Local food gifts help loved ones share in the best of Aurora

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AURORA | Earlier this month, boxes of Balocco il Pandoro and Balocco il Panettone cakes were stacked high in front of the deli display at Carmine Lonardo’s Specialty Meats and Deli.

This week, that tower had dwindled to just a few.   

And the same goes for the pastries that fill an adjacent display case. Carmine Lonardo, the shop’s owner, said he is cranking out cookies and other sweets as fast as he can, but hungry holiday shoppers are pouring in to buy them.

“It’s pretty much do as much as you can for as long as you can,” Lonardo said as customers looking for cookies, sausages, pastries and other items strolled through the shop at Smoky Hill Road and South Chambers Road.

While online shopping and chain stores might dominate most shoppers’ lists, local shops say this Christmas season has been a big one for them, too. And many shoppers looking to stay local are turning their sights to something tasty. Lonardo said every year around this time, cookies are a big seller. Plates piled high with rainbow cookies, pinoli cookies and others are big among Italian shoppers who want to have a plate of cookies out for their guests, or to bring them when they visit friends and family, Lonardo said.

“It’s just the Italian tradition to have them,” he said.

For Lonardo, that demand for fresh-baked cookies makes for some long shifts for his 10-person staff.

“We are making it and putting it out as fast as we can make it,” he said.

As for gifts, Lonardo said the cookies are popular, as are the imported nougat candies. Pasta makers and ravioli presses are big, too.

But the biggest gift item so far has been the frozen packs of meat. That’s a gift that parents like to give to their children, Lonardo said.

And while food is always a popular item for holiday shoppers, so too is anything beer related.

At the Brew Hut brewing supply shop at Chambers and East Hampden Avenue, assistant manager Nick Bruening said this holiday season has been a busy one.

On a Tuesday afternoon — normally the shop’s slowest day of the week — Bruening said customers were streaming in, buying brewing kits, books and ingredients.

Those kits have been especially popular for people looking to buy for someone else, he said.

Even a novice can open the package and get started brewing right away, he said.

“It’s all the equipment you need to basically open it up and start brewing,” he said.

Other items popular with shoppers looking to give the gift of beer making are how-to books and movies, Bruening said.

For the established brewer, draft systems that convert a refrigerator into a kegerator are always popular this time of year. So too are tap handles, especially the ones with chalkboard material on them so brewers can them themselves.