Fontanarosa’s Gourmet Specialty Foods might not have “farm” in its name, but it definitely deserves its spot at the table.
In true farmers’ market style, owner Anthony Fontanarosa works with local farmers and merchants to get the freshest ingredients to make his tender, doughy pasta, light, fluffy gnocchi and 60 different types of ravioli.
“We try to do everything as local as we can,” said Fontanarosa, who buys his dairy products locally as well. “We try to stay sustainable.”
And, he works with the harvest of the moment to create his myriad combinations of seasonal ravioli fillings.
“Last week green garlic was in so we did a green garlic and shrimp ravioli.” When Fontanarosa suggested serving it in a cream sauce with a half a teaspoon of Old Bay seasonings, it felt like he was divulging a secret family recipe.
Perhaps he was—the full service deli and catering business he runs with his sister, Luciana, in Totowa is a family affair. The two took over in 1989 after their father, who still works as the butcher, had run it for seven years. Their mother still helps in the small kitchen, and Fontanarosa even puts his three kids to work, too.
“I call it deli daycare.”
Fontanarosa, though, is the sole inventor of all the ravioli recipes, after which he takes on the task of making all the fillings himself.
His inventive combinations include Maryland crab ravioli, pear and Gruyere ravioli, spinach chorizo ravioli and fig and goat cheese ravioli. Butternut squash with apples and walnuts is another of his creations, but customers will have to wait for the start of the squash harvest next month to try those.
“It’s gourmet fast food. Within five minutes of water boiling, you have dinner on the table.”
Fontanarosa also prepares four different flavors of his ricotta gnocchi and three types of pasta, including regular, whole wheat and a high protein gluten-free pasta made from chickpeas and fava beans.
“There are 18 different cuts of pasta we can do, and the flavors are endless,” he said, recalling chocolate pasta, raspberry fettuccini and cannoli ravioli he made by special requests from customers for pasta deserts. Clearly, he enjoys catering to his customers’ needs. “We are a small specialty shop, and that’s what we do.”
With all this creative cooking, Fontanarosa acknowledged mac-and-cheese ravioli remains his biggest seller. Then again mac-and-cheese is a perennial flavor.
This week, though, with crops yielding ripe, ruby-colored tomatoes, Fontanarosa is preparing to bring a truly seasonal treat to the market: Caprese ravioli stuffed with tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella.
Fontanarosa brings his fresh picked pasta to the Caldwells for the first time this year. He started participating in farmers’ markets just a couple of years ago, and he credits them with his store’s longevity and success.
“The Farmers’ Market is what saved us.” Thanks to the 13 markets Fontanarosa attends he has been able to extend his reach beyond his Totowa store to locations across New Jersey and New York.
“People who have never heard of us now know our product,” he said. In fact, at one farmers’ market Fontanarosa’s product caught the notice of a radio host who asked him to be on her show. “What it did for business—it was amazing,” he said. “We received 200 calls within minutes of the show airing.”
Although Fontanarosa has been in business for over two decades, he finds his location to be limiting. “Brick and mortar is great, but you can’t move your location.”
Watching the town change over the years, Fontanarosa saw his store on Lincoln Avenue go from being in the town’s center to being in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The specialty shop, tucked down a side street off Union Boulevard, is just seven miles away, but if not for the farmers’ market, Fontanarosa conceded, “I would have never reached Caldwell.”
His product has reached 17 restaurants including Old Man Rafferty’s and four stores, but it is at the farmers’ markets where Fontanarosa has found even greater opportunity to grow.
He pointed to the markets’ popularity as an indication of the changing consumer preference for local, independently owned businesses over big box stores.
“It’s a real grass roots movement.” The importance of which is plain for Fontanarosa to see. “If there is no farm, there is no food.”
Each Friday, you can find 20 different types of ravioli and all three kinds of Fontanarosa’s pasta at the . The market is open from 2 to 7 p.m. and is located in the Smull Avenue parking lot behind the Caldwell Cinema.