Bari Musacchio’s Pantry
By Pineapple Collaborative
Whether it’s a delicately hand-shaped pasta from a small town in Parma, or the Polly-O studded baked ziti that’s a staple of the Long Island Italian table, the most memorable dishes for Bari Musacchio, owner of Baz Bagels, are the ones which capture a sense of place. At Baz and Rubirosa, where she oversees operations, Bari embraces the historic culinary traditions of the surrounding Jewish and Italian-American neighborhoods to create unforgettable spaces welcoming to all, offering diners a truly unique slice (or schmear) of New York. When we toured her pantry, Bari gave us the scoop on where to find the best mozzarella in the city, her Shun Lee-inspired kitchen details and Baz’s P-R-I-D-E Brunch package available only on Caviar. Check out Bari’s interview below.
How do you like to shop for food?
Shopping for food is my favorite thing to do. I spend a lot of time in Sag Habor. Out there, I shop at King Kullen, this big, old school, Long Island grocery store. It’s so clean and well merchandised, and I love to stroll the aisles — I find that process meditative. It’s not that the products are so amazing, but it has this nostalgic feel. They have the things that would have always been in my mom’s or grandma’s house growing up. Even though I kinda get the same things every time, I tend to shop with a list — it helps to avoid missing something so you don’t have to go like, 22 aisles back to find it. I also love this place Round Swamp Farm — their vegetables are so beautiful, and the entire family contributes to making everything. They have incredible baked goods, pies, jams, sauces, and prepared foods. It feels old fashioned and yet modern, understanding how people eat these days (not everyone has the time to whip up, like, amazing scalloped potatoes every night!).
I eat differently out East than I do here — it’s a lot more seafood and vegetables and farmy food, whereas here I’m eating mostly pizza and bagels. Between Rubirosa and Baz, that’s like 90% of my meals, but I also take advantage of the culinary diversity here, especially being on the border of Chinatown.
Bari’s Top Picks
NEW YORK FLATBREADS EVERYTHING CRACKERS
ROUND SWAMP FARMS RASPBERRY ALMOND COOKIES
How do you find inspiration in the kitchen?
Historically, I’d travel to find inspiration in the kitchen, but this year, I turned to The Pasta Grannies, a collection of videos of elderly women in Italy making pasta at home. There is no fancy equipment or commercial kitchen — just women with flour, water, and a few local ingredients making pasta by hand. During quarantine, with our restaurant closed and limited access to ingredients, I found inspiration in the purity of basics — I’d work on different shapes in my own kitchen with The Pasta Grannies on the TV so I could shadow their technique.
Also, I always return to the motto, “if it grows together, it goes together.” That’s really stuck with me over the years, especially as I learned about wine (at Rubirosa I was the wine director in addition to being the GM), and I used that line to help train staff and suggest pairings.
We love the whimsical restaurant-inspired details of your kitchen. Can you tell us a bit more about where these design ideas came from?
Shun Lee is an ICONIC restaurant. At Shun Lee West, there’s the tiered grand dining room with an elegant golden dragon that circles the room, and if that is not enough, there’s also an epic dim-sum room (Shun Lee Cafe) that is entirely (and I mean entirely) covered in black and white tile. Shun Lee has been a mainstay in our family for regular dining experiences as well as many Christmas celebrations — if you go, you’ve gotta order the crispy prawns in XO sauce.
Torre di Pisa is a Milanese showstopper in a more understated way. The first time I walked by, I stopped to admire their unique patchwork landscape curtains. The memory of them honestly haunted me! When designing this kitchen, I called up my dear talented friend Todd Heim aka Steak Diane (his home collection Steak Diane Home is launching this summer!). He created a version for our home inspired by their curtains with a color palette “a la Baz.”
What drew you to pizza and bagels in particular? And what are your go-to orders for each?
When I travel, I’m often in search of foods that have a “sense of place.” I went to culinary school in Parma and staged throughout Italy — at the time, the slow food movement was really growing with its emphasis on hyper regionality. When I was growing up, I never realized the things we ate all the time could have a sense of place. Even with Italian American cooking, for instance — when Italians immigrated here they didn’t have water buffalo roaming New Jersey and Brooklyn, and so Polly-O came about. So much Italian American cooking uses that kind of cheese, which is very different from what you’d find in Italy. I sort of had this aha moment, realizing how every town even has its own way of doing things, preparing the same kinds of pasta based on what’s available to them, even in our more globalized economy.
I think that interest is perhaps why I gravitate toward working with foods and creating an ambiance that truly expresses a sense of New York. As for my orders, my bagel at Baz is a pumpernickel everything with smoked salmon, scallion cream cheese, a little tomato & onion and wasabi tobiko. For pizza from Rubirosa, I like a classic pie with a little garlic and then add a handful of arugula on top after it bakes so it’s super crisp.
A Sense of Place
It seems like that sense of place shines through in your favorite markets as well, albeit in different ways.
