Ain’t We Sweet?

“Good bread, good meat, good cake – let’s eat.” Shakespeare it’s not, but that impromptu poem recited by a customer at the cookie counter at Isgro’s bakery sums up all you need to know about the Ninth Street Market area and the holidays.While fresh fruit and vegetables reign supreme at the market most of the year, the holidays are for pastries. Cannoli and cookies are the favorites, according to Augustine Sarno, owner of Isgro’s at 1006 Christian St.
“Starting in the beginning of December, it goes completely crazy,” Sarno said of business at his bakery, Which will be celebrating its 90th anniversary in January.

“The last three weeks in December, it’s a mad house,” he said, ‘It’s not unusual to have a line out front, with police directing traffic.” When Gus says a line, he really means it, his wife, Lucille, explained.”The line starts forming around 6. We open at 7 and it’s not until 6 at night that there are no more bodies outside,” she said. “But it moves very quickly (it takes about 25 minutes to be served once you’re inside, Gus said) and the people are really nice.” “They understand,” Gus said. “It’s like anything else: if you want anything said. of quality, you wait for it.”

The holiday scene at Termini Bros. bakery, 1523-25 S. Eighth St., is much the same. Things start to pick up in early December and get increasingly hectic as the month wears on, one employee said recently.

“Christmas Eve, it’s all day,” she said.Two other Termini employees rolled their eyes and laughed.”This is the killer,” Marge Piselli. Marie Alessi agreed. “There’s nothing like Christmas,” she said.

Those of you who like to collect facts and figures will appreciate this: At Isgro’s alone, customers buy a whopping 5,000 pounds of holiday cookies in December, most of them in the two weeks before Christmas. The most popular, Gus said, are the Italian fruitfilled and the butter cookies. As for cannoli, try 80,000 in the same time frame.

Astounding numbers, especially considering that the country is in what seems a never-ending recession, and the fact that health and fitness are all the rage.
But bakeries like Isgro’s, Termini’s and others that specialize in Italian pastries continue to thrive. Gus said that’s because they offer special treats, not daily indulgences.

“Pastries are a luxury item, no doubt about it. if they’re going to give up something, people give up doughnuts,” he said. “We carry mostly specialty items, not something you eat every day. That makes us unique.”

His one concession to the fitness trend is using no-cholesterol shortening in butter cookies. “If you don’t stay on top and follow the trends – and the trend these days is health – you’ll lose a portion of the market,” he said. “if people are watching their diets, you should be able to offer something that won’t hurt them.

“But customers know what they want. They don’t want to compromise,” he said. “When people come here, they want calories. They want cholesterol.”

If it sounds good to you and you’re thinking about indulging in some Italian treats, it’s best to make your holiday order now, Gus said, especially if you’re ordering a tray to be delivered as a gift. Both Isgro’s and Termini’s ship cookie and pastry trays but it takes a few days, especially at this time of year.

By Margaret Battistelli, featured in “To Market” Dec. 1993