Above: Patricia Scarpelli – Photograph by Julie Bidwell
A SMALL BRICK-AND-STONE SHOP on Bible Street in Cos Cob holds the secret behind years of amazing barbecues, chili recipes and Italian meals. It’s the sausage handmade every Tuesday by members of the Scarpelli family, who have been operating a food business here since 1920. Whether you pick sweet, hot or extra hot, the sausage is made from a recipe brought over from Italy by Maria Scarpelli from her hometown of Rose in the Calabria region. Scarpelli’s, which has the oldest liquor license in Greenwich and still sells beer, was once a full grocery and tavern. “You could get a beer for ten cents and all-you-can-eat clams on Fridays,” says eighty-eight-year-old Patricia Scarpelli (daughter-in-law of Maria and Peter), who still works in the shop with her brother-in-law Mac. “The boys all worked here,” she says of her late husband, Carl, and his brothers.
Today local eateries like Little Pub, Arcuri’s and Chicken Joe’s rely on Scarpelli’s for their sausage (Little Pub even named a dish, Scarpelli’s Fundido, after them), as do generations of families. “How’s your father?” she asked one man who stopped in on a recent Monday. Another customer, a young mom in yoga attire with her kids in tow, discovered that the type of sausage she wanted had sold out. “Come back on Thursday,” Pat advised.
The structure originally built by Peter Scarpelli and his friends has become a family and social hub: Pat’s nephews drop in and help each week; her grandson works on weekends; different family members stop by for lunch; friends offer to do deliveries. Back in the day, Pat recalls, “We had a beautiful garden and chickens, fresh eggs. We learned how to can vegetables from them,” she says of her in-laws, Peter and Maria Scarpelli, who also cooked and cared for boarders who lived in the house. Pat has English, not Italian, roots—she grew up in Riverside as a Barrett—and a huge affection for the whole family. “To fit in here was another world. We were married fifty-two years and I loved every minute of it, the atmosphere, the camaraderie.”
That spirit is alive and well at the family’s current gatherings, including an Easter meal celebrated with a special frittata and the traditional “Seven Fishes” Christmas Eve Feast. “My mother-in-law used to do it all by herself, and now it takes the whole family,” says Pat.
While the sausage business isn’t a big profit center—“we make just enough to pay the bills,” she says—there was one turn of events “that helped us get along in life,” she adds. Back in 1986 her husband, Carl, was recovering from a heart condition. When he was about to be released from the hospital, he told a friend that he wanted to get to Atlantic City. The friend cautioned him to wait until he was feeling better, Pat recalls, but Carl insisted. That night he and his friend each put $20 into playing slots at Resorts International and they hit it huge—$976,183.38 from a slot machine! The giant prize check still hangs on the wall at Scarpelli’s. A nearby sign reads, “Free beer, tomorrow only.” The lucky break allowed the couple to own the building and the store. “If I didn’t have it, I could go around the world and see things, but I don’t want to do that,” says Pat. Instead, she stays local, spends time with family, has Thursday night dates with a “fella who’s ninety-five” and eagerly awaits the birth of her first great-grandchild. And she keeps on cooking.
Scarpelli’s is open daily from 9 a.m.–1 p.m., but the best days to shop are Thursday to Sunday.
45 Bible Street, Cos Cob, 203-869-3401.