Italian immigrant and entrepreneur Nino Carusone always knew he wanted to bring a taste of his hometown of Caserta, in the Campania region of Italy, to the states. His ending up in Northport was no accident.
Nino came to America when he was in his twenties. He worked behind the scenes at pizzerias and restaurants before branching out on his own as the new owner of Martoni Gourmet in 2017. He was drawn to Northport Village, he said, because it was a smaller community with other small business owners around. It wasn’t flashy, there were no strip malls – Northport was a place where he could hone in on something off the beaten path and authentic.
“My village, Cavallari, it’s a small town like Northport,” he said. “Everybody knows each other. That’s why I like small towns like Northport. Because it reminds me of Italy, it reminds me also of my childhood, walking down the street, hearing people talking on the streets. Everybody knows me here.”
Indeed, they do.
Walk in any day of the week and you’ll hear regulars chatting with Nino in Italian, ordering an espresso or panini. In the summer, fans cheer for their favorite soccer teams on television, filling the store with that enthusiastic soccer spirit so common in Europe. Outside, in warmer weather, friends gather around small tables in front of the storefront and catch up over coffee. It’s what Nino wanted to bring to Northport – a casual and comfortable place for people to shop, catch up, and connect.
“They feel a little bit at home,” said Martoni marketing director Lauren De Bellis of the many Italian neighbors who come to Martoni to socialize, and buy products they can’t find anywhere else.
When Nino first took over, Martoni was known primarily for its balsamic vinegars, olive oil, and coffee (it still is). But Nino loves to cook and plan menus, so he grew the business, turned the neighboring record store into a cafe, and began to offer an ever-expanding menu of ciabatta bread paninis, the mainstay of the cafe business.
Just about everything in the store is imported from Italy, from cold case items for a traditional antipasto dish, to chef’s flour for pizza night, gelato from Torino, “elevated” pastas (including an impressive gluten-free selection), sauces, espresso, wood-roasted American coffee, cookies, biscotti, and glass jars of coarse sea salt from Sardegna that will “transform your cooking,” said Lauren.
And of course, there’s the prized section of olive oils and balsamic vinegars from Modena, “some of the most aged, most delicious balsamics I know,” said Nino, showcasing the shelves of top-level Acetaia Sereni, popular with high-end chefs and knowledgeable connoisseurs (one bottle rings in at $475), as well as the more accessible private label balsamic vinegars geared toward regular customers who restock often. Not a pro? Nino is happy to help make recommendations on just how to use certain balsamics, from complementing appetizers, to topping pasta, chicken, steak, and eggs, or even in cocktails.
Nino travels back and forth to Italy to visit vendors and do tastings that honor the Italian palate and then translates it to how the American palate works, said Lauren. He loves to share recipe ideas and suggestions, and takes pride in introducing items like fresh truffles, buffalo mozzarella, and different kinds of pesto.
“Some people understand about Italian food, some people, they really know what they’re eating. Other people, they don’t know,” said Nino. “I enjoy when people come to ask me questions about certain things. I try to introduce new things to them.”
Martoni Gourmet is located at 245 Main Street in Northport Village. Nino is hosting a tasting of imported specialty balsamic vinegars, olive oil, cookies and more this Friday, December 17, from 4-7pm.