What with the world in its current state of uncertainty, it’s the little things that we count on for comfort.
One reassuring thing we know for sure is that six days a week, Rosario DiMarco will be sitting at the deli counter at Rosario’s and that his 97-year-old father, Santo, will be there with him.
Rosario, who is wide of shoulder, short of stature and long of chatty conversation, opened the old-fashioned Italian deli and pizzeria on 31st Street under the shadow of the El’s Ditmars stop in 1986 and moved it a couple of storefronts down the street in 2001.
“I like meeting the people who come here,” he says, as he sits at the cash register and receives a bread delivery.
Homemade Italian food has always been a large part of Rosario’s life.
The family is from Sicily, and Rosario was 12 when his parents brought him, his brother and his sister to Astoria.
Santo got a job at the old Ronzoni pasta factory in Long Island City and stayed until he retired many years ago.
Rosario, the oldest of the three children, didn’t know any English, and that may or may not be why he wasn’t so fond of school.
He doesn’t go into specifics, saying only that he and school “didn’t get along.”
But work was another matter.
When he was 13, he got a part-time job cleaning tables in an Astoria pizzeria.
He quit school after 9th grade and at 16 had earned a full-time job at the pizzeria.
“My father said, ‘If you don’t go to school, you have to go to work,’” Rosario says, turning to Santo for corroboration.
That suited Rosario just fine, and he proceeded on his path to success.
At 20, he opened a pizzeria in Astoria. When he sold it five years later, he set up shop in Manhattan.
In 1986, he bought the deli on 31st Street and reopened it under his own name.
In 2001, he moved it to its current, uber-convenient location: You can get a slice steps from the subway or pick up a pack of cheese and meats without breaking stride.
“Some of my customers have been with me since I opened the first pizzeria,” Rosario says as he brings wedges of Moliterno, Sicilian truffle cheese made from sheep’s milk, and prosciutto to the counter. “I’ve served generations of the same families.”
The customers come not only for the cheeses and prosciutto but also for the pizza, the fresh mozzarella, the homemade sausages and beef meatballs and an abundance of Italian-imported products that range from tomato sauce to pastas.
And to shoot the breeze, in the language of their homeland, with Rosario.
Some of the recipes come from Rosario’s family. He learned to cook at home and then from his bosses at the pizzeria.
Oh, the olive oil.
Rosario brings a bottle down from the shelf.
The brand name is DiMarco.
Rosario’s brother, who lives in Italy, makes it.
Although Rosario moved to Long Island’s East Hills long ago, Santo still lives in Astoria.
“He’s stubborn,” Rosario says. “He lives by himself, but I take him to my house every Sunday.”
Rosario’s 63 and his daughters – 21-year-old triplets – are not interested in taking over the business if and when he ever decides to retire.
His hair is grey, and his beard is grizzled.
He knows he’ll have to throw in the pasta at some point, but it’s not something he’s prepared to think about right this minute.
The old-timers as well as the newcomers who consider themselves foodies depend on Rosario’s; these days, they line up, six feet apart, at the counter, waiting to greet Rosario and Santo.
It’s a ritual that satisfies all.
It’s only 8:30 in the morning, and things in the deli are already hopping.
Rosario’s just getting into his groove.
He’s been here since 7, and he won’t go home until after the 7:30 closing.
Rosario glances over at Santo.
They both know they’re not going anywhere, at least not anytime soon.
“Coming here keeps my dad going,” Rosario says.
Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com; @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.
Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling