Prepared With Love
By Joseph Tarnowski
Love Lane Market offers nothing but the best, so its customers can do the same
Upon entering Love Lane Market, in Mattituck, N.Y., on Long Island's North Fork, one immediately gets the impression that this is a place for serious foodies.
Indeed, one look at the store's online banner sums it up succinctly: It features the store's logo – a heart with a fork through it (with a compass and the letter "N" signifying North Fork) – and the following text running in a panel on the right:
Homemade mozzarella and ricotta, fresh and smoked fish and seafood, artisanal breads, pastries, cakes, organic foods and meats, local produce, gluten-free foods, organic rotisserie chicken, sausages, in-house butcher, wood-burning pizza oven, fresh handmade pasta.
"Our No. 1 priority is high quality," says Mike Avella, who owns Love Lane Market with his wife, Patti. "After that, it's local organic, then local, then after that, it's just the best of what's around. Obviously, for products like olive oil, we don't get that local, but we get the highest quality we can. If I'm not satisfied with the quality of the product, we just won't have it. There is a supermarket a block and a half away that sells everything. If you want frozen hamburger, you can get it there. If you want freshly made pasta or fresh duck from a local farm, this is where you come."
"What we sell has got to be the best. It's local whenever possible, and organic as well. But overall, the goal is to have the best ingredients possible."
Although he claims he's new to the business, Avella is no stranger to the tastes of the local and seasonal traffic that encompasses his customer base. In fact, he's been feeding them for seven years in his restaurant, Love Lane Kitchen, which is adjacent to the grocery store, separated by seats and tables in an outside eating area between the two buildings.
His philosophy at the restaurant is basically the same – a focus on high quality and local products – and the menu regularly changes to highlight those foods that are in season. The market gives his restaurant customers an opportunity to bring some of the best home with them.
Once inside the store, either from the Love Lane entrance or the door facing the restaurant, a shopper sees that all offerings are visible from every point inside. At the center, highlighted by three skylights and encircled by meat cases, is the butcher's platform, almost like a stage, where John Nordin, a Culinary Institute of America graduate and former Todd English chef, prepares meat to order. "The butcher was one of the top requests for this store," says Avella. "There aren't any real, dedicated butchers in the area."
As with all of its products, Love Lane's meat offerings have to be the best, and they have to be local when possible. Avella primarily sources from McCall Ranch in Cutchogue, N.Y., where farmers raise purebred Charolais cattle. McCall's purely natural and antibiotic-, steroid- and hormone-free Charolais is a historic breed of cattle originally from France and considered by continental chefs the finest beef available.
Many of the offerings lean toward Italian style, such as porchetta and several varieties of sweet and spicy sausages, but just about every cut of beef is available. Duck is also among the top choices, both at the restaurant and the market, and Avella often finds himself making daily trips to the duck farm to procure product before it's frozen. "I always want my ducks fresh," says Avella. "Everything they fabricate, they freeze. So I'll call the farm and tell him what I need the day before, and he'll tell me what time to come and pick them up before they are frozen. We sell out of them quickly, so I'm there almost every day."
Immediately behind the meat case, along the rear wall of the market, are the wood-burning pizza ovens and rotisseries on which chicken, full suckling pigs and potatoes are roasting. The rotisserie has a special holder for potatoes that spins right under the chicken, allowing the spuds to catch and soak up the dripping chicken fat for extra flavor. The chickens are rotisserie ready, air-chilled, hormone free and antibiotic free, free range Amish chickens from Pawling, N.Y.-based D'Artagnan Farm. The area includes a counter and seating area with real John Deere tractor seats.
There's some integration between the restaurant and the market, so if restaurant customers would like to try to replicate a Love Lane Kitchen dish, they can pretty much find all of the ingredients at the market. "We make fresh pasta here, and we make it for the restaurant as well," says Avella. "At the same time, they make chicken salad there, and we use it over here in the market. If they are doing a duck dish, they will grab some ducks from us. There is nothing that we use over there that you couldn't find here. They don't necessarily take it from here."
Many restaurateurs are wary about giving away recipes, but Avella sees this as just another service to his customers. "I listen to some chefs, and they'll say, 'I give customers the recipe, but I always leave something out.' Why? Do they think that no one else can cook? I'm perfectly happy to give out our recipes."
Designed With Care
The floor of the market features Moroccan tiles which were bought on closeout from a French bistro, and the ceiling, in addition to the natural beams and skylights, features designer lamps complemented by high-efficiency LED track lighting.
Hanging from the ceiling are two extremely large-diameter fans from aptly named Lexington, Ky.-based supplier Big Ass fans, which are designed to be friendly on the eye as well as on the energy bill. Although they seem to be rotating slowly, their large blade size actually generates a steady, cool breeze throughout the store.
Even the shopping carts were chosen with care specifically for the store, and, as with many of Avella's offerings, Love Lane Market is the only grocer in the region, if not the country, to carry them. "I saw the shopping carts for the first time at Mario Batali's Eataly and then tracked down the manufacturer in Italy," he says. "They're made from recycled water bottles, and are the perfect size for our store. They are also extremely sturdy — much sturdier that they appear at first glance."
Jack of all Trades
Avella's POS system is a Web-based solution from New York-based Erply that he found ideal for a small market like his, at a price he couldn't beat: just $900 per point-of-sale station for hardware, and $99 per month for hosting and maintaining the POS software.
Indeed, wearing so many hats keeps Avella busy most of the time, and he admits to working seven days a week for much of the year. But for him, it is truly a labor of love, which after all, is quite fitting for a man with two businesses on Mattituck's Love Lane.
570 Lake Cook Rd, Suite 310
Deerfield IL 60015
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