Delmonico’s Reborn

Deep in the dark recesses of my youth are recollections of errands run with my mother. Many of these were hunting-gathering trips for groceries to feed the family. And they always involved multiple stops at multiple stores.

Why? Because no single grocery store offered everything she needed, or in the price and quality she wanted. So we could hit the Red Owl in St. Anthony Village, the Country Club on Silver Lake Road in New Brighton, and further up Silver Lake Road, the Lunds. (Let it be noted here that all three of those stores had bag boys who would also wheel out your groceries to your car and put them in the back or trunk for you, just to show how long ago this was). But there would be times that we would dive deep into the heart of our own northeast Minneapolis and surface in Delmonico’s Italian grocery store, just off of Broadway and Fillmore.

As far as I was concerned as a kid, Delmonico’s was born of the middle ages, judging by the fact that it looked old and smelled older. But Delmonico’s was actually established some 80 or so years ago by a pair of brothers, and when they finally retired a couple of decades ago, they passed things on to their sons who somehow kept things going as they were. It was a relic and a holdover from another time entirely, where small neighborhood stores catered to the needs of the locals, not a huge Cub Foods a mile or more away.

As such, for those who had never been in Delmonico’s prior to its closing, it’s almost impossible to describe with any accurate detail, but imagine this: It was a small store, possibly 30 feet across by 20 feet deep. There were shelves everywhere, laid out in such a way that I always wondered what anyone was thinking when they were placed there. But their arrangement forced a serpentine aisle through the store which circled back on itself to lead from the door past the counters to the produce section and back again. Shelves stretched floor to ceiling behind the counter to the back right hand of the store, where there also was an archaic 1960’s era mechanical cash register. A meat and cheese counter was in the back left of the store, and along the left wall was a produce cooler that probably had seen the Wilson administration. What always struck me about the place was that through all of my trips there through about 40 years, it never changed. Never. Even the smell stayed the same.

It was the go-to place for sausage, and mom bought her real parmesan there for a long time, because it was practically the only place to get it. The impending cooking of lasagna or homemade pizza was announced by a trip to Delmonico’s just to get tomato sauce, sliced mozzarella, and the sausage. As I got older and started growing a mustache, I was offered a cigar to pair with it by the two old guys who started the place. And in high school, during a field trip to northeast from my south Minneapolis school (a field trip designed to show those south Minneapolis kids some of the roots of the city they miss by living where they do), I was able to introduce my friends to this wonderful place and a few bites of an Italian donut (think a one-foot diameter tube-shaped circle of raised-sugared donut).

Some years ago, the store cut back its hours. And, frankly, I had little reason to go there: I could get what I needed for Italian dinners elsewhere–Costco, Cub, Byerly’s. Though I kept talking about heading there to get things for lasagna. But these days, going to four or five stores on a grocery shopping trip is time-prohibitive…Though there are some weekends that I do just that.

Delmonico’s quietly closed some time ago, and the brothers running the store now searched for new ownership, hoping to keep it up as the grocery store it has always been. But nothing had seemed to emerge. Until today when I read this article. It’s been bought, and the new owner is working with the second-generation brothers to learn from them. And there’s hope here that it will come back from the dead, capturing some of its ancient charm while possibly updating itself a bit so as to not be an obvious fire trap.

I’ll have to make sure to go back after it reopens, because as I think about it, I do miss that place.