8 ’till late: Grocery Store Art Installation

You walk into your local corner store with all your favorite products on the shelves.  But when you reach for that box of Ritz crackers, it’s soft to the touch…and made of felt.  This is what British felt artist Lucy Sparrow’s debut US exhibition 8 ’till late:  A Felt Convenience Store is like.

Situated in a storefront on Little West 12th Street behind the Biergarten at the Standard Hotel near the High Line, it looks like your neighborhood bodega with everything you could possibly need from fruits and veggies

to frozen pies and ice cream.

But here, it’s all recreated in felt.

You can even get a felt Coca-Cola from a felt Coke machine.

Mmm…pupusas…my new favorite food…

In the back room, the felt pieces are displayed as art, with an Andy Warhol-like depiction of Campell’s Soup.

The items may not be edible but you can purchase them.  Prices are a bit steep, but I couldn’t resist taking home this package of one of my favorite childhood candies, Skittles.

This exhibition has been here since June 5 and will be ending next Friday, June 30, so get there while you can.  There may be a line but it went quickly when we visited.  The exhibit is free to attend, but the felt pieces are for purchase and prices vary.

 

The New Italy in New York: Zia Esterina Sorbillo Neapolitan Pizza

I probably should’ve tried the pizza at Zia Esterina Sorbillo on Mulberry Street in Manhattan’s Little Italy because that is what they are famous for in Naples.  I have eaten it there and wrote about it in a previous post.

This visit I was alone and wanted something a little lighter–not that this huge calzone was.

I ordered the salame calzone.  I believe they use good ingredients here, and the prices do reflect that.

The calzone was good but a little peppery for my taste, although I do think it’s the Neapolitan style, as my grandma’s calzones had a good amount of black pepper.

If I return, I would definitely get the pizza. It’s Neapolitan-style, which tends toward a “soggy” center that is different from New York-style pizza. When I told my cousin in Italy that Sorbillo opened up in New York, he was very excited and said it is very good pizza. So I think if you are looking to try a pizza that closely resembles the style of pizza in Naples, this is the place to go.

The New Italy in New York: Rossopomodoro Neapolitan Cuisine

Rossopomodoro is a restaurant in the West Village specializing in Neapolitan cuisine.  I would classify it as a modern take on Neapolitan cuisine that also highlights some of the classics like Margherita pizza and dishes like pasta
Genovese.  I met a dear friend here for lunch.  The host and waiter were friendly and made this a lovely experience.

For a starter, we shared the polpetta di melanzane, or eggplant meatballs, which of course, were vegetarian. And very good!

For our entrees, we got pizza to share. First, the Margherita pizza.  This pizza was very nice.  The tomato sauce in particular had a very fresh, sweet tomato flavor.  This pizza was not as “wet” in the middle as Neapolitan-style pizza tends to be.

We also got the Genovese pizza with mozzarella di bufala, basil pesto, pecorino and chili.  This pizza was a bit spicy with the chili but not unpleasantly so.  Just the right amount.

The bright red and green colors on our table were reminiscent of the Italian flag!

For a side dish and a bit of vegetable, I got the broccoli rabe, which was cooked perfectly–not bitter at all.

For dessert, we had the semolina lemon cake with strawberry gelato.  This had such pure, delightful lemon flavor that you really did not need the gelato.  The cake was that good on its own.

We also shared the Nutella panna cotta. Cream and Nutella, what more can I say?

A highlight about the menu for those with gluten issues is the gluten-free pizza, which from the sound of reviews, is pretty great.

The New Italy in New York: Pisillo Italian Panini

A friend told me about Pisillo Italian Panini and I’m glad he did. Not only are the sandwiches delicious, but the owner comes from the town near my grandfather’s in Italy, Sant’Agata de’ Goti.  Sant’Agata de’ Goti is a prototypical Medieval Italian city located in the province of Benevento in the Campania region of Italy near Naples. A truly delightful place to visit and the hometown of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s grandfather.

Pisillo is a small shop in Manhattan’s Financial District that does a brisk lunch business.  Sometimes the line is out the door, but luckily, there are menus tacked up everywhere so you can read the long list of sandwiches before you get to the counter.

There is a variety of bread for your sandwich, including focaccia, ciabatta and sfilatino, a long, crunchier bread that would be familiar to Italian Americans but maybe not so to others.

I ordered the Sant’Agata with mortadella, fresh mozzarella, tomato and arugula on sfilatino.  The sandwich is very large and was very tasty.