For sure. Locally, I love DiPalo’s and Dimes Market. DiPalo Fine Foods, just down the block from Baz, is at least 100 years old — you walk into the space and see multiple generations working side by side, including the grandma who makes cameos on the weekend, all the way down to kids in their twenties working behind the counter. I love seeing this family so committed to their family business working together, without a lot of technological advancement. They’re making fresh mozzarella there every day — if I had to recommend a pantry item from the neighborhood, it’d be a ball DiPalo mozzarella — and have the most amazing selection of Italian foods.
Dimes Market is owned by one of my best friends, Sabrina De Sousa. Before I opened Baz, she and I had this dream in our twenties of opening a bagel store with a juice bar in the front — she sells our bagels now, so we sort of ended up doing that in a way. Dimes is very much of its neighborhood (the Lower East Side) — I don’t think you could plop it in the middle of another state, or even a bit further west in Soho and have the same thing. There’s this sense of community there in addition to the food — they stock the products people request, but they’re also really shaping the way people eat. That area wasn’t so up and coming when it opened, and it’s been cool to watch them introduce ingredients and access to farms that hadn’t been present there before.
From the quirky decor and soundtrack to legendary, out of the box events, Baz has become as a beloved if atypical oasis for queer culture. You’re also selling a special P-R-I-D-E brunch kit this year, available exclusively on Caviar. What does queering food look like to you?
To be honest, I never really thought about us that way — we were just always very open and that created an ambiance that lent itself to these epic events like our Bingo Nights, or having Susan Alexandra decorate the entire place in beads and dress every type of person in waitress outfits to sing “Downtown.” We kinda just opened our doors to having fun and celebrating who we are, but I don’t think there was an agenda behind it. I love Barbra Streisand, I love Bette Midler, and I know a lot of other people do too, so let’s eat bagels and listen to them.
It sounds like a very organic development — Baz seems to combine the best of an old New York and a new New York, making this historic cuisine but with a progressive openness.
For sure. My partner and I live in the neighborhood so we’re around a lot, and that just attracts a certain amount of community that just wants to support our business. I’m really looking forward to spaces like ours opening back up — all of the queer food spaces in the city have such unique and special, inclusive vibes. The dining room is the heart and soul of our business, and that’s what we’ve been missing the most this year.
- Which item in your pantry do you most identify with? Probably Everything crackers. They’re the perfect vehicle for a variety of toppings while snacking. Or pasta — there are so many different shapes and sizes, each with its own unique origin and purpose.
- What items do you covet in your fridge? Parmigiano Reggiano, Dr. Brown’s Cel Ray soda
- What’s the first thing you remember cooking? How does this memory shape your cooking today? The smells. So many aromas from cooking evoke childhood memories. My father used to fry up long hot Italian peppers and the smell would stick to my clothes when I went to school. Every December, my grandmother’s house smelled like potato latkes crisping in vegetable oil — I imagine I carried that on my clothes as well. Last week, I made blintzes that I pan-fried in a little vegetable oil — I was on Facetime with my sister while I was cooking and she told me she knew my kitchen smelled “exactly like Grandma’s.” I guess olfactory cooking memories run in the family.
- If a stranger looked in your pantry, what would it say about you? Wow… that’s a lotta pasta.
- What’s your favorite pasta dish to make at home? Despite having an entire pasta drawer, my favorite dish to make at home is risotto — which to me is in the pasta family. Like pasta, what I love about risotto is that it’s a blank canvas for ingredients. You can keep it very simple with Parmigiano Reggiano or utilize seasonal ingredients for a hearty dish in the winter or a light springy dish right now.
- Which women do you #PineFor? Right now I’m especially inspired by a couple local heroes who started Heart of Dinner: MoonLynn Tsai and Yin Chang really took care of our Asian American senior community through food during the pandemic. Their focus and the scale of this effort is logistically impressive, selfless and truly from the heart. Other inspirational women from my formative years of cooking and homemaking include Martha Stewart, Ina Garten and Lidia Bastianich.
What are some of your pantry staples?
Cipriani pasta, Pineapple Collaborative’s The Olive Oil, Maldon salt flakes, chili flakes, New York Flatbreads Everything Crackers, cookies (Tate’s chocolate chip and raspberry almond cookies from Round Swamp Farm)
To Sum It Up
PANTRY ITEM YOU SNEAK INTO EVERYTHING:
YOUR MOST TRUSTED KITCHEN TOOL:
COOKBOOK(S) YOU ACTUALLY USE:
5 WORDS THAT DESCRIBE YOUR PANTRY STYLE:
Simple, Nostalgic, Comfortable, New York-ese, Sophisticated
YOUR ALL-TIME FAVORITE MARKET:
On the block, DiPalo Fine Foods or Dimes Market. In the city, Eataly. And I’m a huge fan of Round Swamp Farm in the Hamptons.
MOST SATISFYING FLAVOR PAIRINGS:
Sweet & salty in general, but especially salt & dark chocolate
WOMEN-MADE PANTRY PRODUCTS YOU PINE FOR:
Lisa’s Raspberry Almond Cookies from Round Swamp Farm
YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC TO JAM OUT TO IN THE KITCHEN:
I like to put on music based on whatever I am cooking. So if I’m making Greek food, I’lI put on Greek music. If I’m making Italian, I listen to Italian. I like a full immersion experience.
Check out the Pantry series by Pineapple Collaborative, brought to you by Caviar, here.