Find the Best Italian Sandwich in the City at Emily's Pork Store
On a hot June afternoon, Gennaro 'Jerry' Aliperti, owner and operator of Emily's Pork Store (426 Graham Avenue, 718 383-7216) is playing butcher, sandwich composer, and jokester to customers and friends. Aliperti makes first timers instantly comfortable and he has a way with those sometimes difficult but lovable regulars. He asks a repeat customer to specify how thick she'd like her pork chops. "Not too thick and not too thin, Jerry," she says. "You know how I like 'em."
A true locals' place -- Aliperti says about 85 percent of his business is from regulars -- Emily's is the ultimate find: it's a specialty store from another time that hasn't changed, and it is still committed to old traditions and keeping standards high.
Emily's is named for the wife of Aliperti's uncle Frank, who opened this shop in 1974. The younger Aliperti started working here in 1976 at the age of 13, first sweeping and stocking shelves, then learning from his aunt the art of sausage- and salami-making, and finally picking up myriad butchering techniques from his uncle. After college, Aliperti spent a few years as a salesman at Manhattan Special espresso soda, and then he took over the shop full time in 1989, changing only the original creaking wooden shelves.
Located in the historically Italian neighborhood of east Williamsburg, the area around this shop was once home to such mobsters as the Bonanno family of Donnie Brasco fame, who actually had an apartment just above the storefront next to Emily's. Aliperti remembers the guys with the "pointy shoes" coming into the store often. "They were always super nice," he says. "Used to get like 30 pieces of braciole [stuffed and rolled pork] for their Sunday sauce."
Shelves today are packed with Italian goods that range from canned sardines to an array of dried pastas, from more select items like Scungilli (sliced conch) to orange blossom essence (a flavoring often used in holiday pies).
To the right of the door sits the deli counter, showcasing different cuts of pork, whole chickens, a litany of olives, marinated mushrooms, and a wide variety of antipasti. Many types of handmade salamis and cheeses hang from the ceiling, and the slightly round Aliperti mans the case, doling out advice on rib eye or schmoozing about the latest Jets draft pick, every day the doors are open.
Emily's excels especially in housemade sausages -- made twice weekly -- hard salamis, and fantastic sandwiches. You'll find a range of franks, with varieties like breakfast sausage or fennel and broccoli rabe; I bring the hard salamis, made in-house and hung in an offsite drying facility, to my family when I travel home to Florida. They have a unique texture and flavor I've never experienced elsewhere; even expensive sausages from specialty markets don't live up. One regular tried to explain it to me like this: "Those other salamis got more fat than meat, this one's got more meat than fat, and it's got the flavor."
But don't leave without a sandwich. Choose one of two bread selections -- both made by Aliperti's cousin at Napoli Bakery just down the street on Metropolitan Avenue -- from a center shelf and hand it to Aliperti. Regulars do this as soon as they enter the shop, and they always choose (correctly) the crusty French style baguette over the thicker sub-style roll.
Skip the rudimentary sandwich board and take a few minutes and peruse the specialty cheeses and meats; once you've ogled the soppressata, mortadella, prosciutto cotto, and wine-soaked umbriaco, get Aliperti's seasoned opinion on what's best and just go for it. My father digs the housemade salami, ham, and provolone with fresh roasted sweet peppers; I go for the sliced rare roast beef, made fresh daily, with au jus and marinated peppers. You might like some fresh roast pork and maybe a little bresaola (top round that has been salted and dried) with Jerry's homemade mozzarella.
Everything is sliced to order here -- "Oh that's the whole deal," says Aliperti. "Otherwise, it just tastes old." -- and almost every single sandwich is less than $7.
On Thursdays Emily's does hot food; in order to partake, you'll need to place your order on Wednesday either by phone or in person, at which time you'll learn exactly what's available. "This week we got chicken parm, my wife's Asian noodles, some rice balls, and a few other ideas I'm working on," Aliperti told me recently.
As one regular said upon leaving, "This place is the dynamite!"