In 2015 The Washington Post bemoaned the “death of the home-cooked meal,” citing several reasons for its decline including the “country's susceptibility for laziness.”
With this, I’ve several levels of concern. First, yes, there are plenty of sloths lolling about the U.S. but should that descriptor apply to everyone who picks up a delivery menu? I think not. Second, not all of us are good cooks, just like not all of us can remove a tumor. And that’s okay. Leave it to the experts. Third, a “home-cooked meal” isn’t necessarily born of our kitchen. What about dinner parties? Are you lazy if you accept a casserole after surgery?
Fourth, and most important, what if you’re super-busy all day and you drive by A&S Fine Foods and recall how your son followed you around the kitchen begging you to sample its “amazing” chicken noodle soup and so you decide to stop and get dinner there, one that’s better than the frozen meatballs you were going to defrost in the microwave because you only have 45 minutes as a family before post-dinner carpools begin? After all, Oprah loves A&S miniature jumbo lump crab cakes and who can resist their classic chicken piccata?
Does that make you lazy?
It makes you a hero.
Founded by Albert Pizzirusso in 2002 and opened in Westport in 2016, A&S specializes in Italian prepared foods and groceries. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and spent the next 8 years cooking at high-end restaurants in New York, including The Rainbow Room, Four Seasons and the Ritz. He moved to Connecticut and opened, and sold, several eateries before settling in our seaside enclave.
“Everything I carry is the best,” he says, pointing out the olive oils, sun-dried peppers (“You won’t see these anywhere but here.”), cookies, dried pastas and cheeses. “An 80-year old woman from Brooklyn comes here once a week to sell me figs, peppers, and Mulino Blanco cookies.”
A long glass case contains platters of chicken piccata, short ribs, kale pear salad, quinoa salad and more to a line of hungry customers. Above the counter hang large prosciuttos and cured meats.
Everything at A&S is prepared in-house. Actually, let’s say “in-home,” because why not? A small squad of chefs busily roast vegetables, cut pasta, sauté mussels in the back kitchen. One man stands over a steel pan of milky water, pulling out fresh balls of homemade mozzarella. These mozzarellas are best eaten without refrigeration; each slice is creamy and tender with an irresistible soft, chewy texture. Kind of like what fairies eat for dinner.
While you can easily waltz in to buy food for a family of four, you can have him whip up a meal in your own kitchen or you can go the catering route for larger groups and/or fancier fare.
“These ingredients,” Al waves his hand around the delicacies in his store, “are what we use for our food. You want us to cater a meal for 10? I’ll start with this tallegio and spread it on our baguette with sun-dried peppers.”
While his most frequent catering gigs are for 10-400 people, he’s catered barbecues for upwards of 4,000… that’s a baffling number of cows and chickens. His smallest group is four, to whom he served truffles, caviar, and $10,000 worth of wine.
I spot some gluten-free pasta imported from Italy. Though I’d love to think I don’t stereotype, I didn’t realize Italy was so woke. “They have the greatest gluten-free pasta!” He picks up a package of gluten-free cookies, “You can’t even tell it’s gluten-free!”
We’re interrupted by a woman who asks if he carries ricotta. Without skipping a beat he pulls out a tub of beautiful cheese and replies, “Yes, we have the best ricotta.”
I skip out minutes later with truffle cheese, glass jars of Nutella (“much better than the big plastic jars at CostCo”), pasta e fagiole, chicken noodle soup, chicken piccata and a bunch of other yummy foods. We had a lovely family dinner that night.
Because there’s nothing better than a home-cooked meal.