It’s just past 10 a.m., and Frank Depaolo is making mozzarella in a large metal bowl, as he’s been doing for more than 30 years. With one gentle hand, he works cheese curds with what resembles a wooden frat-house paddle. The milk in those curds, from New York State cows, “is amazing at this time of year,” Depaolo says. “They just switched from feeding on hay to fresh green grass. Now watch this!” He begins braiding the fresh cheese, and a few seconds later it’s done, the greatest mozzarella to be found in any borough.
On a quiet main street in Astoria, Sorriso Italian Pork Store (44-16 30th Avenue, Queens; 718-728-4392 ) has been a fixture in the community since Depaolo opened it in 1979. The place specializes in everything you’d want from an Italian specialty store. Sorriso began as a butcher shop but later diversified to offering prepared foods like lasagna and rice balls and specialty items such as rare olive oil, honey, Spanish cheese, and fresh, homemade ravioli, prepared by Frank’s cousin.
Plump, house-made soppressate at Sorriso are exceptional, infused with a range of flavors including red wine and garlic and black olive and fennel. The orange-zest-and-fennel version, sliced thin, must be what they serve in heaven on a summer’s day: not overly sweet, with a smooth yet coarse texture. It is, of course, Frank’s own creation and recipe.
Depaolo was born in Calabria, Italy, but moved to New York at an early age. Now a resident of Long Island, he makes the one-hour commute to and from the store six days a week. He wears a long yellow pencil above one ear and exudes a sense of care for both his store and his customers. It’s easy to see why the place has been around for so many years.
“We really exploded once we started catering A Bronx Tale,” says Depaolo. The 1993 film, featuring (and directed by!) Robert De Niro, was shot for months on the streets just outside the store, and De Niro still sends his driver out to Astoria to pick up some of their mozzarella.
“We named a sandwich after him,” Depaolo adds, “with his permission, of course.” The De Niro sandwich is just one of the nearly two dozen Sorriso makes today, all on freshly baked bread from Parisi Bakery.
Aside from the fresh sandwiches and genuine products, make sure to try their homemade stuffed peppers with prosciutto and provolone — and of course the mozzarella, made hourly. Strikingly white, the cheese is firm yet pliable, with a hit of saltiness coming at the end. At first bite, it makes a slight squeaking noise. This, I was told by Depaolo, is supposed to happen. It’s soft and tender and really should never be refrigerated. For all intents and purposes, it’s ethereal.
As you might expect, many customers are on a first-name basis at Sorriso. One regular, Joe, an octogenarian with a curved stature, has been visiting the store every other day for twenty years, taking two buses from Jackson Heights each way. Joe orders the same thing every time he comes in: four eggplant rollatini (breaded eggplant with fresh ricotta and parsley), a quarter-pound of Genoa salami, and half a pound of provolone. (That, in case you were wondering, adds up to 1,825 pounds of provolone over those twenty years.)
Sorriso is open six days a week, making it a lot easier to visit those friends who “just moved to Astoria.”