In our new feature Off the Beaten Turf, UrbanTurf will be highlighting some lesser known gems around the District. This week, we take a closer look at the Italian grocery store and deli, A. Litteri.
Turn into Florida Avenue Market, and all of a sudden you are at the docks, dodging birds and 18-wheelers. The wholesale market (east of the intersection of Florida Avenue and New York Avenue NE and west of Gallaudet) is a frequent destination for restaurateurs, but if you weave your way through the meat and produce distributors to 517 Morse Street NE (map), you’ll find one of the best sandwich spots in town: A. Litteri.
The oldest Italian market in DC, A. Litteri has a feel familiar to anyone who ever visits the ethnic markets in the suburbs surrounding DC: packed and teetering shelves, wafting aromas and homemade dishes mixed with straight-from-the-old-country ingredients. The jam-packed store stocks hundreds of ingredients (olive oil, pickled peppers, and panettone) and has a labyrinthine wine section, a freezer full of freshly made lasagnas and raviolis, and a small corner of Italian beauty products, like olive oil soap.
Ownership has stayed in the same family for three generations, and current owner Mike DeFrancisci, whose grandfather and great uncle opened the shop in 1926, was helping customers when UrbanTurf stopped by, while his wife Cherie manned the cash register.
For decades, A. Litteri was a wholesaler, which explains the location at Florida Avenue Market. In 1988, they made the switch to retail and began stocking Italian groceries. Saturdays apparently draw an Italian American crowd loading up for the week, and the shop has grown famous for their deli counter, which attracts a diverse lunch crowd with its sandwiches, soup, pizza and pasta dishes. A six-inch Italian sub sells for $3.99, and at least one customer hailed it as “the best Italian sub in town” while UrbanTurf was there.
Accolades like this are how the store has made its name, a triumph of word-of-mouth advertising. It has garnered an average of 4.5 stars from 92 Yelp reviews without any traditional marketing.
“We try to give people good, fresh product and treat them well and hope that they tell their friends (or their whole neighborhood),” DeFrancisci told UrbanTurf.