Last week, I visited Cacciatore and Sons in West Tampa to help with a segment on budget barbecue for CBS, Channel 10. I never expected to find customers so passionate about steaks, chops and links. Every time we paused to let shoppers pass by, they'd poke their head in front of the camera to proclaim their adoration for this fourth-generation family butcher shop.
"I live an hour away and come here to buy all my meat. Nowhere else do I get my sausages," one woman declared.
"That's nothin'!" yelled another woman. "I drive here once a month all the way from Jacksonville to buy my meat here, and I bring back for all my friends!"
One reason for all the loyalty is the care owner Mark Cacciatore puts into his products. At the back of the store he cooks handmade sausages that sell for nearly the same price as a one-pound package of hot dogs. And they're made with ingredients that you can pronounce and actually want to eat. Mark cooks the sausages low and slow and tops them with a saute of bell peppers and onions.
His great-grandfather Angelo started the business in 1896 in Ybor City after arriving with his five brothers from Sicily. Angelo's son, Mark's grandfather Sylvestro, took over and then years later passed the business on to Mark's father, Angelo. After a car accident crippled Angelo 30 years ago, Mark dutifully took over. But it was Sylvestro who created the sausage recipe. His old hand-cranked sausage stuffing machine still sits in the shop; Mark had to use it recently when his fancy electric sausage stuffer broke down.
So, will Mark's 18-year-old son, Angelo, take over when Pop wants to retire? That's still up in the air, though I did spy the fifth generation working behind the counter, pounding away at the steak to make palomilla.
Finished with the TV shoot, we were heading to our cars when a big SUV rolled to a stop right in front of us. A man leaned toward us and said, "Just wanted to say that all the firefighters here in Tampa love Cacciatore, too."
CACCIATORE AND SONS ITALIAN SAUSAGE
2 pounds Italian sausage
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 green bell peppers, sliced
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 large Spanish onion, sliced
1/4 cup Spanish white wine (or other dry white wine)
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 275 degrees. Place the Italian sausage on a large baking sheet and cook in the oven for 2 hours.
Heat a large pot or saute pan over medium-high heat and when hot, add the olive oil. Add the bell peppers and the onion and cook for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the wine and season with salt and pepper. Let cook for an additional 3 minutes. Pour the peppers and onions on top of the sausage and serve.
Serves 4 as part of a multicourse meal.