Foodie February: Tenuta's, a Kenosha Classic

2/19/2018 - Gary Eckstein

Tenuta's Deli in Kenosha, WI
Tenuta's Deli in Kenosha, WI
Tenuta's Deli in Kenosha, WI
Tenuta's Deli in Kenosha, WI
Tenuta's Deli in Kenosha, WI
Tenuta's Deli in Kenosha, WI

My favorite Kenosha business…one of my favorite stores in the entire world (I’ve travelled around four continents and the Caribbean) … is hands-down Tenuta’s Delicatessen and Liquor.  When I want to give out of town visitors a real sense of Kenosha life, Tenuta’s is the first place we visit – although it’s just the first of many places we’ll stop. It’s a unique and pleasurable place to shop with a seemingly endless variety of specialty foods and beverages.

There have been countless times when I’m in the check-out line standing next to a stranger and I see a huge smile on their face – I generally strike up a conversation that starts with “Isn’t this place amazing?” Invariably, they respond with a story about how they live out of town, but they drive to Kenosha regularly to stock up on their favorite spirits or foods. They might be in town on a business trip, visiting their a relative, or just taking a drive on a weekend afternoon.

I recently stopped at Tenuta’s on a wintery Monday, just before the lunch rush. The store was buzzing with sales reps, and stockers. The deli staff were making last minute touches to the cold counter products and getting the pizza section ready. Chris Tenuta, a third generation owner of the shop, graciously stopped what he was doing to answer a few questions and provide me with updates on product lines.

If you’ve never been in the store, here’s a quick Tenuta’s 101: The range of products is enormous. They include imported and domestic cheeses, a full-service deli, a wine/liquor/beer/spirits section, spices, dried fruit, candy, olive oils, coffee and tea, canned tomatoes and sauces, imported pastas, and a nice selection of quality cigars. Every inch of usable space in the store is stocked with product. While the store features very nice imported foods and beverages, there are lots of domestic items to choose from, too. The homemade foods are the best, though!

The Tenuta family has operated out of the same location since the store was opened in 1950. It has gone through several expansions and remodels. Three generations of family members have owned and operated the business. The business is located in an older neighborhood but it defies the logic that a retail operation has to move to the ‘burbs to remain viable. As with other family-owned local businesses I’ve explored, the business model is based on low overhead, high volume, competitive prices and lots of long work days by dedicated family members and employees.

So why am I so infatuated with this place? I’ll list the highlights because my editor probably doesn’t want me to write a 150 page doctoral thesis on the subject. To start with, every month, we stock up on a few things that are not available anywhere else or that are offered at the lowest prices. These items include blocks of cheese, a vegetable spread made with roasted peppers and eggplant (ajvar), olive oil, bulk spices, fancy crackers, and giardiniera.

Next, a stop at the deli counter. A great selection is available, but I generally pick up my favorites - prepared eggplant lasagna, marinated artichokes, stuffed grape leaves and a deli salad or two. The bakery section is right next to the deli, so into the basket goes the home-style biscotti and maybe (if we are expecting guests) cannoli or cookies. Oh, there are fresh mozzarella and feta cheeses in the deli, too – don’t miss those. As long as I’m there, I might as well fill up the basket because I’m going to have to bring home some panettone – an Italian sweet bread that contains fruits and raisons. Traditionally, it is served around Christmas but we enjoy it any time of the year.

As much as I love the products and prices at Tenuta’s, I’m always impressed with the customer service. When I’m overwhelmed with selection of a given product, the staff will give me a run-down of the product lines and give me an honest recommendation of what would be the best value, based on the types of dishes I’ll be preparing. The checkout lines move very fast and when I’m stocking up, the clerks will offer to have someone help me carry my groceries to the car.

I asked Chris Tenuta what he’d like customers to know about the store that they might find interesting. Chris told me that they ship products by special order or as gifts all over the world. Many families will send packages to their loved ones serving in Afghanistan or elsewhere overseas. Chris and the other staff have also ramped up orders for craft beers and bourbons. Both products lines that change frequently and may be somewhat difficult to stock due to small production batches and high customer demand. So, once you fall in love with Tenuta’s you can have home-deliveries arranged!

Finally, Chris told me he is looking forward to Spring and the opening of the outdoor grill. If you didn’t already know, they have an outdoor grill where they cook up hot dogs, bratwursts, Polish Sausages, and their homemade Italian sausages! I have to concur – the thought of a warm Spring day at Tenuta’s, sitting outside and enjoying a Chicago-style hot dog is mighty appealing on this cold and snowy Monday in February.

Gary Eckstein

Community Blogger

From Montello, WI. MA in Sociology. Former Army Reserve and National Guard Officer. Instructor at UW-Parkside and Carthage College. Husband to Varsha. Photographer. Guitarist and Lover of blues.