Italian

They make mozzarella three times a day at Piccolo Gourmet, an Italian deli in New Hyde Park, and after tasting it for the first time, I could see why they have to keep replenishing it. This is worlds away from the cello-wrapped mozzarella available in most stores. It is delicate and creamy and when you marinate it in a bit of olive oil, garlic and parsley makes you feel like you're walking through St. Marks Square in Venice.

This level of quality and attention to freshness is a hallmark of Piccolo Gourmet. “We don’t cut corners,” says owner Sal Restivo, who opened the place in 1999.

That means making their own sauces and sausage and soups plus pizza in a wood-burning oven. “And if we don’t make it ourselves, we go with industry leaders,” says Restivo, “such as Hellman’s and Boar's Head.” Or imported products from Italy like their assortment of imported pasta.

On one visit, I had a robust pasta fagioli made from canola beans that had been soaked overnight. They used fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Sometimes proscuitto, imported from Italy, is added.

Piccolo is a market where you have lots of choices of products to take home to prepare yourself or ready made to heat up or eat as is.

Their chicken burgers are delicious. You take them home to cook; they freeze well. For the Mediterranean chicken burger, white meat chicken is combined with chopped spinach, feta, onions and seasonings. Restivo says that his chicken burger is a favorite for dieters. There’s also a southwestern chicken burger with black beans and corn.

Another wonderful prepared dish is the eggplant caponata. This luscious combination of eggplant, olives, toasted pignoli nuts and a somewhat sweet tomato sauce (just enough to hold it together) is delicious on flat bread from their brick oven.

About the oven and pizza. Pizza and bread for their panini are baked in the wood burning oven. Restivo uses imported Italian flour, which he feels is the right product for making his pizza using artisanal Neapolitan techniques. No sugar is added to the dough. Pizzas baked in gas ovens (which reach about 500 degrees) need sugar in order for the crust to brown, which is not the case with the wood burning oven that goes beyond a blistering 800 degrees, producing a perfectly chewy and crispy crust.

Piccolo Gourmet is located at 1632 Hillside Ave. in New Hyde Park. Call 516-326-3578 for more information.