Category Archives: Gelato

Little Italy Isn’t Dead: The Legendary Ferrara

Periodically, there’s an article about how Little Italy is dead or dying. Yes, it’s more of a tourist destination and less of a neighborhood where Italian people live. There are still some Italians there, and there are Italian-American-owned businesses there. A recent article in the New York Times made me want to write a series on Little Italy Isn’t Dead and feature some of the businesses there.

Ferrara

Ferrara, a legendary Italian pastry shop, opened in 1892 by Enrico Scoppa and Antonio Ferrara.  The fifth-generation pastry shop gained fame when Enrico Caruso became a regular.  Ferrara’s became well-known for its cannoli and torrone.  Talk about being a kid in a candy store.  I take one look at the glass case of glistening glazed fruit atop an array of pastries in a myriad of colors, and I’m mesmerized.  The pastry case at Ferrara’s is a work of art.  When I talk to people who’ve never been to an Italian bakery, I show them pictures of Ferrara’s.  Everyone in my family will attest to Ferrara’s being the gold standard of New York Italian pastries.

Ferrara’s pastries

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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

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Ferrara is a legendary Italian pastry shop.  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.  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

 

–Dina Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com

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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Neighborhood Watch: Arthur Avenue in the Bronx

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Arthur Avenue, the Little Italy of the Bronx, is the only real Italian neighborhood left in NYC.  If you’re looking for an authentic Italian American experience, this is the place to be.  However, it’s not so easy to get to.  It’s a long, hilly walk from the subway.  Or if you take a cab, the cab driver will not know where it is.  I know cab drivers are supposed to know where to go in the boroughs, but they don’t, especially in the Bronx and Queens and sometimes, Brooklyn.  I suggest you have directions or your phone GPS on hand to assist the driver.

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The main strip is Arthur Avenue from East 184th Street to East 187th Street.  On East 187th Street, there’s Artuso’s Pastry, the home of the famous Pope cookies.  In case you are looking for them, the Pope cookies were made for Pope Benedict’s visit to New York and his recent resignation, but they do not have Pope cookies now.

Visit Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.

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Walk west to Egidio Pastry and admire the case full of beautiful pastries.

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The history of the building is evident with its tin ceiling.

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Here, we tried a mini cannoli and a mini sfogliatelle. They were both very good, but the sfogliatelle was particularly well crafted with flaky layers.

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DeLillo Pastry has outdoor seating and a mighty fine cannoli with creamy ricotta filling.

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There are a lot of bakeries on this small strip, so if you are doing a tasting, be prepared to eat a lot or to take some home. I brought my rolling backpack so that I could easily bring things home with me.

In addition to bakeries, there are ravioli/pasta shops, seafood markets, meat markets, cheese shops, pizzerias, Italian restaurants and kitchen stores. At Marie’s, you can get dinnerware and housewares, as well as coffee, from Italy.
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OK, vegetarians in the crowd will not want to look at the next photo–the body of a sheep hanging in the window of a meat market.

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Teitel Brothers is an Italian grocery store owned by a Jewish family that has been in the neighborhood since 1915.

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Now this is something you don’t see anymore–a bread bakery.  Zito’s and Vesuvio’s in the city closed awhile ago.  Thank goodness Addeo’s is still here in the Bronx.

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Look at that bread.

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At Biancardi’s meat market, you can still get capuzelle, or sheep’s head.

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Madonia Bakery has beautiful bread and also fills cannoli to order.

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I got some yummy cookies for the road.

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In the middle of the block, there’s an indoor market, the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, with a butcher, fish and produce market as well as products from Italy and Arthur Avenue T-shirts and souvenirs.

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The butcher here had beef feet.  I’ve never seen these before and am not sure how Italians use them.

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If you’re into offal, this is the place to be.  Here’s cotenne, the pig skin I’ve written about, in the rear of this photo.

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Brains, anyone?

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OK, I definitely share the sentiment with these T-shirts.

