Dina’s 10 Favorite Things About Winter in NYC

I think each season in New York City has something special to celebrate.  I would say winter is my least favorite season for obvious reasons–it can be very cold, especially when you are walking around.  Many times I’ve worn two pairs of socks and gloves, a scarf, a hat with a scarf and a hat over it.  And no one likes when the puddles at the corner look more like swimming pools and there’s no way to cross the street except to wade through them.  But such is life in a New York winter.  Despite these nuisances, there are many reasons to visit New York in the winter.  Here’s my top ten.

  1. There aren’t as many tourists in January.  Snowstorms can mess up travel plans, so it’s not the best time to travel.  But if there is ever a time in New York where it is not as crowded, it’s this month.
  2. New York City Restaurant Week occurs in January, and it’s a great time to try out a restaurant you’ve been wanting to try.  I would just say to keep in mind that because prices are cheaper, the menus are not as exciting as they normally would be.  I would also say to book early at the popular ones.
  3. Hot drinks.  I love to get hot chocolate from Grom, who makes the thickest, most decadent hot chocolate.  My all-time favorite café to get warm drinks is La Lanterna in the Village.  They have the most extensive menu of spiked coffees you will ever see. 
  4. Valentine’s Day and chocolates.  NYC has a plethora of delectable chocolate.  From Jacques Torres to Royce to Kee’s and Stick With Me, there’s something for everyone’s taste.  And it is fun to taste them all! Check out my Dina’s Guide to NYC Chocolate Shops for more great chocolate in NYC!chocolate bon bons, chocolates, Stick With Me, bon bons
  5. Lenten foods–OK, Lent isn’t for everyone, but even if you are not Catholic, you can still partake in the delicious goodies that can be found this time of year like hot cross buns and the Italian chocolate pudding made with pig’s blood, sanguinaccio. It’s also a time to abstain from meat on Fridays, so I get to make all my favorite Lenten dishes like eggs with sauce.
  6. Chinese New Year parade in Chinatown.  A very fun event that is packed, but it is possible to get a good view.  Follow the parade with soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai.  Spend the day in Chinatown shopping and visit the Museum of Chinese in America

    Joe’s Shanghai soup dumplings

  7. Purim–Purim is a Jewish holiday that commemorates Queen Esther outsmarting King Haman who was planning to kill the Jews. Like Halloween, it’s a day for costumes and celebration. I like this holiday for its delicious cookie, hamentaschen, or Haman’s hat. You can find these all around the city, but my favorite are at Moishe’s.
  8. Japan Week–For a week in March, Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Terminal becomes an expo of Japanese culture and food. I like to follow this festival with a visit to Minamoto Kitchoan for some Japanese sweets. (This location has moved since I wrote that blog post. It’s now on Madison Ave. between 52nd & 53rd.)

    Kitchoan goodies

  9. St. Patrick’s Day parade–The one day everyone is Irish, including an Italian girl like me!  I love the parade and the after-party at local Irish pubs.  Also corned beef, cabbage, and soda bread. And let’s not forget the elusive Shamrock shake from McDonald’s.

    a festive take on the New York black & white

  10. St. Joseph’s Day–This holiday on March 19 is celebrated by Italians in honor of St. Joseph, the husband of the Blessed Mother. Traditionally, we make zeppole, the fried dough balls you get at street fairs. But we also have zeppole with custard and sfinci/sfingi. You can find these during the season at any of the Italian bakeries in the city, such as Rocco’s, Veniero’s and Ferrara or out in the boroughs.

    Veniero’s zeppole (l) and sfinge

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Dina’s Best of 2017

As 2017 ends, it’s a time to reflect on all the delicious meals and treats I had this year.  I had some firsts this year that have become favorites:  pupusas,

pasteis de nata (Portuguese egg custard tarts),

pasteis de nata

adjaruli khachapuri (a Georgian boat-shaped bread filled with sulguni cheese and topped with an egg and butter)

and hot pot. 

hot pot at Good Harvest

It was a year of great food with the exception of two disappointing meals, one at one of those cheesy (pun intended) fondue restaurants that served mediocre cheese and another at the much-acclaimed Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, North Carolina.  I had high hopes for Chef & the Farmer, especially since I lived in southeastern North Carolina for a number of years and know its farming history, but it turned out to be up there with my Dovetail experience a few years back as one of the worst restaurant meals I’ve ever had.  Regardless, I ate well this year, especially on my New Jersey pizza tour. 

