Angelo Garro is a self-proclaimed “Professional Italian.” And by the looks of it, the job title has its perks.
Angelo’s world is nestled on a sleepy dead-end street in San Francisco’s South of Market district. His unmarked door opens-up into the dusty, well-worn cave called the Renaissance Forge. Pass slowly through this workshop, it could easily be mistaken for a museum of pre-industrial tools, with over-sized wrenches, sheers and rusty saw blades on-display. There are treasures everywhere you look – old books and trinkets arranged just-so. There is a portrait of Angelo’s friend, the late artist David Ireland, that he plans to donate to Ireland’s foundation, 500 Capp Street. But for now, Angelo enjoys having Ireland’s likeness with him, as the two of them used to cook together once a week, meeting at the forge or Ireland’s famous home, sometimes making conceptual meals and other times making just good simple food. “The funny thing is, we never discussed art. We just knew we felt the same way, it didn’t need to be said..”
A few steps further inside and the roof evaporates; you find yourself in a sunny courtyard on your way to a seat at a kitchen table that doubles as kitchen island. A gigantic Murano glass chandelier hangs low, like the world’s biggest Christmas ornament, cracked to pieces and glued back together by Angelo himself. In this setting, the fixture is not broken at all, it’s storied. White string radiates from this centerpiece, dangling dried persimmons on their weighted ends. Delicious food from better times is abundant here, from the homemade charcuterie hanging above last year’s wine (also homemade) in the cellar, to the sauces and flavored salt that Angelo sells under the label, Omnivore Salt (all of it delicious and the best quality). He tells me, “I am amazingly traditional, I learned from my grandmother in Sicily that you just don’t play with food. I am a post war Italian. Food for me is sacred.”
This space is not open to the public, but when I described this magic portal to my San Francisco friends, they each nodded knowingly. This has been a social hub since the 1970s when Angelo first emigrated from Sicily. So looking back, it makes sense that while I sipped my morning cappuccino, the stage direction might have been pulled from an episode of Seinfeld, characters bursting through the door unannounced. They were there to raid Angelo’s larder, helping themselves to homemade salumi sandwiches to-go, cajoling the devastatingly charming Angelo as he held court. After all, I myself had sought him out and invited myself over, so who was I to be surprised that others had the same tip?
While we chatted and planned to cook together on my next trip out west, Angelo told me of his annual Christmas feast of the seven fishes, a traditional meal he prepares with Alice Waters in her Berkley home. His friend Werner Herzog is often in attendance, and as Angelo warmed up to me, he extended an invitation like it was no big thing. All the while, he was busying himself with freshly salted black olives he had foraged from an olive tree nearby. He was incredulous that its owner had not taken the harvest upon himself, so Angelo had salted them and would now season the batch with olive oil, fennel seed and citrus zest. The recipe is below.
Angelo’s Cured Black Olives with Citrus and Fennel Seed
1 pint salt-cured black olives
2 tbs high- quality extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp fresh fennel seed
1 tbs orange zest, sliced into thin matchstick slivers
3 cloves minced garlic
1. Submerge olives in warm water overnight to less salt content. Pat dry using a clean dish towel.
2. Add olive oil to a medium cast iron pan over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the fennel seeds, orange zest and garlic. Sauté for 4-5 minutes.
3. Add the black olives and stir to combine. Cook until the olives are warm, and serve immediately.