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Check out Cerini Coffee, a fun store with housewares from Italy.

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At Morrone Pastry Shop & Café, I got a rainbow cookie cake slice and a tortoni.  Both were delicious.  (I also bought a rainbow cookie cake for my aunt’s birthday.  I froze it the day I bought it and thawed it a week later.  It was fresh, moist and delicious.)

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In case you thought I just had sweets, I did stop for a slice of pizza at Catania’s.

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What to Eat:  pastries and bread from Artuso’s, Egidio’s, DeLillo’s, Madonia’s, Addeo’s or Morrone’s; pizza from Catania’s.

Where to Shop:  Marie’s and Cerini’s for kitchen wares; the Arthur Avenue Retail Market for souvenirs, produce and Italian goods; Borgatti’s for ravioli; Randazzo’s for seafood.

What to See:  Columbus statue at East 183rd Street and Arthur Avenue, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on East 187th Street.

Sweets Week: Day 7: L’Arte del Gelato

Nothing like a stroll on the High Line to end the holiday weekend.  And some delicious gelato!

July is National Ice Cream Month. In honor of my favorite creamy sweet treat, I’m doing a Sweets Week with a focus on frozen treats like ice cream and frozen yogurt.

L’Arte del Gelato is my favorite gelato in the city.  Now, the original shop is named Dolce Gelateria, and the locations in Chelsea Market, the High Line and Lincoln Center Plaza are still named L’Arte del Gelato.  I love many of the flavors here.  On a recent trip to the High Line, I got strawberry gelato and frutti di bosco sorbet.

L'Arte del Gelato

Verdict:  Still my favorite gelato in the city.  Both flavors are delish, but the sorbet was the standout.

Review & Giveaway of New York Sweets: A Sugarhound’s Guide to the Best Bakeries, Ice Cream Parlors, Candy Shops, and Other Emporia of Delicious Delights

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New York Sweets: A Sugarhound’s Guide to the Best Bakeries, Ice Cream Parlors, Candy Shops, and Other Emporia of Delicious Delights by Susan Meisel, published by Rizzoli on April 2, 2013, is a comprehensive listing of all the places to get your sugar fix in NYC.  Whether you are an ice cream person, a bakery person or a candy person, there is something in this book for you.  Personally, I tend to lean toward ice cream and bakeries.  The book includes some of my faves:  Doughnut Plant, Jacques Torres, Payard, Villabate, L’arte Del Gelato, Sockerbit, Tea & Sympathy, Vosges, Ferrara and Van Leeuwen. This is one of those books I wish I had written!  The book is divided into neighborhoods, so you can do a sweets tour in each NYC ‘hood!  I want to try Puddin’ on St. Mark’s Place–a shop with puddings and toppings.  There’s plenty of eye candy in the hardcover book with color photos of goodies from all the shops listed and recipes for you to try at home.

If you are in New York and have never been, the Rizzoli Bookstore on 57th Street is worth a trip.  I love this store.  Rizzoli has wonderful art and photography books and a great international magazine section.

You can win a copy of this fun book by entering the giveaway.  If you win, Rizzoli will ship you a free copy of New York Sweets: A Sugarhound’s Guide to the Best Bakeries, Ice Cream Parlors, Candy Shops, and Other Emporia of Delicious Delights by Susan Meisel.

To enter the giveaway:

Leave a comment below, answering this question:

What is your favorite sweet shop or bakery?  (It doesn’t have to be in New York).

For additional entries, become a fan on Facebook or sign up for my Tweets on Twitter and let me know you signed up in a separate comment.  One winner will be chosen at random and announced on Friday, April 12.  Contest closes on Thursday, April 11 at 12 PM EST.  (Rizzoli will ship the book to the winner.  U.S. residents only.)  Winner will be contacted via email, so please be sure to include your email address in the field when you leave your comment (it will not be visible to the public).  Good luck!

Contest is closed.

