At Trinacria, customers can buy pasta by the package or by the pound from bins filled with different varieties.
At Trinacria, customers can buy pasta by the package or by the pound from bins filled with different varieties. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Tony Glaros
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Trinacria in Baltimore hardly offers much by way of curb appeal. In truth, the outside is positively drab, nondescript. There is nothing that hints at the eccentric parade that daily marches across its faded tile and creaky wooden floors.

Just a long fly ball from Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the inside spills over with a zesty, free-spirited style. If you go, just remember to take a number.

"Ninety-six?" asks Mike Popoli, a 16-year employee.

"This is like family for me," he affirms. "It's not a big business. It's tightknit. Ninety-seven?"

The shelves, festooned with hand-scrawled price tags, bulge with colorful bags of dried pasta. Virtually all of the noodles are Italian imports, including those in open bins.

A mountain of canned tomato sauce lines the front window, featuring brands such as Sclafani, Ferrara and Angelo o f Mulberry Street. No Hunt's, Ragu or Prego.

The business was begun in 1900 by Vincent Fava, an emigrant from Sicily, explained his grandson and namesake, Vince Fava, 41, who runs it now. (The ancient Romans called Sicily Trinacrium -- a star with three points -- hence the store's name.) "He was first a barber and then a baker." His grandfather later switched to pasta, he added, "because he wanted to make something one day and not have to sell it the same day, like bread." After Vincent Fava's death more than 50 years ago, his three sons, Salvatore, Vincent and Joseph, took over.

The sandwich lineup is hard to resist. When the lunch whistle sounds, sleep-deprived doctors and nurses from the University of Maryland Hospital, along with cubicle types from state government buildings, grab a number and await their turn.

The muffuletta sub ($4.99) floats right to the surface. It's a symphony of Italian meats, provolone cheese and olive oil built on fresh, unsalted Tuscan bread. Regulars also crave the prosciutto sandwich ($4.99), with mozzarella cheese and fresh pesto on focaccia. Or they eye the turkey, made with roasted red peppers and also served on focaccia.

The market is also a stronghold of desserts -- biscotti ($9.99 per pound), cannoli ($2.50 each) and butter cookies ($6.99 per pound). Not to be missed: a golden spongecake bursting with candied fruit, crowned with icing and roasted almonds.

What customers might not realize is that the store services a lengthy list of wholesale accounts. Pallets in its modest warehouse in the back are stacked high with De Cecco pasta, parsley flakes and olive oil. Every morning about 7, four or five delivery trucks set out for restaurants in the Baltimore-Washington region.

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