Everyone knows that to believe in good food is to believe in the concept of using only the freshest ingredients in its preparation.
Nowhere is that concept stronger than at Paolo’s Kitchen, a new Italian caterer and grocer, located on South Street, that opened in mid-November.
“We wanted have something local that’s fresh and homemade,” said Paula Vieira, who co-owns the business with her husband and chef, Paolo, after which the establishment is named.
Paolo’s Kitchen is the Vieiras’ attempt to recreate that nostalgic Italian community grocer, where the unmistakable aroma of cheese, salami, peppers and other Italian ingredients fill the air while staff create a connection with the customers it serves. Paolo and Paula are an integral part of the New Providence community in other ways; the couple lives in town and Paula is graduate of New Providence High School and a teacher at Salt Brook School.
Because they are residents, the Vieira's conduct business with a strong sense of community. And it is that sense of community that drives their sense of what an Italian grocer and food establishment should be: friendly, built on fresh food, and infused with a strong sense of customer service with a homey feel.
Take, for example, the decor of Paolo's - the shop features warm, rich colors on the walls thata are adorned with small portraits and placards as one might have in their home kitchen.
“I want customers to feel like they walked into their own home,” Paula said, adding: “and I want our customers to have a sense of nostalgia like, ‘oh yeah,’ I remember when I was a kid and I used to get homemade mozzarella from the fellow behind the counter,” Vieira said. “It’s a typical mom-and-pop.”
The good news is that that authentic local approach is working. Shopper Kristen Breault, who is originally from Brooklyn but who has family in New Providence, said the food quality is as good as home cooked.
“My husband and I work full-time so it’s nice to come home and know that we have a nice meal prepared and the food is delicious,” Breault said.
Paolo developed a hands-on approach to Italian food preparation through years as a chef, and more recently, as a caterer. Unlike most chefs, who venture into the restaurant business, fail, then going to catering, Paolo developed the following as a caterer and slowly worked his way to store ownership.
“I kept my day job, sold at farmer’s markets built my reputation until I opened,” Paolo said. "So many people know about me now."
There is good reason that Paolo, who has been a chef for 25 years, developed a following. Preparation of all of Paolo's Kitchen foods means no short cuts and everything is from scratch - for example, Paolo makes all his own mozzarella, tiramisu, mozzarella, ricotta, sauces, salads and pasta by hand.
In the front of the store, a glass deli counter is filled with a variety of salads and hand-crafted specialties such as Bakala salad, non-fried calamari seafood salad, aranchini (fried Italian rice ball with meat inside), and a variety of sauces and gravies.
“We thought that bringing back the old-fashioned mom-and-pop Italian store was the way to go because we provide a high quality product at a price that people can afford,” Paula said.
The influence of the farmer’s market was brought in store as Paolo’s Kitchen offers frozen trays of homemade Italian dishes that he sells at food markets. The trays contain food that is fully prepared and ready to serve after a short stint in the oven. The most popular fresh and frozen dish is eggplant Rollotini, whereby eggplant is cut thinly and wrapped around mozzarella and ricotta cheese and baked.
Paolo’s Kitchen also carries a line of gluten-free dishes and offers a variety of homemade desserts. Frozen market trays run $15-$18, soups $5, dressings, $6, fresh sauces, $8 and desserts $8.
In addition to what is in Paolo's Kitchen's frozen cases and in the deli salads and desserts case, the Vieira’s said that they are ready and willing to make any Italian dish to order - and at a price that won't set anyone back too far.
“I would challenge anyone to find a more reasonable price for what we are offering especially since everything is done truly by hand,” Paula said.