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Feature Wed Aug 08 2007

Mangia, Kenosha!

Kenosha, Wisconsin seems like the last place on earth you'd find amazing cannoli. Or prosciutto. Or a good bottle of Valpolicella. But nestled in this city, 50 miles North of Chicago on the state border, is Tenuta's Deli, an impressive Italian food and wine store that rivals (and exceeds) stores of its kind in far larger cities.

What started out as a garage converted into a grocery store by Italian immigrant John Tenuta in 1950 has grown to a sizeable, impressive building and a reputation for distinctive food. The store continues to be managed by the family, and employs a gaggle of friendly, local teenagers for deli clerks and cashiers.

What hits you first when you approach Tenuta's is the outdoor grill. Most grocery stores have very forgettable hot dog and soda stands outside of their entrances on a summer day, but the stand outside Tenuta's, offering the signature Wisconsin brat, hamburgers, hot dogs and sausages, did a brisk business. I, myself, inhaled an Italian sausage with peppers sandwich in fewer than four minutes.

The interior, with its un-glitzy white walls and tiles, is reminiscent of the era when the only places to shop for food were at family-owned grocery stores . The place has little room for ornament, as it's packed with stuff. Packed. A lengthy wine and liquor section lines the perimeter of the store and was a challenge to navigate. The deli at the center of the store had a mix of imported and locally produced meats, cheeses, and salads and probably one of the few places where I could score bothGerman potato salad and sopressata. The deli also sells ready-to-eat baked rigatoni, meatballs drenched in sauce, pizza and muffulettas (which are charmingly spelled out as "muffo-lottas" on their label).

Tenuta's also has their own signature label of foods, ranging from frozen handmade tortellini to almonds alongside their competitors on the shelf. Olive oil and pasta have significant real estate in the aisles, alongside bags of polenta and bottles of Italian soda. Cooking equipment, such as pizza stones and sausage grinders, can also be found. A cigar humidor sits by the front door. While Tenuta's is not a standard grocery store hawking peanut butter and fitness water (or even lettuce, as it doesn't have a conventional produce section), it certainly does the job for the discriminating fan of European food.

A customer I spoke to said that after living abroad for several years, Tenuta's "came the closest to being a real Italian market." Personally, I know that as an Italian who has lived in a part of Wisconsin where the Olive Garden got way more business than it rightfully should have, this place is very familiar and authentic, which makes me a repeat visitor.

For all its awesomeness, I felt that Tenuta's sweet counter is surprisingly small. They carry cannoli, biscotti and a few cookies, but compared to the other offerings, it could be beefier. The one item they sell (which I bought a lot of) is their genetti, a soft butter cookie covered in a thin, anisette-flavored icing. Tenuta's also sells a lot of chocolate-covered nuts and fruit; I'm a fan of their biscottini, a small bit of cinnamon-tinged cookie covered in dark or milk chocolate. Tenuta's also sells the devilish Nutella in a jumbo economy-sized jar. Who needs Nutella in large quantities? Oh, I do.

I recommend that if you're into Italian eats, make a trip up here; it's a quick drive, but if you are car-free like me, the Metra Union Pacific North line terminates in Kenosha, and with a bicycle, getting around the city should be easy. Kenosha itself is a nice place to visit, with a quaint downtown area and a bit of nightlife around the Simmons Island area, which is right on Lake Michigan. Get a sausage and pepper sandwich in your hands and go join the fun.

Tenuta's Deli
3203 52nd St.
Kenosha, WI 53144
Phone (262) 657-9001

Sarah / August 15, 2007 4:32 PM

What a lucid article! What excellent diction. I hope to see more from this writer. Go K-town!

Sarah Anna / July 30, 2009 3:00 PM

Great spot - we do have more hidden spots in K-town! :) These are the fun little spots, along with living by the lake front that help me to not miss my wonderful Chicago too much - when I do I'm not too far to go for a visit.

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