I first heard about the Italian Centre from twitter, but didn’t think much of it because it seemed like just another grocery store opening up in Calgary – no big deal right? After looking more into this place, it turns out that the Spinelli Italian Centre business has been around for 55 years, and originated as a tiny corner store in Edmonton where they sold Italian magazines and other confectionery. As the Italian community began to take notice, all sorts of requests were being made for Italian goods from back home and thus began the Italian Centre’s journey.
About a month ago, the opportunity came up for us to attend the sneak a peak event at the Italian Centre two days before the store opened. We decided to jump at the opportunity, not knowing what to expect but it sounded like lots of fun, with this being the company’s first store outside of Edmonton. Traffic was horrible during rush hour, so we got there slightly late and saw quite a few people inside already.
When you first walk in, the interior gives off a modern, fresh, but yet rustic feel with lots of dark wooden cabinets and other detailing. Within a couple minutes of browsing, we were impressed by the vast selection of exotic and local goods that the store has to offer; it was clear that this place was not just any grocery store – no, this was the Italian Centre.
Being huge fans of cheese (both the edible kind and the type of poor humour), our jaws dropped once we set eyes upon the Cathedral of Cheese against the back wall; this thing was made for worshipping! Hell, the amount of cheese in there could feed a warship. The wheels of cheese were comparable to the size of a car tire and even bigger in thickness!
Located slap dab in the middle, the deli is the centerpiece of the store and rightfully so. The curved glass displays just simply cannot be ignored, with over 100 types of cheeses and more than 75 types of smoked and cured meats from around the world and right here at home. I’m not an olive person myself, but you can definitely get your olive fix at the deli here, in addition to other antipasto favourites. Something I appreciated was the attention to detail, with lamp posts and signs that make this place feel like you’re in real Italian market.
We were fortunate to be able try
some lots of samples during sneak a peak and they were all delicious! There were a number charcuterie boards laid out at the deli, in addition to arancini balls, meatballs, sandwiches, and more! Staff members also walked around with platters of plain and pistachio cannolis, figs, and other delights that I honestly can’t remember right meow. We constantly found ourselves double fisting the samples; when you’re surrounded by this much good food, you really don’t have a choice.
The produce area is similar to what you would find at other supermarkets, but in a much smaller area. There’s some less common items here and there like wine grapes, and they stock local whenever they can.
Against the top wall of the produce section, we noticed that there were these black baskets with a glass jug inside of them. We ended up asking what they were and found out they’re carboys, specialized containers used in the production of wine.
Fun fact: Frank Spinelli, the founder of Italian Centre, successfully lobbied to overturn a Prohibition-era law in 1964 to restrict home-brewing in Alberta!
The Italian Centre carries everything you need to crush, ferment, and age your own wines at home. If you happen to be a victim of the downturn recently and need a new hobby between applying for jobs, maybe give winemaking a try. Wine won’t solve all of your problems, but then again, neither will milk. (Hang in there!)
Like the rest of the store, the variety of goods that the market carries is also extensive. The Italian Centre claims to have the widest range of Italian imports in town, and after seeing the store, I don’t think anyone would dare to challenge that. From snacks to specialty oils, they have some really cool and unique imported products that you likely won’t find anywhere else in Calgary. I personally love making cold drinks such as Italian Sodas at home, and the variety of syrups they have here is heavenly!
Tip: If you ever want to have vanilla coke, grab a bottle of vanilla syrup and add 2-3 pumps to your glass of cola for a close alternative. 🙂
The bakery is tucked away in the back of the store, but it is by no means hidden. All of the pastries are made fresh in house, and they are absolutely gorgeous to look at. Not limited to only Italian goods such as tiramisu however, the bakery carries a wide variety of sweet treats such as cheesecake, biscotti, nutella croissants, tarts, and macarons! This place is pretty much the Italian version of T&T Supermarket.
There’s definitely a lot of exciting stuff to take in and shopping can get pretty tiring. The cafe serves coffee, sandwiches, fresh made Neopolitan pizza, and even gelato imported from Fantasia Gelati so you can take a break and refuel. We know we needed to sit down and take a breather from all those emotions.
With all of the meats, cheeses, and pastries here, I think this would be the perfect stop before a romantic (or family) picnic in the park before summer’s over. A big congratulations to the Italian Centre on their first store in Calgary! I’m crossing my fingers for a second location in the north end of the city at some point in the future. 😉 We had a great experience at Sneak a Peek, but that’s kind of irrelevant now since the Italian Centre has already been open for a month.
Yes, this post is late because that’s what happens when you procrastinate.
Walking in not knowing what to expect, we walked out of the store with a baguette.
So check it out if you haven’t already, and make yourself some fantastic spaghetti.
Italian Center (Willow Park)
9919 Fairmount Drive SE – Calgary, AB
(403) 238-4869 | http://italiancentre.ca