Pisillo’s is so popular that it opened a coffee shop next door. The coffee shop has some seating as well that you are welcome to if there are no seats at the sandwich shop. When I visited, the coffee shop had a minimal amount of pastries.  Some cannoli, sfogliatelle and cookies. I opted for the pretty cannoli.

While it was pretty, I wasn’t sure about the filling. It was different from what I’m used to with ricotta cream. So I wasn’t able to discern what it was.  Maybe ricotta with confectioners’ sugar? Not sure.

I wouldn’t say the panini shop or the coffee shop are bringing anything new to New York that the Italian immigrants of old didn’t introduce before, but both  are a nice addition to an area lacking in good food choices and Italian choices.

 

The New Italy in New York: Unico Taste of Sicily

New York is continually hosting new immigrants. Due to high unemployment and negative economic forces in Italy, many Italians are seeking work and opportunity elsewhere, much like their cousins did 100 years ago. These new immigrants/expats are moving to other parts of Europe and the United States, particularly New York. Some are opening food-related businesses in areas that used to be predominantly Italian, like Little Italy, the West Village or Soho.

Unico looks to be one such business. A café in Soho across from the predominantly Italian Roman Catholic church of St. Anthony of Padua, Unico specializes in Sicilian cuisine. It is a small, hole-in-the-wall spot, but it serves contemporary Italian breakfast items like coffee and pastries, as well as snack foods like arancini (rice balls) and sandwiches to traditional Sicilian desserts like cassata and cannoli. Some of it could be classified as Sicilian street food like the panelle (chick pea fritter) sandwich and the arancini with various fillings like eggplant or mushroom and fontina.

On my visit, a hot day, I got some gelato, lemon and cassata. Both were yummy. I was able to try a sample of cannoli, unfortunately it had been sitting out in the sun, so it’s not the best example. The food looks very good here, and I’d like to go back and try something more substantial besides gelato.

In general, I wouldn’t say Unico (which means “unique” in Italian) is unique because Italian and Sicilian-style cafes have been in the city for over 100 years. But I would say the cornetti, pastries with sweet or savory fillings, are the unique item that you wouldn’t find elsewhere, especially the savory variety. “Cornetto” or plural “cornetti” is the Italian word for croissant. Usually, in the United States, these are served plain or as a sandwich, not with fillings. So that is something unique to try.

 

St. Anthony Bread for the Poor

June 13 is the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua. It is tradition to make bread for the poor to remind us to be mindful of those less fortunate. I got some today at St. Anthony of Padua church in Soho.  I attended Mass in Italian and will be at the procession tonight.

 

Strega, the Italian Liqueur Named After Witches

strega

Benevento is the name of a city and province in the region of Campania in Southern Italy. The city predates the Roman Empire, having been a city called either Malies or Maloenton belonging to the Samnite tribe of ancient Italic peoples. The Roman name for it was Maleventum. “Male” means “bad” in Latin/Italian. (Think of the malocchio, or evil eye.) When the Romans conquered it in 268 B.C., they changed the name of the town to something that would represent their future success there, as was their custom with places that they conquered. So Beneventum, “bene” meaning “good,” was born. The idea of witches being in this area goes back to pre-Roman times. And although the town got a new positive name, the legend of the witches remained and grew stronger through the years.  According to Raven Grimassi, an expert in the field of Italian witchcraft, witches from all of Italy would congregate under one particular walnut tree in Benevento for their festivals. In 662 A.D., Saint Barbato, bishop of Benevento, wanted to convert the local pagans, so he cut down their sacred walnut tree, among other things. But the witches planted one of its seeds, and the tree which grew is standing in Benevento today. Women who were put on trial for witchcraft confessed to worshipping Diana or gathering for festivals under this tree. (According to Grimassi, the walnut was sacred to some Roman gods, including Diana.) The likeliest story is that pagan rituals from the time of the Samnites continued to be carried on here even after the Romans and Christianity dominated.

But this legend of the witches of Benevento gathering around the walnut tree is the inspiration for the logo of the famous Benevento liqueur, Strega. “Strega” means “witch” in Italian. Strega liqueur is a blend of 70 herbs and spices. It gets its yellow color from saffron. Father and son Carmine Vincenzo Alberti and Giuseppe Alberti created it in 1860. In the early 1900s, it became famous for its advertising posters.

Today, one can drink Strega or use it in baking like in the Pane Degli Angeli cake I blogged about before.

Strega

If you are in Benevento, you can visit the museum and store. At the store, you can buy Strega liqueur or chocolates, torrone and cakes made with it as well as other liqueurs like limoncello and Sambuca. You’ll find it refreshing after your search for the infamous walnut tree.

–Dina Di Maio