Category Archives: Gelato

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

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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: 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.

 

10 Foods to Try When Visiting Naples

If you are visiting Napoli, these are the 10 must-try foods that I recommend.  There are so many wonderful dishes, foods, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, seafood, etc that come from Naples or the Campania region.   It’s hard to narrow it down to ten.  But the average travelers don’t have an Italian nonna to cook local dishes for them nor do they have access to a refrigerator to buy groceries for themselves.  So I compiled this list with the vacationer in mind.  I think these foods are the best for visitors to try.

  1. Pizza–In the birthplace of pizza, there are many places to try the city’s favorite dish.  Neapolitan pizza is different from American-style and New York-style pizza.  If you prefer the crispy crust of a New York-style pizza, you may not like Neapolitan pizza.  However, the ingredients on Neapolitan pies are usually top notch.  A trendy place to try is Sorbillo.  My favorite was Vesi, although I liked Da Michele too.

    Da Michele

    Da Michele pizza

  2. Sfogliatelle–A Neapolitan pastry that can be eaten for breakfast or dessert.  It’s a popular one in Italian-American bakeries.  The sfogliatelle is a difficult pastry to tackle and master–not one for the home cook.  You must try one from Antico Forno delle Sfogliatelle Calde Fratelli Attanasio, a bakery not far from the main train station.  It is by far the best I’ve ever had.  It comes hot from the oven.  The thin layers are crisped to perfection for a wonderfully crunchy bite.  The custard and cherry ones are a special treat too.

    sfogliatelle

    sfogliatelle

  3. Pizza portafoglio–This pizza is the perfect fast food.  It is sold from carts outside pizzerias.  It’s a personal-sized pizza folded in quarters.  Unlike most Neapolitan pizza, this pizza is crispier and doesn’t have the “soggy” center.  It also doesn’t have much cheese. But the taste is divine.

    portafoglio

    portafoglio

  4. Taralli–A crunchy ring of dough, taralli is Neapolitan snack food.  It comes in sweet and savory varieties. IMG_2938
  5. Pizza fritta–Pizza fritta is a popular Italian-American snack too.  It’s a fried calzone with a cheesy filling in the center.  It is also sold from carts outside fry shops.

    pizza fritta

    pizza fritta

  6. Rum baba–This pastry can be seen all over Naples.  It is also a popular pastry found at Italian-American bakeries in the United States.  IMG_2870
  7. Neapolitan ragu–aka Sunday gravy in the United States.  Ragu is a slow-simmered tomato-based meat sauce for pasta. IMG_2660
  8. Frolla–The frolla is the easier version of the sfogliatelle that can be baked by home cooks.  Or just as easily bought at numerous cafes in the city.

    pasta frolla

    frolla

  9. Gelato–There are many gelateria in Napoli. One of my favorites with multiple locations is Fantasi Gelati.  There are many flavors to choose from.  I liked the cioccolato–so rich–and fior di panna. IMG_2755
  10. Mozzarella–Try some mozzarella di bufala made from buffalo milk.  Yes, this is available in the United States, but it loses something on its refrigerated trip here.  It is absolutely creamy and wonderful fresh. You can order it as antipasto or in a Caprese salad. IMG_2630–Dina Di Maio

A Little Germany in Georgia

Enter the GIVEAWAY in honor of my 1000th post! The deadline has been extended until Dec. 15.
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Helen, Georgia is a quaint little Bavarian Alpine village in the Georgia mountains.  While it is most popular during October for Oktoberfest, it is worth a visit during Christmas time because of the Christmas lights and decorations.

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While December is a good time to visit, be sure to keep in mind that many of the shops and restaurants are closed on Wednesdays.  Helen is on its own time, and I wouldn’t rely on times listed on websites either.  Many of the stores we visited were closed when they were supposed to be open, so it’s best to call ahead if there’s a particular place you really want to go to make sure it will be open.   And most shops and restaurants close by six p.m.  There are few restaurants that are open past six, but you can find them.

There are stores with German, Dutch and Scandinavian imports like cuckoo clocks, nutcrackers, steins and more, as well as stores selling crafts by local artisans.  There’s something for everyone here–mini golf (not open in winter season), a grist mill, antique shops, tubing, ziplining, and hiking where one can see gorgeous waterfalls.

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On this trip, we were interested in Christmas shopping and eating.  Some of the stores we enjoyed were Lindenhaus Imports owned by a friendly gentleman who happily shows you fun German and Scandinavian goods, Classics owned by a friendly woman who sells German collectibles and apparel and Windmill Dutch Imports with a good selection of Dutch food and ceramics.  Euro Food is a small shop with German foods.  There are a number of other shops, but many were not open on the Wednesday and Thursday that we were there (especially the Christmas shop which was a bit disappointing).

