I’m no slouch when it comes to cookware, but I felt distinctly outclassed the first time I walked into Babylon Mercantile. Can you imagine a shop that makes Williams Sonoma look like Walmart? Babylon Mercantile, which opened in November, carries brands I’d never heard of — Smeg appliances, Smithey cast-iron pans — as well as at least one item I didn’t know you could even buy in a store: the cult Berkel flywheel meat slicer (on a pedestal, no less), the Maserati of deli equipment.
"I was looking for stuff that you can’t get in the big-box stores," said owner Donna Sesto. "You can get All-Clad everywhere, so why should I sell it? Even with some of the more familiar brands, I try to stock items that are unusual, like the Staub mussel pot and bouillabaisse pot."
Sesto’s target customer is "the person out there who is passionate about cooking, and wants a place to share that passion with and be inspired by other enthusiasts."
A globe-trotting career in e-commerce exposed Sesto to a world of kitchen products and reinforced the idea that food and cooking bring people together. Always a committed home cook, she took as many cooking classes and culinary vacations as her busy schedule would permit. In 2016, she decided to stow her carry-on luggage indefinitely. She and her partner, Babylon residents, bought a 130-year-old building next to the Village’s First Presbyterian Church and spent a year renovating the three retail units. After renting the first two, she decided to take over the third, turning it into the "culinary general store" of her dreams. To make it onto the shelves, she said, a product must be "cultish, useful, giftable, tabletop-worthy and unique."
To be fair, Sesto stocks scores of affordable workhorse items such as restaurant-type stock pots and braisers, sheet pans ($10) and skillets ($35 for a 12-inch nonstick) by the venerable commercial brand Volrath, Danish dough whisks (the indispensable tool for wrestling your sourdough starter, $8), measuring cups, oven-to-table ramekins and casseroles, sturdy wooden spoons, etc.
But can we talk about Smeg? Founded in 1948 by Vittorio Bertazzoni, Sr. from Guastalla, near Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy, its name is an acronym for "Smalterie Metallurgiche Emiliane Guastalla," or the "Guastalla Emilia Enamel Works." The company makes ovens, refrigerators and dishwashers, but Babylon Mercantile sells only the small appliances such as stand mixers ($480), espresso makers, toasters, blenders and kettles. The streamlined pastel models look like Futurist sculptures, but pride of place at the front of the store is given to the bespoke hand-painted line that is a collaboration with Dolce & Gabbana ($1,500 for that stand mixer).
Smithey Ironware was another new one on me; I’d never seen cast iron buffed to such a high sheen. Then there were the Finex cast-iron skillets, with their octagonal sides (better for accurate pouring), brass knobs and handles that stay cool because they are wrapped in stainless-steel coils. The Smithey 10-inch skillet is $150, the Finex is $165 — but don’t panic: Babylon Mercantile also sells cast iron from good old Lodge.
Other cookware lines include Cristel from France (whose detachable handles turn any pot into a serving casserole), Hestan from Italy and Hestan Cue, pans that come with their own Bluetooth-enabled smart induction burner that can follow a recipe on its own — or at least adjust the heat on its own. It would be easy for knives to take over the store, but Sesto limited herself to about half a dozen brands, including Wusthof Classic and Ikon lines, Berti (handmade in Italy) and Miyabe and Kasumi from Japan. Illuminated niches alongside one wall of the store display museum-worthy tableaux of serving pieces from Casafina Portuguese ceramics and Match handmade pewter.
At the back of the store, two floor-to-ceiling shelving units are devoted to grocery items, many of which are imported from Italy by the Bronx-based supplier, Gustiamo. Sesto has a particular affection for olive oil and you’ll find many rare bottles such as Frantoi Cutrera from Sicily, Quatrociocchi Olivastro from Lazio, Antichi Uliveti from Sardegna and Chateau d'Estoublon from Provence, which won gold at the 2020 New York International Olive Oil Competition. There’s also pasta, condiments and seasonings, and heritage grains from Hayden Flour Mills in Arizona and Maine Grains.
When Sesto built the store, she also built an attached kitchen for classes and demonstrations, but those activities are on hold until such gatherings can be conducted safely.
Babylon Mercantile is at 45 E. Main St., Babylon, 631-818-1100, babylonmercantile.com.