Road Trip Pit Stop: Corti Brothers

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A sleepy stretch of Folsom Boulevard in East Sacramento might seem like an unlikely location for a world-famous gourmet emporium like Corti Brothers, but it makes sense when you know its history. Owner Darrell Corti grew up in the grocery store the eponymous brothers, his father Frank and uncle Gino, opened in 1947.

In that hospitable environment, Corti developed a discerning palate for food and wine. He also had an extraordinary gift for languages. That combination led to his traveling the world to buy exceptional goodies for the store, thus becoming a godfather to the Bay Area's 1970s culinary revolution. As Chez Panisse's Alice Waters told the LA Times, "Darrell opened my eyes to products from around the world. He is an amazing person who knows everything about everything."

Corti continues to seek out the obscure and delicious to this day, making a stop at the store a must for many Bay Area gourmets on the way to or from points east on I-80 or north on I-5. The liquor department (pictured in part above), for example, includes by far the best selection of Italian imports in Northern California. This is the only place I know where you might find a choice of four Barolo Chinatos, or Nardini's full line of liqueurs.
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Here's an example of the sort of thing you're unlikely to find anywhere else: chinotti ($19.99 for a 420g jar), a sour orange preserve from Savona traditionally eaten after dinner as a solid digestif. These oddballs were almost extinct when Slow Food started a program to preserve them. So far, I think I'm the only person I've fed them to who wanted more than one bite, but it's still fun to encounter new flavors.

Make no mistake, this store is not just for gourmets: it's also a first-rate neighborhood supermarket, with a great meat counter, an excellent deli, and all the other stuff regular people need for everyday eating. Below, an example of this dual nature: on the lower shelf, the Genova and Tuna Guys canned tuna that most customers might buy; right above them, food-service-size jars of what Corti says are the world's best tuna loins. Who's going to pay $100 and change for those? I don't know, but per the Web site they're down to their last two jars.

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