Out of all of the food memories I have from my childhood, there is one that stands out – the first time I walked into Fazio’s Pizza and Italian Food in Arnold, Pennsylvania. It was in this Pizza-slash-Deli that I first encountered real Italian food in its many iterations. It was also the place that started my fascination with the cuisine.

We had moved into Arnold after my parents had divorced. My father moved us to Arnold onto a block where our neighbors were Italian immigrants (Mostly Sicilians and Neapolitans) who had moved to the United States between the 1920′s and 50′s. Accents were prevalent as were many people who spoke little to no English. But food was was the great communicator. Our neighbors on both sides of our house (the Giacartti’s on the south side, the Baiko’s on the north) each provided us with the extra tomatoes, zucchinis and plums that grew in their respective and respectable backyard gardens.

And Fazio’s was the place where many of these folks could get the foods that reminded them of their childhood.

If you’ve never been to an Italian Deli, it may be difficult to understand just how overwhelming it can be. I first walked into the place when I was nine years old, and I can still recall the aromas, now some years later. Although at the time they were unknown, I can easily place them now.

After the bell clinked against the glass door that announced the presence of the newly arrived patron, one was treated immediately to dozens of smells of the various products sold. The air was heavy with the perfume of the several varieties of olive oil sold and used in the anitpasti found in the deli case. Then the aromas of the cured salamis battled one another, with various salts, spices and sugars each striving for dominance. Fennel, oregano, basil and parsley all supported the other flavors mingling in the air. Then, supporting all of this, was the smell of the pizza made on the premises. The fresh crusts, the sharp sweetness of the herbed tomato sauce and the malting cheeses all made their presence known.

For a child used the roast chicken and hot dogs that we feasted upon pre-divorce, Fazio’s was a revelation. The world of food had abruptly expanded exponentially. Where most people can tell you their first kiss took place, I can tell you where I first encountered calamari, mortadella, and balsamic vinegars. More than anything else, Fazio’s was the place that started my love affair with Italian food.