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Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen is a fun stop for chocolate-covered pretzels, fudge, chocolates, divinity, peppermint bark and more.

There is a plethora of German food in Helen, as expected, but not much variety for a vegetarian.  We ate at the few restaurants that had vegetarian options, so if you are a vegetarian, be prepared for that.  High on the list is Muller’s Fried Cheese.

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Breaded squares of cheddar, brie and mozzarella fried to melty perfection.  If you love cheese, you will love these.

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They also have German and Czech specialties like bratwurst with cabbage, sauerkraut and potato salad.

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Another must is Hofer’s German bakery, a cafe, bakery and deli in one.

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We had a delicious breakfast here of vegetarian hash.

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Our breakfast came with really nice assorted hard rolls.

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For dessert, really lovely cream puff and beehive cake.

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For the road, we got rye bread, jelly doughnuts and hamentaschen.  My favorite was their jelly doughnut–it was filled with ooey gooey jelly.

A restaurant that was open later in the evening was Cowboys & Angels.  We had a very good pimento cheese appetizer.

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I got the pork chop with apples and raisins and it was delicious.

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My friend got a vegetable plate with macaroni and cheese that was creamier than any I’ve had at a restaurant.  It says it’s made with real cream and I believe it.

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The food was cooked to perfection here, and the vegetables were flavorful as well.

Bigg Daddy’s is a divey sports bar that is open later and has an interesting offering of calamari tacos.  They were delicious.

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I had the spicy fish tacos which really brought the heat.

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We shared an appetizer of buffalo hummus, which looked like a mound of hummus surrounded by a moat of hot sauce.  This would have been better with a drizzle of hot sauce on top, as this was just too much sauce.

After my spicy dinner, I wanted some ice cream.  There are homemade ice cream shops in town, but they weren’t open.  The options included Mayfield (made not far from here in Tennessee) and Blue Bell.

Blue Bell strawberry cheesecake

Blue Bell strawberry cheesecake

At one shop, they had some gelato from Italy. The salted caramel was perfetto.

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A must-see attraction in Helen is Charlemagne’s Kingdom.  This is a miniature replica of the country of Germany with miniature trains and villages.  The attraction was created by a husband-and-wife team, the husband from Germany, and is still family-owned today.  It is truly awesome.  If you appreciate miniature artistry, you will love this.  The work is so detailed and there are so many wonderful nooks and crannies to see interesting things.

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Other things to see not too far outside of Helen are the nearby Indian mound and the folk pottery museum.  And of course, Babyland General Hospital, which any child of the ’80s should know.  This is where Cabbage Patch Kids are born/grown.  Yes, you check in as if you are checking in to a real hospital.  You can see the babies growing from the cabbages, with a green IV drip from a tree.  Cool yet freaky at the same time.

Helen is a fun town that’s great to visit for a day trip, a weekend or a week, depending on what you want to do.

 

Dina’s Guide to NYC Italian Bakeries

Happy Columbus Day!  In honor of Columbus Day, I’m featuring my guide to NYC Italian bakeries.  Unfortunately, none of the bakeries is near the parade route!

I’ve been eating at area bakeries now for a long time, and I consider myself a connoisseur of Italian American baked goods.  First thing I’d like to mention is that there are two types of Italian bakeries.  One is the bread bakery and the other is the pastry shop.

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Italian bread bakeries have really gone the way of the dinosaur in Manhattan, with Parisi Bakery being the only one I know of.  I used to go to Vesuvio’s in Soho, which you may have seen depicted in postcards for its quaint, green painted storefront.  (This is a moot point as Vesuvio’s is closed, but Vesuvio’s made excellent Italian bread.  Its bread was an example of how Italian American bread should be made.  I was quite surprised to see Jack Robertiello write in his Mangia! book that Vesuvio’s bread wasn’t that good and that Sullivan Street Bakery’s was better.  I’m not knocking Jim Lahey–I love his no-knead recipe.   I’m simply stating that those who are looking for a classic Italian American bread bakery would have found a haven at Vesuvio.)  Another was Zito’s on Bleecker Street, which my family had been going to probably since it opened.  Italian bread is a wonderful thing, but it is extremely hard to find Italian bread that is done the way the immigrants did it.  For example, Pecoraro’s in Jersey City made excellent Italian bread.  The bakery still exists, but it has new owners and the bread is not the same.  Second Street Bakery in Jersey City used to make the best pepperoni bread, but I’ve had it in recent years and it’s not what it used to be.  So I think it would be moot to write about Italian bread in NYC, as it is virtually nonexistent.  (There are bread bakeries on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx though.)  I’m glad to have tasted its remnants as a younger person, but it’s all but gone now.  Lament, lament.

The other type of Italian bakery is the pastry shop.  I divide these into three kinds:  the bakery, where there is a pastry case and you just buy without sitting and eating; the pastry shop, where there is a pastry case and you can sit and eat the pastries; or the café, where there is pastry and desserts and maybe other kinds of food with waiter service.  In New York City, the Italian bakery is also dying, but it’s a slow death.  There are still some pastry shops.  It’s definitely not what it used to be, and that is simply because Italian Americans have moved out of the NYC areas where they first immigrated to and assimilated into American society elsewhere.  (Hey, I love me some red velvet cake along with my cannoli!)  Also, rents in NYC are astronomical, and it makes it hard for small mom and pops to survive.  So as the middle class leaves New York and it gentrifies, so go the old ethnic business establishments.  However, for now, there are still some bakeries/pastry shops/cafés to sample some delicious Italian American pastries.

The list below includes all the Italian bakeries in Manhattan.  I am not including a lot of bakeries in the outer boroughs and New Jersey because 1. I don’t go there that often or 2. I haven’t been to the bakery in years so I can’t speak to how it is now.  So don’t get upset with me if your favorite bakery is not on my list.  I am not including Arthur Avenue in the Bronx even though it has a lot of Italian bakeries.   I’ve written about them here, and I think that if you go to the area, any one you try will be excellent.

The ones I’ve listed are good.  Some bakeries do some items better than others.  But they all excel at something, namely, keeping tradition alive in a difficult time.  My all-time favorite bakery is Monteleone’s in Jersey City.  I think it exemplifies Italian American taste.  My favorite cafés were the old Caffe Dante and La Lanterna.  I have spent many hours (and dollars) in both of these places in the past 20 years.  So on to the question everyone wants to know.  Who has the best cannoli?  This is a tough one.  My answer is Monteleone’s followed by Villabate Alba.  But again, you can’t go wrong at any of these places.

Manhattan

East Village

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Veniero’s is what remains of what used to be an Italian neighborhood.  Yes, a lot of people do not know this because it’s the East Village and there isn’t much everlasting Italian influence right here.  It claims to be America’s oldest pastry shop, opening in 1894.  Veniero’s is also owned by Bruce Springsteen’s cousin, so that’s kind of cool.  I really like the hot drinks at Veniero’s.

Veniero’s, 342 E. 11th Street (between 1st Avenue & 2nd Avenue), (212) 674-7070, www.venierospastry.com

West Village

Rocco’s is the last man standing in this old Italian neighborhood even though the pastry shop itself is not that old.  My family came from this area, lived on Carmine Street and went to Our Lady of Pompeii Church across the street.  Today, Rocco’s does a brisk business.  He’s got a great location on the much-trafficked Bleecker Street.  Yes, the big fat cookies in the window beckon you into the bakery, but get the cheesecake.  It’s the best in the city, hands down.  (Yes, better than Junior’s.)

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Pasticceria Rocco, 243 Bleecker Street (between Carmine Street & Leroy Street), (212) 242-6031, www.pasticceriarocco.com

Noho

La Lanterna brings me back to my youth, when I whiled away the hours writing in a Village café–before laptops and cell phones, when the world was more calm and quiet and I took pen to paper as I sipped cappuccino and ate profiteroles or raspberry sorbet.  La Lanterna has a garden and fireplace.  For more, read my blog post on La Lanterna.

la lanterna gelato

Caffe Reggio, dating back to 1927, boasts the first cappuccino machine in New York City.

Caffe Reggio, 119 MacDougal Street, (212) 475-9557, www.caffereggio.com

La Lanterna, 129 MacDougal Street, (212) 529-5945, www.lalanternacaffe.com

Little Italy

Ferrara2

Ferrara is a legendary Italian pastry shop.  It has outposts at Central Park.  I’ve heard that Ferrara and La Bella Ferrara were relatives who had a feud, but I don’t know.  All I know is they both make delicious pastries.  Just walk in to Ferrara and look at the glass case.

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How do you decide what to eat?  It’s a tough choice, as everything looks so good.

treats from La Bella Ferrara

treats from La Bella Ferrara

La Bella Ferrara is an old school bakery.  Walk in there and the waft of fresh-baked cookies fills the air.  The cookies here are amazing.  I admit I haven’t frequented Caffe Roma or Caffe Palermo very often, but Caffe Roma does have delicious gelato and lemon ice.  Caffe Roma was formerly Caffe Ronca, opened by Italian immigrant Pasquale Ronca in 1891 and run with his brother Giovanni who came to NYC a year later.  It was a hangout for NYC’s literati–writers, artists, musicians, actors.  Pasquale would go on to be impresario for Italian songs for the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  In 1952, Vincento Zeccardi, an immigrant and former church ceiling painter, bought it, and it is still in his family today.  And Caffe Palermo is known as the Cannoli King of the San Gennaro festival.

cassata from Caffe Palermo

cassata from Caffe Palermo

Ferrara, 195 Grand Street (between Mulberry Street & Mott Street), (212) 226-6150, www.ferraracafe.com

La Bella Ferrara, 108 Mulberry Street (between Canal Street & Hester Street), (212) 966-7867, https://www.yelp.com/biz/la-bella-ferrara-new-york

Caffe Roma, 385 Broome Street, (between Mulberry St & Mott St), (212) 226-8413, https://www.yelp.com/biz/caffe-roma-pastry-new-york

Caffe Palermo, 148 Mulberry Street (between Hester Street & Grand Street), (212) 431-4205, www.caffepalermo.com

Hell’s Kitchen

D’Aiuto’s is well-known nationwide for creating the Baby Watson cheesecake.  Founded by Italian immigrants in 1924, it is no longer owned by an Italian family.  Here’s a good article on the history of D’Aiuto’s.  According to Yelp, it is closed, but it looks like you may be able to get the cheesecake at a nearby deli.  I suggest calling ahead.

Congratulations to Cake Boss Buddy Valastro of Carlo’s in Hoboken for building a brand and a reputation for crazy cool cakes!  I loved watching the show about his bakery.  This bakery is in a crowded area near Port Authority that I try to avoid.  The bakery itself is also very crowded with insanely long lines.  They do have Italian pastries like cannoli, lobster tails and rainbow cookies as well as others.  The upside is you can get a photo with a life-sized bobble head of Buddy.

Cake Boss Café, 625 8th Avenue (between 41st Street & 40th Street), (646) 590-3783, www.CakeBossCafe.com

D’Aiuto’s, 405 8th Avenue, (between 30th Street & 31st Street), (212) 564-7136, https://www.yelp.com/biz/d-aiuto-baby-watson-cheesecake-new-york?sort_by=date_desc

Brooklyn

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Villabate Alba in Bensonhurst used to be two separate bakeries, Villabate and Alba.  You can read my blog post on my experience with a Villabate cannoli.  Villabate Alba is a Sicilian bakery, and they do the Italian things well.  (OK, I did get a red velvet cupcake which I would pass on.)  But look at those sfinge.  You can see why there’s a line around the block on St. Joseph’s Day.

Villabate Alba, 7001 18th Avenue (between 70th Street & 71st Street), (718) 331-8430, www.villabate.com

Hoboken

My family loved the pastries at Carlo’s.  In recent years, I think the focus is more on cakes and less on Italian pastries.  For more information, read my article on Carlo’s.

Carlo’s, 95 Washington Street,  (201) 659-3671, www.carlosbakery.com

Jersey City

Monteleone's 2

And again, Jersey City comes in last after NYC.  But this time it’s a good thing. I saved the best for last.  Monteleone’s is the quintessential Italian American bakery.  Hey, they don’t have a website, doesn’t that tell you enough?  This is where you go for pastries.  My  family has been going here for ages.  Their Italian rum cake is the best.  Their cannoli are the best.  You can’t go wrong here.  They even have American pastries.  There’s nothing like their crumb cake fresh in the morning.  If you come during Lent, you have to try a hot cross bun.  I can’t sing the praises of Monteleone’s enough.

Sfinge (and crumb cake) from Monteleone's

Sfinge and crumb cake from Monteleone’s

And it’s a short trip on the Journal Square Path train to Journal Square and a short walk from the station.  You can also check out Little India while you’re there.  (As if you’re not full enough, there’s a Filipino bakery down the block too.)

Monteleone’s, 741 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, NJ 07306, (201) 798-0576, https://www.yelp.com/biz/monteleone-bakery-jersey-city

Two for Tuesday: Spumoni

National Ice Cream Month is nearly over, so I’m featuring spumoni.  I have a memory of the best spumoni at Villabate Bakery in Brooklyn (before it became Villabate Alba).  Where better to try spumoni than at L&B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.  L&B is a pizzeria that sells spumoni and ices as well.  It’s still owned by the same family as the original owner.  There are outdoor tables outside, and you can walk up to the window and either order pizza or spumoni/ices.  On my visit, I got both.  I saw a lot of people with plastic cups of the signature spumoni with its distinctive green, brown and yellow color representing pistachio, chocolate and vanilla.  So I got one too while my friend got plain vanilla.  While it was a smooth treat, I prefer my spumoni with pink cherry in it.  Also, I prefer the lemon ice at L&B to the spumoni.

Spumoni L&B

The second spumoni I sampled was at the recent Giglio Festival in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, from an Uncle Louie G’s stand.  It had the same vanilla, chocolate and pistachio in yellow, brown and green.  However, it was smoother than L&B and had more flavor.  I really enjoyed this one.

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