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What's Up Magazine

The Taste: Piazza Italian Market

Feb 01, 2018 03:38PM

By Mary Lou Baker    
Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.

Piazza Italian Market

Talbot Town Center. 218 N. Washington St., Easton. 410-820-8281.

Grocery store, take-out or eat-in. Cheese and wine selections, house-made cookies, local eggs, high-end imported olive oils, pastas, sauces, specialty items, seasonal vegetables, sandwiches, entrees. 36-seat dining area. Open weekdays 10 a.m.–6 pm, Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–4 p.m.

I interviewed Emily Chandler, proprietress of Easton’s Piazza Italian Market, on a day when the establishment was moving from a 1,000-square-foot location in Easton’s TalbotTown Center to a 3,000-square-foot space just across the parking lot. Her establishment boasts one of the finest inventories of imported Italian foodstuffs in the state of Maryland. Chandler was orchestrating the move across the parking lot from her original shop—never missing a beat in our far-ranging conversation even as she directed the placement of gleaming new display shelves and cooking equipment. 

Tell me about Emily Chandler—how you arrived at this point in your young life. 

I grew up in Northern Virginia, spending many weekends on the Eastern Shore where my parents have a –second house in Royal Oak. I graduated from Wesleyan University, where I was an art major, worked for two years at the Bedford Cheese Shop in New York, and moved to Easton in 2008 to open Piazza Italian Market. My mother is part-Italian and an excellent cook; my father has an online high-end olive oil business. They both have MBAs and have been a big help in advising me on the business-side of owning and operating Piazza.

I am interested in the name of your establishment and why you chose it.

EC: In Italy, a piazza is a place where people gather to socialize with one another—a market where they can find most everything they need—including fine foods, a place to meet friends, catch up on the news, and an area where they can eat together. We are many things to the immediate community and beyond. We are a source to learn about Italy—its special foods, wines, customs, recipes, and restaurants. My family rented a villa in Italy when I was very young, and we traveled throughout Tuscany over the years. Those experiences inspired me and led me to where I am today.

Your website is exceptional—parts of it read like a letter from you to the public. There’s personalized information about your favorite cities in Tuscany—Siena and Florence get shout-outs. Want to say something about the current site?

Yes, the website needs updating. For instance, we stopped doing “region of the month” a while ago. That said, most of the groceries listed are in stock and the menus are up-to-date, except the paninis—Italy’s version of fast food—they have a special listing every day. 
Tell us about your staff—including the people who help plan your menus and who prepare the meals served in your new restaurant.

Rosario Del Nero, a chef with 35 years of restaurant experience, is our executive chef and consultant. He is from Vatelina in Northern Italy and is a key member of our team. Chris Beasley is our head chef, working from our Aurora Street Kitchen to supply us with finished dishes as well as soups and salads. Two other wonderful staff people are Catherine Baron, a nine-year veteran who makes our popular Italian cookies; and Bianca Russo, who has been with us for eight years.
Rosario and Chris worked together on the recipe on these pages for lamb meatballs with fregola sarda, a pasta imported from Sardinia that has a nutty flavor. I suggest serving it with Cantele Salice Salentino wine from Puglia. I love the pairing of that type of grape (negroamaro) with lamb. We usually have that wine in stock and it is in the “week night” price range of $13/bottle.

Can you say something about products that your market sells that are not readily available elsewhere—such as wild boar and specialty brands of salami?

Cinghiale or wild boar is available to us as a domestic product only. We sell wild boar salami made by an Italian family in the U.S., whose source is feral Texan boar. The company is Criminelli and I think they make some of the best salami in the country—almost as good as Italy!

As I look around your market, I spy a box with the name Jose Andres on the side, a sign saying “customized cannoli,” beautifully-packaged boxes of imported pasta and olive oils, and a wall of wine bottles with intriguing labels. Leaves me speechless. Can you say something?

Love to say a few things: 1) Jose Andres supplies us with potato chips cooked in olive oil; 2) Catherine Baron customizes the cannoli shells we buy from a baker in Salisbury with a choice of fillings; 3) we have a wonderful selection of imported olive oils—including ones that Thomas Keller and Charlie Trotter use as “finishing oils” in their restaurants; 4) the wines I choose myself from all over Italy and price at two levels: “week night” ($12–$16) and “special occasion.”

What is the “worst thing” about being the owner of Piazza? The “best thing?”

Being open seven days a week can be tough. But the “best thing” is being able to do everything the way I like!

Mary Lou Baker is a frequent contributor to What’s Up? Media publications and self-professed gourmand. She has authored numerous culinary articles and recently penned the book Seafood Lover’s Chesapeake Bay: Restaurants, Markets, Recipes & Traditions. 

lamb meatballs

Recipe courtesy of Chef Chris Beasley, Piazza Italian Market, Easton Maryland

(makes 12 meatballs)
1 lb ground lamb
1 cup whole milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons grated pecorino
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh mint, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
pinch black pepper

Place bread crumbs in a large bowl. Add milk and mix until absorbed and crumbs are moist.Add egg and mix well. Add cheese, garlic, onions, salt, pepper, herbs. Add meat and mix well.  Form into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake in a 450-degree oven for 20 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.  

Fregola Sarda

1/2 lb fregola sarda pasta (uncooked) 
3 tablespoons Piazza’s Red Pepper Pesto
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
3 cloves garlic
8 ounces artichoke hearts in oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup Italian pine nuts

Peel garlic and toss in olive oil. Wrap garlic in foil and roast in 250 degree oven until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once cool, mash with a fork. In a medium-sized pot, bring 2 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt to the water. Add fregola and lower heat to a simmer. Cook for 12 minutes. Chill in ice bath and drain. Drain oil from the artichokes, (set aside 2 for roasting) and give the rest a rough chop. Once the fregola is well-drained, combine all ingredients and serve in pasta bowls with Italian bread and robust red wine.