Category Archives: Bakery

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.

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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

Penza’s Pies in Hammonton, New Jersey

Penza’s Pies at the Red Barn Cafe is the legacy of the originating Sicilian farmer whose family still owns it. You can’t miss the big red barn off Route 206 in Hammonton, New Jersey.

The cafe is small and quaint. When we visited, we got brunch.

Apparently, you can’t order a slice of pie, but they do have a pie-like dessert with Jersey blueberries.  This was really delicious!

We also got a blueberry pie for the road.

When you’re done, stop by the nearby farmers’ market for New Jersey peaches, blueberries and tomatoes.

 

Calandra’s Bakery

I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I stepped inside Calandra’s Bakery in Fairfield, New Jersey.  Well, this is my idea of heaven.  Tall cases of colorful revolving cakes, a wall of crusty breads, and cases and cases of pastries glistening with sugary glazes.  This bakery is the epitome of an Italian bakery.

The bakery was started over 50 years ago by Italian immigrants Luciano and Ortenza Calandra.  Today, they are a mini empire with three bakeries that supply over 500 establishments in four states as well as restaurants and hotels.

Gorgeous lobster tails with custard or cannoli cream.

rum baba

St. Joseph’s Day zeppoles in custard or cannoli cream

cookies

I got a box for the road with lobster tails, cannoli and a sfogliatella.  Really great sfogliatella, crispy and flaky with a delicious filling.

My favorite was the pepperoni bread.  This brings me back to childhood. Absolutely delicious!

 

NYC Cheesecake: Rocco’s vs. Veniero’s

Back in October 2013 in Dina’s Guide to NYC Italian Bakeries on my blog, I declared that Pasticceria Rocco on Bleecker Street in the West Village had the best New York-style cheesecake in the city. Four years later, do they still? I decided to compare theirs to Veniero’s for a West Village/East Village cheesecake challenge.

On a recent trip to Rocco’s, I got a slice as well as some taralli for the road. I love the creaminess of this cheesecake. In my book, it has the perfect consistency that I look for in cheesecake. In addition, it has the right amount of sweetness, which is not too much.

For the first time, I tried Veniero’s cheesecake. Veniero’s is located on E. 11th Street in the East Village. A nice creamy texture and good flavor, not too sweet. A serious contender, but for me, Rocco’s has a little something extra that makes it keep top spot on my list.

Of course, you can do your own cheesecake taste test and see which old world Italian bakery makes the best cheesecake to you.

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.