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Phantom Gourmet: Oliva’s Market In Milford

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MILFORD - Fifty years ago you could find a family-run grocery in every neighborhood; a place where each customer was greeted by name. Oliva’s Market on 83 ½ East Main Street in Milford is that kind of place. Perhaps more importantly, they know how to make some incredibly delicious sandwiches and snacks.

“There’s bread; there’s cold cuts; there’s grab-to-go items; there’s a blackboard with a menu,” described Nicky Oliva. “People are just in awe with the smell. You see them tasting an olive or a piece of cheese. They’ll see something come out, they’ll say, ‘let me get one of those.’ It’s kind of an event.”

Nicky’s father, Anthony “Babe” Oliva, opened this small neighborhood store back in 1960. Over the years, they’ve expanded in size and in their offerings, but Babe himself is still the star attraction, as his son proudly admits.

“He’s a very easy going guy. He lives right next door. He never had a license; he never had a car, so there’s no excuse for him not to come to work. He’s here every morning.”

“I’m here 7 days a week,” the now 84-year-old Babe confirmed.

No longer just a place to pick up your eggs and milk, Oliva’s now serves over 1,500 prepared meals a week: pizzas, pastas, antipasti, chicken broccoli penne, and chicken parmesan.

“We specialize in everything homemade: fresh bread every day; fresh meatballs, soups, sandwiches, calzones, meals to go, plus our catering menu,” said Nicky, who is happy to come to work among family each day.

“I got a good crew that works here. Some family members – my father is 84 and he’s still here every day – my sister, my other sister pops in on the weekends. It’s a good family event and I got a good staff. We push a lot of food out of here.”

From day one, Oliva’s main claim to fame was the so-called “B.O.G” Sandwich. That stands for “Babe Oliva Grinder”, featuring salami, mortadella and hot ham. For just four bucks, you won’t find a better meal deal.

“They love it!” Babe exclaimed.

If you’re feeding an even bigger appetite, check out the hub-cap sized focaccia sandwiches served on fresh-baked, 12-i inch round bread. They can be stuffed with your choice of anything from cold cuts to chicken cutlets.

“They’re ordered for parties,” Nicky said. “I mean, you might have a party of six people tonight watching a ballgame, ‘Hey let me go to Oliva’s and get a focaccia’. We’ll whack it up into 10 slices.”

Another hot seller at Oliva’s is the crispy, cheesy, spicy twist on Italian garlic bread. It looks like a bloomin’ onion – with bread.

“We have what you call the Blooming Garlic Stuffed Bread,” explained Nicky. “We slice [a round loaf] into cubes, and we stuff each pocket with pepperoni and mozzarella. We finish it off with garlic butter. They’re great. I sell them on a foil tray so you take them home. You roast it in the oven and it blooms open.”

Sure, the food here isn’t exactly “light”. Take, for example, the plump, hand-rolled meatballs made with ground beef, pork, and Romano cheese. But if you really want to “pig” out, just order Oliva’s famous Porchetta. Take a drive through Milford on a weekend afternoon, and you’ll smell its intoxicating aroma for miles around.

Porchetta is a specialty at Oliva's Market in Milford. (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

Porchetta is a specialty at Oliva’s Market in Milford. (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

“We take a pork butt, slice it down the center, season it up with salt, pepper, and cloves of garlic,” explained Babe.

Add in their fresh, garden-grown fennel; wrap the top with a piece of pork skin and tie it up.

“We roast it for three hours. And the customer either picks it up all sliced ready to go, or whole, or raw. It’s a big Italian thing around here in Milford – porchetta. Everyone has porchetta,” said Nicky.

After thousands of pounds of pork, and hundreds of thousands of sandwiches served, the Oliva family is still here every day, doing everything the way Babe did it 50 years ago.

“To see all the kids that worked here through high school and college, now they’re all professional people and they still come back to see myself, to see my dad and get another sandwich!

“I still love coming to work every day. I love seeing my customers. I love working next to my father, which is probably the biggest treasure I have in my life.”

You can find Oliva’s Market at 83-85 East Main Street in Milford, or online at olivasmarket.com.

Watch Phantom Gourmet on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. on myTV38.

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