pizza

I declared Star Tavern in Orange, NJ, and Brooklyn’s Coal-Burning Brick-Oven Pizza in Hackensack, NJ, as the best overall pizza in New Jersey with Papa’s Tomato Pies in Robbinsville, NJ, having the most traditional and flavorful crust. 

ice cream

I did a best ice cream in New Jersey tour too.  My favorite ice cream was from 

  1. Denville Dairy in Denville, NJ–the creamiest soft-serve ice cream.
  2. Magnifico’s in East Brunswick, NJ–best cherry-dipped cone.
  3. Cookman Creamery in Asbury Park, NJ–delicious vegan options.

I discovered Calandra’s Bakery and returned to my childhood with delicious pepperoni bread as well as many other great pastries.


There was a lot more, but these stand out as the most memorable of the year.

Top 10 Foods to Get at NYC’s San Gennaro Festival

This list of top 10 foods to get at NYC’s San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy is the definitive guide to the traditional foods eaten by Italian Americans.

1. If you try nothing else at the San Gennaro festival, you have to try cannoli.

La Bella Ferrara cannoli

Where to get cannoli:  the legendary Ferrara on Grand Street and Mulberry, La Bella Ferrara on Mulberry, Caffe Palermo on Mulberry, Caffe Roma corner of Mulberry and Broome.

2. Sausage and peppers sandwiches–When Italians go to festivals, this is what they get.

Where to get sausage and peppers–at a stand.

3.  Zeppole are fried dough balls in powdered sugar–a staple of Italian festivals.

Where to get zeppole–at a stand.

4.  Clams

Where to get clams–at a stand, Umberto’s Clam House on Mulberry.

5.  Pizza/calzones

Where to get pizza/calzones–Sal’s on Broome Street (the fried calzone is to die for!), the first pizzeria in America–Lombardi’s on Spring Street.

6.  Torrone–Italian nutty nougat confection

Where to get torrone–at a stand or at Ferrara on Grand.

7.  Italian cookies

Where to get Italian cookies–the legendary Ferrara on Grand, La Bella Ferrara on Mulberry, at a stand.

8.  Gelato

Where to get gelato–Ferrara on Grand, Caffe Roma on Broome, Mo on Mulberry.

9.  Pasta

Where to get pasta–Puglia on Hester, Vincent’s on Hester/Mott, Angelo’s of Mulberry Street, Benito One on Mulberry.

10. Italian pastries

Where to get Italian pastries–the legendary Ferrara on Grand Street and Mulberry, La Bella Ferrara on Mulberry, Caffe Palermo on Mulberry, Caffe Roma corner of Mulberry and Broome.

–Dina Di Maio

Washington’s Walla Walla Sweet Onion and How Its Discriminatory History Relates to Columbus Day

This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book. Please DO NOT repost this.  

Washington’s Walla Walla Sweet Onion and How Its Discriminatory History Relates to Columbus Day

by Dina Di Maio

Since Colonial times, Columbus Day was celebrated in the United States.  In 1892, President Harrison celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage.  Due to the efforts of a Coloradan Italian originally from Genoa, Angelo Noce, Colorado became the first state to recognize Columbus Day in 1907. Because of the Ku Klux Klan, the parade stopped in the 1920s.   (By the way, it was an Italian judge, Alfred Paonessa, who outlawed the KKK in California in 1946.)  Noce worked to make the holiday a national one.  He died in 1922, and then the holiday was recognized in 35 states.  In 1934, due to the efforts of Generoso Pope, President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed it a federal holiday.  But today, Columbus Day is threatened.  Seattle has changed it to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and more municipalities are following suit like Los Angeles.  According to Randy Aliment in We The Italians, president of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Seattle, the Italian Americans weren’t even allowed to meet with city officials regarding their proposal for an alternate holiday. 

This is especially interesting when one looks at the history of Italians in Washington State.  Immigrants from Northern and Southern Italy settled near Walla Walla, Washington, and went into the produce business.  In 1900, French soldier Pete Pieri brought “French onion” seeds from his native Corsica, and by the 1920s, Italian immigrants John Arbini and Tony Locati were growing what would later be known as the “Walla Walla Sweet” onion. 

