By Emma Gallegos
At the intersection of Italy and Americana (specifically, the intersection of Citrus and College), there’s Claro’s.
The market, deli and bakery in Covina is the latest addition to the Claro’s empire that got its start in San Gabriel and now includes outposts in La Habra, Tustin, Arcadia and Upland.
Browse the aisles and you’re sure to find a healthy mix of devotion to the homeland and imports from the homeland.
There are T-shirts and keychains and caps and vanity license plates proclaiming love for Italy or Sicily right alongside some of the imports that are trickier to find at, say, Ralph’s. There are chocolate hazelnut “Baci” and “Kinder” candies or the menthol cough drops that Italians suck on in sickness and in health. There’s dark, bitter chinotto soda and light Italian beer.
But, if you are truly dining on a budget, I’d advise you to skip most of the imports. Undoubtedly, the weak dollar and the fuel it takes to bring Italy to Americana contributes to a ridiculous mark-up on some of the items. I found myself unknowingly shelling out $4 for an Abbondio Rossa soda – a bitter, subtly sweet Italian soda that would have tasted less bitter without the aftertaste of sticker shock.
Penny-pinchers should stick to the deli on one side of the store and the bakery on the other.
For only a few dollars more than Quizno’s foot-long special ($6.99), you can order a sandwich and watch the meat being sliced right in front of you.
Or you can wander over to the other side of the market and salivate at the sight of so many beautiful loaves of bread and cornettos (Italian croissants) and a broad selection of other freshly baked goods to dunk in your morning coffee.
I opted to try their take on a cannoli ($2.49). I’ve never met a cannoli I didn’t like and this one wasn’t any different. The ricotta filling was rich and fresh but not too sweet. The ground pistachios at either opening of the crispy shell was a nice touch.
Back at the deli counter, the man who made my prosciutto sandwich warned me that the Canadian kind would be a little saltier, a little less tender than the imported Italian kind. To his credit, he was right. The budget diner in me didn’t want to spring for the imported kind that would cost an extra $2.
The domestic prosciutto was as delicious as any I’ve tried, but the stack of so many slices of salty meat was overwhelming. Savory Italian prosciutto crossed with the all-American love for sky-high stacks of meat isn’t exactly a match made in heaven.
Next time, I’ll skip the bitter soda and splurge on the saltier, tender meat or I’ll tell the man slicing my meat “when” midway through. A little goes a long way, as they say.
But I’ll be coming back. All the ingredients in my sandwich were fresh and high-quality. The bread was firm and flavorful and the mustard was sharp and tangy.
And I know that even in such a small grocery store, I hadn’t even scratched the surface. It might take a few tries, but if there’s anywhere that will hit the sweet spot where Italy meets Americana (on a budget and around the corner), Claro’s will be it.
Claro’s Italian Market is at 159 E. College St., Covina, (626) 339-3333.