Last Friday, as Hurricane Joaquin blew through Greenpoint, more than 50 local foodies sought shelter in the cozy new cookbook store Archestratus Books + Foods to celebrate its opening on Huron Street near the corner of Metropolitan Avenue. On Monday afternoon, a rolling cart outside the door, stocked with every manner of used cookbooks for sale, advertised “coffee” on a makeshift sign. “I need to get a sandwich board,” said owner Paige Lipari with a laugh. “The cardboard isn’t cutting it.”
Inside, every detail of the space was meticulously attended to, touched with Lipari’s own brand of homey intellectualism combined with a healthy obsession for cooking. When we last spoke with Lipari, in April, she had just secured a beer and wine license for her new shop; the space was completely empty but for a single desk in the center of what was essentially a large, bare room.
It now looks twice as big, with bookcases in the front and a dining area/kitchen in the back. Sweet and savory baked goods under domed lids included old lace pistachio cardamom cookies, fried sweet ricotta raviolis, and biscuits with mortadella, boiled egg and ricotta salata baked in.
Lipari, who makes all the food herself fresh every morning, said she’s hoping to gain stamina when it comes to her cooking; today she has three treats for sale, but ultimately she plans to work her way up to offering six items each day. There is, of course, coffee as well, and in the evening visitors can enjoy beer or a glass of wine. Lipari’s favorite combination is Sicilian dessert wine with one of her traditional Ossi di Morti (“bones of the dead”) cookies. “You can dip it into your wine,” she explained. “It’s got a lot of spices and gets really crunchy.”
Lipari inherited her love of cooking from her Italian grandmother, who is in her 90s but nevertheless attended Friday’s party. She’s often forgetful, sometimes confused, and recently Lipari realized that all her traditional Sicilian recipes were in danger of being lost. “About two years ago I just decided to put my life on hold and figure out this and this and this recipe,” she said. The most rewarding so far? “Nona’s tomato sauce.” The secret? “Putting potatoes into the sauce. It takes away the acidity, and then you eat the potatoes at the end and it’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever eaten in your life.”
As for the cookbooks, Lipari has been collecting used ones from church, library and yard sales for years. She was often bemused by what she found; several cookbooks written by horror actor Vincent Price came to mind as some of the most unexpected discoveries.
For Lipari, the most fascinating thing about old cookbooks is the attention paid to the stories behind the recipes, something she said you don’t find in as many cookbooks anymore. “I’m interested in books that relate to art or fiction or poetry, where there’s something else going on besides the recipes,” she said. “The older cookbooks, that’s where my heart lies for sure because they tend to incorporate more of the voice of the authors.”
Not that she has anything against new ones, which the shop also sells. “I look for the books that are being put out there that are the most beautifully made,” she said. “I think that’s what keeps this industry alive, that it becomes more like an art book than a cookbook.”
There are plans for an Archestratus book club; members will decide on a cookbook to purchase, then come back together several weeks later for a potluck of their favorite dishes from the book. Lapiri says she also welcomes book clubs to use the shop for their meetings, and she said to stay tuned for more information about upcoming Friday night “blue plate special” dinner parties, where Lipari will replace diner food with traditional Sicilian dishes; she hinted at eggplant parm.
Archestratus Books and Foods is located at 160 Huron Street (Greenpoint). Open Tuesday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those interested in joining the cookbook club are encouraged to email Lipari at firstname.lastname@example.org.