Up until this week, the most awe-inspriring gourmet market I've witnessed in Interzone would be Morton's in Sarasota. When I lived for three months on Siesta Key and then for two weeks in the Rosemary District, Morton's was my one-stop shopping source for amazing products that truly make a man feel like he's made it to the top, the pinnacle, the apex of civilization. And it's still a fine place whose homemade chili and BBQ pulled pork brings tears to this fat boy's eyes in reverie, even now.
But when I waltzed into Mazzaro's in St. Petersburg (it's more like Lealman if you ask me) all my preconceptions about culinary heaven went out the ventana. This truly is the Sistine Chapel of gluttony. Name it? It's here, and it's superior to what you and I have been eating. Some stores are so spectacular that you can spend two hours wandering its aisles and not buy anything because you're so overwhelmed by the choices. Mazzaro's is that place. Some stores are so spectacular that as you load your bags into the car and drive off, you feel as if it's a getaway from a museum heist. Mazarro's is that place. Even in NYC, I never saw a place equal to Mazarro's grandeur.
That being the case, I can scarcely assemble my thoughts enough to even describe it to you. When I went in on a Saturday, it was packed to the gills with people, as if it were a tourist attraction or a gallery opening. Tourists (myself included) had cameras and video cameras documenting everything in their excitement, hoping in vain to convey to the folks back home in Cedar Rapids that such a place could even exist.
In Louisville, I used to shop at Fresh Market and would bring my prized items home like a smuggler who somehow, against all odds, concealed the jewels of Kohinoor in a hidden compartment in a false leg and got away with it. Here, the rarest item to my Kentuckian self was a mere footnote, an afterthought, to the edible glories hitherto unknown to a hillbilly like me. And that oneupmanship is across the board - the sausages, the pirogies, the gelato, the coffee, the fresh-made pasta cranked out before your eyes, the imported oils and spices... it reduced me from being an arrogant jerk who thought he was Mario Batali, Jr. to a speechless worm in seconds. But I'm catching up fast.
The place is like a labyrinth, or a series of sequential areas you progress to like Maxwell Smart at the opening of every episode of Get Smart, reaching ever-deeper levels of security clearance the further you walk. By the time I'd reached the immense monastery-like man-cave where they kept the wine and cheese, I was prepared to faint. I managed to fight the crowd and score several hunks of exotic cheeses I'd never heard of, or had read about but never had the opportunity to let my hand boldly seize, before I needed to get out and get some air.
The area where Mazarro's is located is, oddly, not all that affluent. But these weren't locals jamming the place up like a Springsteen tickets campout, they came from miles around, as far away as Tampa, just to do their grocery shopping. It's that amazing. They also have a patio out front where you can sit and eat your prizes from the deli right on the spot, and I'll be filing a report shortly on that as well.
If you're depressed and this place doesn't cheer you, you have no soul. Then again, they say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach.