Tenuta’s Delicatessen & Liquors: Italian deli in Kenosha, WI

Tenuta's Delicatessen, Kenosha, Wisconsin
Tenuta’s Delicatessen & Liquors
3203 52nd St
Kenosha, WI 53144

(262) 657-9001

Tenuta’s (TenutasDeli.com) is the best thing in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I say this as someone who lived in K-Town for 43 years. It’s the number one attraction that I would recommend to out-of-towners, and the only place I can remember a U.S. president visiting (George W. Bush during Campaign ’04, complete with a Secret Service chopper that set down in the middle of 52nd Street).

At first sight, Tenuta’s may not knock your Persols off. Surely there are comparable Italian delis in New York City, and perhaps also in Chicago. After all, it’s just a food and liquor store. But what a food and liquor store!

At the center of the store is the delicatessen, where you can purchase a wide variety of Italian meats and sausages such as Genoa salami, hard salami, capicola, sopprasata, mortadella, pancetta, and of course prosciutto (choose from San Daniele, Volpi, Carando, or imported prosciutto de Parma), all sliced to order. Hot or mild Italian sausage comes in either link or bulk form. The deli also offers a number of salads and marinated vegetables, like artichoke hearts and kalamata olives, plus several sizes of muffolata sandwiches, and also cannoli and other pastries.

A huge cheese case flanks the deli, containing wedges of fine quality Asiago, Fontina, Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan), Pecorino Romano, Provalone, and so on from both domestic and foreign makers. Around the corner, in the next room, is a wall of refrigerators with more cheese: Bel Paese, blue cheeses like Gorganzola and Danish Blue, brie, feta (Greek, French, or domestic), goat cheeses, sheepsmilk cheeses like Kashkaval, plus Gouda, Havarti, Muenster, mozzarella, and cheddar. (Yes, “It’s the single most popular cheese in the world!”)

Freezer cases along the same wall hold Tenuta’s own ravioli, tortellini, gnocci, cavatelli, and other frozen pasta items. There’s also frozen pasta sauce, plus gelato, spumoni, and similar cold treats.

This newer room encloses several long aisles of grocery items with everything from dried pasta, beans, Arborio rice for risotto and cornmeal for polenta to jars of octopus and anchovies, tomato sauces, pesto sauces, and pickled cauliflower. There’s an impressive selection of olive oils and vinegars, including some expensive balsamico. They have chocolate covered coffee beans, hot or mild giardiniera, French mustards, dried mushrooms, dried apricots and figs, panforte from Siena, ciabatta bread, Toblerone chocolate, excellent black licorice, and on and on. You’ll be astounded that such variety can fit into a store of this size.

Cooks will notice a modest assortment of equipment such as pasta machines, pizza stones, sausage griders and espresso pots. There are also novelty items such as Italian playing cards, flags, stickers, and so on. A Tenuta’s T-shirt would mark any wearer as a true connoisseur of Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Tenuta’s doubles as a full liquor store, offering everything from cognac to tequila, including a good selection of exotic liqueurs and cordials. Beer is available in kegs, and they stock of dozens and dozens of brands of imported and domestic beers in bottles and cans, some of it nice and cold. For the cigar aficionado, there’s a large case in the front of the store containing a vast array of prime imported stogies. (You can buy budget cigars and cigarettes too).

The wine selection is more than adequate — particularly, of course, as far as Italian wines are concerned — and Tenuta’s is known for its perpetual ‘red tag sale’ (two for the price of one) in the back of the store, apart from the main wine department up front. In my experience though, the red-tag wines have not always been great values, and overall, I have found somewhat better wine prices and variety elsewhere.

One of the best things about Tenuta’s is the atmosphere. For all of the trendy foods you can buy here, this is strictly an unpretentious, bustling neighborhood place. A good many of the customers are bumping into other people they know and exchanging news and gossip. The guy in line at the checkout to buy imported prosciutto and balsamic vinegar is standing behind another guy buying Pabst and Marlboros, and they both have something to say about the Bears-Packers game. To come here when the store is jammed — jammed! — just before Chistmas is like standing in the final scene of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ It’s an essential part of the holiday for anyone who shops here.

Ralph and Chris Tenuta somehow seem to hire the hardest-working young people in Kenosha and manage to keep them busy. The staff is always moving, always courteous and helpful.

In the warmer months, the outdoor grill in front serves Italian sausages, bratwurst and other sandwiches, with seating under umbrellas at several concrete tables along the sidewalk. It’s okay stuff, but there’s way too much car traffic to enjoy eating. Take your food a mile and a half east on 52nd Street to picnic by Lake Michigan instead.