THE SUNDAY DRIVE: Boot Yourself Over to the Eagle Rock Bakery & Deli for an Authentic Taste of Italy

October 21, 2017
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Gemma and Al bond over cookies and their Italian heritage.

EAGLE ROCK, California, October 21, 2017 — Colleen and I made a mid-morning dash across the 210 freeway to Eagle Rock’s famous Eagle Rock Bakery & Deli, which has been an institution in that city since 1949. We wanted to buy to some authentic Italian sausages, subs and cookies (pine nut, pistachio, and chocolate hazelnut and my favorite, apricot)  for a dear friend, whose husband had passed earlier this week. She’s also a big fan.


It was our good fortune that the owners, Gemma and Nicola were in. If you can’t visit Italy in person, Gemma and “Nick” are the next best options. They hail from the Apulia region of Italy, which forms the “tacco” heel on the boot of Italy facing the Adriatic Sea.


In 1961, “Nick” was hired by the bakery and in 1969 he bought the place and continued to expand the business to include a deli and grocery.


But it’s Gemma who captures everybody’s attention. She’s Italian loud and proud, the voluminous voice that isn’t afraid to speak up over the din and clamor of customers constantly threading their way to the order counter.


When asked whether her cookies had been baked fresh this morning, she said, “Sì,” raising her eyebrows as if I had just insulted the Pope. Then she added they had been baked by the shop’s “Maestro” baker, the “Ennio Morricone” of cookies and pastries, whose enchanting music I’ve included on the home page of La Verne Online.


While I was speaking to Gemma in English, she was serving a customer, Elio, “Al” Pagano, and conversing with him in Italian. Al, I learned, was from Livorno (hey, that sounds almost like La Verne; it’s just due west of Florence on the coast). He was orphaned when he was 9 years old after an American bomb struck the shelter he and his mother, brother and sister were taking cover in. At the time, the United States was fighting Mussolini who had allied Italy with Germany and Hitler.



Al was the only survivor. “I ran faster than they did, and they got caught,” he said.


He was dug out of the rubble 17 hours after the blast.


“I was the only one left,” said Al, now 84. “When I came out, my uncle said everyone is dead except for you.”


Five years later, in 1947, he came to the United States.


“What the hell are you going to do?” Al said resigned to his fate.


What he did was move to Detroit, settle later in California, raise a family and build a roofing company. Today, he lives in Altadena, Calif.


“Life is pretty good now,” he said.


Helping making life “pretty good” is his frequent visits to the Eagle Rock Bakery & Deli, where’s he a regular and where he can also speak his native tongue and count on filling his bag with a wide assortment of Italian specialty items, including their world famous cannoli, voted the L.A.’s best in 2014 by Los Angeles Magazine.


Although our visit was brief, for a moment there, Colleen and I both felt as if we had been transported to Italy, enjoying the best of Italian living without the jet lag.


If you’re in the neighborhood, you should stop by.


The bakery is located at 1726 Colorado Blvd. in Los Angeles (Eagle Rock). It’s open six days a week (Monday-Saturday) from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Sunday, hours are from 9:30 to 1 p.m. For more information, call 323.255.8224.






If you can’t make the drive, let me suggest Eddie’s Italian Eatery in next-door neighbor Claremont. Eddie’s is Claremont’s “maestro,” always creating authentic Italian cuisine at every price point. Great menu and wine selections!

A pair of Eddie’s cannoli.

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