Neighborhood Watch: Columbus Circle

Columbus Circle is named after famed explorer Christopher Columbus.  The 75-foot-high statue was created by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo in 1892 for the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America.

Columbus

New Yorkers recently got to see Columbus face to face in the Discovering Columbus exhibit by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi where a scaffold was built to get to the head of the statue where a “modern living room” was constructed.  Guests were invited into the living room to see the sculpture’s face up close for a different perspective on Columbus.

Columbus Circle

The vicinity of the Circle is a foodie oasis, with a plethora of places to visit for quick bites or grandiose meals.  With the famed Time Warner Center and its Shops at Columbus Circle on the west side of the Circle, there are a number of options, including the pinnacle restaurant, Per Se.  For culture, Jazz at Lincoln Center, is also nearby.  For accommodations, ever hear of the Trump International Hotel and Tower?  (You may recognize it as the site of Ben Stiller’s Tower Heist movie.)  There’s also the Mandarin Oriental hotel, which has a piece of Dale Chihuly glass sculpture in the lobby.  (I love Chihuly’s work.  I volunteered at the Orlando Museum of Art’s Chihuly exhibit back in 2004.)

Time Warner Center

Time Warner Center houses luxury shops, as well as a Whole Foods and a Williams Sonoma for some foodie-related shopping.  The dining options include Bouchon Bakery (also owned by Per Se owner Thomas Keller), A Voce, Masa, Landmarc and Porter House.

Per Se

cookies from Per Se

I’ve eaten at Per Se, which is the restaurant to dine in NYC, with a perfect view of Christopher Columbus and Central Park.  Here, you experience luxury dining at its finest.  I’ve also eaten at A Voce for high-end Italian

cheese, fava beans and olive oil from A Voce

cheese, fava beans and olive oil from A Voce

and Porter House for classic American fare.

Scottish salmon

Scottish salmon from Porter House

Bouchon Bakery is one of my favorites for many sweet treats, including the best raspberry macaroons!

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But there is more to Columbus Circle than the Time Warner Center.  At the east side of the Circle is the USS Maine National Monument. This is the gateway to Central Park where you can walk off all this extravagance. During the holidays, this is the scene of the Columbus Circle Holiday Market.

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the USS Maine National Monument

On the north and east sides, the legendary Little Italy bakery Ferrara has outposts where you can get their famous pastries.

Ferrara

On the south side of the Circle, visit the Museum of Arts & Design.  On the ground floor sits the gift shop with many interesting jewelry and home decor pieces.  I saw a Judy Chicago exhibit here once.

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If you want to dine with one of the best views in the city, go to the top floor for the museum’s restaurant, Robert, and the food is excellent too.

ricotta pancakes from Robert

ricotta pancakes from Robert

A block to the west is the fairly new Sur La Table for cooking items and cooking classes, if you’re game.  Or stroll down Broadway to Grom for some gelato if it’s warm outside or some hot chocolate if it’s cold out.

Grom hot chocolate

You won’t be disappointed with the rich chocolatey drinks and gelato made with Italian ingredients.

Grom

If you’re not a coffee drinker, look no further, there’s an Argo Tea where you can get any number of tea concoctions.

Argo Tea

A block down is Francois Payard‘s bakery of French-style delights.  If you read my blog, you know I’m a Payard fan.

macaroons from Francois Payard

macaroons from Francois Payard

What to Eat:  macaroons from Bouchon Bakery or Francois Payard bakery, pastries from Ferrara, gelato from Grom, luxury dining at Per Se, classic American fare at Porter House, sushi at Masa, dining with a view at Robert, tea at Argo, high-end Italian at A Voce.

Where to Shop:  Time Warner Center for luxury shops and Williams Sonoma, Museum of Arts & Design gift shop, Sur La Table, Columbus Circle Holiday market (in season).

What to See:  Columbus monument, USS Maine monument, Museum of Arts & Design, Time Warner Center, Central Park, Chihuly sculpture at Mandarin Oriental hotel.