Editor's note: On Thursdays, Babbo pastry chef Gina DePalma checks in with Seriously Italian. After a stint in Rome, she's back in the States, channeling her inner Italian spirit via recipes and intel on delicious Italian eats. Take it away, Gina!
The Iron Tomato in the heart of suburban Westchester County has been on my radar for some time now, ever since I spotted their ad in the local newspaper that lands on my mother’s kitchen table every day. So when hunger pangs struck on a recent shopping expedition with Mom to sleepy, mall-laden White Plains, I suggested we give it a try “What’s with the kooky name?” she asked.
We may have found our answer the minute we walked in the door. Just beyond the entrance is the market portion of the large, airy space. Two walls and a small aisle are neatly arranged with imported Italian groceries. We found dried pasta, sauces, condiments, beans, Mulino Bianco crackers and cookies, spices, jarred antipasti and, holy cow—look at all those canned tomatoes! I’ve never seen such a vast selection of Italian canned tomatoes outside of Italy, many of them bearing the DOP certification of San Marzano.
The Iron Tomato stocks the gigantic, hard-to-find restaurant-sized units, for occasions when only buckets of sauce will do. Even my mother was impressed, which doesn’t occur easily. I watched her mentally re-arranging her pantry shelves to accommodate a few of those 105-ounce cans.
Against another wall was a large selection of olive oils, not quite as impressive, but decent, containing the same supermarket brands I used to see in Italy as well as bottles from a few small, artisan producers.
Living up to its name as a market, the Iron Tomato has just about everything you would need to prepare a full meal: there is a compact, but comprehensive refrigerated produce section containing specialty fruit, vegetables and fresh herbs, a selection of fresh pastas, and a wood display stocked with fresh bread from Arthur Avenue. A fish counter has a small but well-chosen variety of fresh fish and seafood, or you can order from the large butcher case of prime meats and poultry.
Just opposite are three full displays of imported cheeses. Mom snagged a wedge of Grana Padano while I perused a dizzying array of olives; I counted almost 20 varieties on offer that day.
Curving around to the other side of the U-shaped market, we reached the deli and prepared foods section where The Iron Tomato becomes a café. Cured meats, assorted salumi, and prosciutto are offered by the pound or in made-to-order sandwiches. There were too many hot and cold dishes to count, including reliable standbys like pasta salads, lasagne, chicken, veal and vegetable sides. Roasted porchetta, rolled with herbs and faintly pink in the middle, looked pretty darn good for a spot mind-bendingly within walking distance of a Wal-Mart.
Just past the deli was the pizza oven, where Mom and I ordered a panino stuffed with soppressatta, rughetta, and crumbly, aged goat cheese to share, along with a small pizza margherita. The pizzas are made to order; panini and calzone are on display or can be made to your liking. If you don't want a sit-down meal there are prepared cold salads, wraps, and sandwiches ready to grab and go.
A small seating area with 15 or so tables accommodates the lunch crowd from the White Plains business district. We squeezed our way past lawyer types and insurance dudes with napkins tucked into their collars to a small corner table and dug in. The sandwich was good, flattened and toasted in a proper panini press. The heat had reached the middle of the panino, always a must in my book; the arugula had wilted and turned juicy and the cheese was warm, soft and salty.
The pizza was more Roman than Neapolitan, with a thin, almost cracker-like crust that I would not describe as memorable. But the topping made up for the ho-hum crust, the perfect proportion of crushed San Marzano plum tomatoes to fresh house-made mozzarella, with torn basil leaves and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Both Mom and I noticed the bright, fresh flavor of the tomato. “I wonder which brand they use for the pizza,” she murmured, still staring dreamily across the store at those rows and rows of canned pomodori.
I was in the mood for coffee, so I ordered a macchiato doppio from the coffee bar, which offered a nice selection of pastries, biscotti, cakes and gelato. The coffee was really good—perfect with a biscotti di regina for dunking.
It is easy to be comfortable in the Iron Tomato. Definitely miles above a grocery store, it isn’t snooty or overtly upscale, a family-owned and operated business, where you will hear Italian spoken all around. For Westchester County it is an oasis of Italian authenticity in comparison to the standard, so-called Italian deli that is located near every Metro North station. And it is decidedly more orderly than the charming chaos often encountered on Arthur Avenue. The Iron Tomato is part Italian, part Italian-American, and if you live in Westchester, buonissimo.
The Iron Tomato
57 Mamaroneck Avenue, White Plains NY (map) 914-328-9411
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