Those farmers who settled in the Walla Walla valley often Anglicized their names to fit into the local society.  They weren’t considered white and were often referred to as “foreign” or “Dagos” in the local newspapers.  One such paper reported, “In the vegetable industry, John Chinaman and the sons of Italy cut considerable figure.  As gardeners, these two classes have few superiors . . . .  Of late years, however, attracted by the profits of the business, many white men and those representing the best citizenship have become holders of valuable vegetable lands.”  “John Chinaman” refers to the Chinese.  So the Chinese and the Italians, although better farmers, were inferior to the “white” farmers who were the “best citizenship.” 

This history of prejudice should not be forgotten, and in fact, should be used as a reason to strengthen the celebration of Columbus Day for Italians in Washington State and elsewhere because the same historical prejudice existed in most municipalities in the United States at that time.  Columbus Day was a source of pride for the early immigrants to Walla Walla.  Like in every Italian community in this country, they worked hard to create their livelihood and community on their own. They commissioned, i.e., raised their own money to pay for, a statue of Columbus and created a Columbus Day parade despite the negative feelings of the local “white” community.  This enterprising generation did not complain, but instead were proactive in their desire to become American, and their example should be emulated, and certainly not forgotten, an unintended (or not) consequence of the actions of our local governments when they abolish Columbus Day.

–Dina Di Maio

This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book. Please DO NOT repost this.  

Dina’s 10 Favorite Things About Fall in NYC

Hope you enjoyed my summer of New Jersey, but now that it’s almost fall, it’s time to go back to the city.  I love every season in New York City.  Each season has something unique about it.  These are the things I love about fall/autumn in New York City.

  1. Everyone’s back from summer vacation, including celebrities.  I think this is one of the best times of year for celebrity sightings.
  2. The lecture circuit is open again with interesting talks at many different venues.  (Yes, I am a nerd.)
  3. San Gennaro Festival in September–I love the ten-day festival in Little Italy and try to go as many times as I can. I like the Mass, procession, and of course, the food.
  4. New York state apples at the Union Square Greenmarket.
  5. Brooklyn Book Festival–A great place for literary-types like me to get our fix. So many great independent and small press publishers. I always find something interesting here.
  6. Mooncakes for Mid-Autumn Festival–I enjoy going to Chinatown to get mooncakes at the local bakeries.
  7. Columbus Day Parade–I have marched in the parade before.  It is a great way to celebrate my Italian culture and share it with the world.
  8. Village Halloween parade–This is an event not to be missed. I have marched in the parade many times.  It is a lot of fun to see the creative costumes and have a crazy night out in the Village.
  9. Leaves changing color at Central Park.
  10. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade–OK, you have to do this parade at least once. Known for its giant balloons, the parade is a must-see, especially if you know someone who works along the parade route, like I did, and can watch it from the comfort (and warmth) of inside.

me marching in the Village Halloween parade

Central Park in fall

Brooklyn Book Festival

–Dina Di Maio

Ponzio’s, a New Jersey Diner in Cherry Hill, NJ

I couldn’t conclude a tour of New Jersey without visiting a Jersey diner.  And without getting Taylor ham, although it’s referred to as pork roll in South Jersey.

When you step inside Ponzio’s, the first thing you see is the huge bakery with cases of cakes, pastries and cookies.  A sight that has me drooling.

For an appetizer, we got the bay fries. These were really delicious!

I got a pork roll and cheese sandwich.

Pretty good, although I prefer a breakfast Taylor ham and egg roll.

My friend was excited to get calamari marinara, calamari as an entrée without breading.

I thought I’d try the peach pie, which looks amazing in this photo, with its whipped cream piled high. I have to say it was a bit disappointing though, as it didn’t have a fresh, farm-fresh pie flavor to it.  I think the whipped cream was artificial.

Dolce & Clemente’s Italian Market in Robbinsville, NJ

Owner Joe Clemente hails from Brooklyn where his family had successful grocery businesses. In 2008, he opened Dolce & Clemente in Robbinsville, New Jersey.  If you visit, it is in the same shopping center as De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies, so you can shop before or after your pizza.  They have a deli counter, bakery and prepared meal sections.

So much Italian bread

Imported cheeses

Giant cannoli

Plenty of taralli and even gluten-free pasta