Category Archives: History

Villa Tronco: Historic Italian (and Oldest) Restaurant in South Carolina

My new book, Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, debunks myths about Italian food in the United States. One of those myths is that returning GIs from World War II brought pizza back from Italy to America and that’s how pizza became popular in America. DEBUNKED. Pizza was already here–brought by the Italian immigrants of 100 years ago who opened Italian restaurants around the country wherever they settled. Villa Tronco is one such restaurant, opened in 1940, which predates WWII, and it claims to have introduced pizza to South Carolina. (It is also the oldest operating restaurant in South Carolina.)

The family originates from Naples and Sicily, according to owner Joe Roche. The Carnaggio family first moved to Columbia in 1910 and opened a fruit store. From Philadelphia, James Tronco was stationed nearby during World War I. He met the daughter, Sadie, and they married, eventually opening what would later become Villa Tronco.

Current owner and granddaughter of the original owner, Carmella Roche, details the racial discrimination her grandparents endured in an article in the Cola Daily, such as having to sit at the back of the bus and having to use non-white bathrooms. (In my book, I also discuss racial discrimination that Italians endured in the United States.)

Recently, I had the pleasure of dining there and meeting one of the owners. Villa Tronco is located in a historic firehouse in downtown Columbia, South Carolina.

And you can still see the exposed brick in one of the dining rooms.

The menu details the history of the restaurant.

Of course, while visiting I ordered the pizza. The pizza here is a square pie cut into square slices. It is a thin crust pie with a crunch. The tomato sauce is fresh and tomatoey–not herby. There’s a good amount of cheese.

For dinner, I ordered one of the specials, a pork with creamy polenta dish. I really enjoyed this dish. The pork was cooked perfectly, through but not dry, and the creamy polenta was a delicious accompaniment.

My friend got the eggplant parmigiana and enjoyed it.

For dessert, we got Carmella’s famous cheesecake. It is excellent.

And a generous serving of some tricolored spumoni ice cream. Yum!

–Dina Di Maio

12 Stops on a Tour of Italian and Italian-American Landmarks in Raleigh, North Carolina

12 Stops on a Tour of Italian and Italian-American Landmarks in Raleigh, North Carolina

by Dina Di Maio

Historically, there was no great migration of Italians to North Carolina like there were to some other states in the South like Louisiana or Alabama. So you don’t find much Italian history in the state. However, there are some stops in Raleigh if you want to find a little bit of Italy and Italian Americana.

  1. Carousel at Pullen Park—The carousel at Pullen Park is a Dentzel, the premier carousel maker of the early 20th century. Salvatore “Cherni” Cernigliaro, who immigrated to the United States in 1902 from Palermo, Sicily, at 23 years old, was a carpenter who made and finished furniture in Italy. When he came to Philadelphia, his first job was carving carousel animals. He started working for Dentzel when his prior company folded and stayed with Dentzel until the company closed. He then trained others how to hand-carve carousel animals. Cernigliaro, the chief carver of the carousel animals, strayed from tradition and created his own flair, adding unique carving embellishments to the animals and carving other nontraditional animals like rabbits, cats, and ostriches. The carousel animals at Pullen Park were carved by Cernigliaro. With 52 animals, this menagerie carousel is a historical gem right here in the capital city. Purchased by the city in 1915, it was restored in the 1970s and is still in working order today. For more information: https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/raleigh/pul.htm.   
  2. Immigrant Gate II, 1997 sculpture by Greensboro-based sculptor Jim Gallucci—Located in Millbrook Exchange Park in North Raleigh, this sculpture honors the artist’s parents who were Italian immigrants who came to the United States in the 1930s. For more information: https://www.raleighnc.gov/parks/content/Arts/Articles/MunicipalCollection.htmlGallucci also did the Light Towers sculpture in City Plaza, a 55-foot steel sculpture with LED lights.
  3. Sir Walter Raleigh statue at the Raleigh Convention Center on Salisbury Street—The city of Raleigh commissioned this 12-foot bronze statue in 1975. The sculptor was Bruno Lucchesi, of Pietrasanta, Italy, one of the world’s most famous sculptors. Apparently, there was a bit of controversy as Lucchesi took creative license with Raleigh’s collar and instead of depicting him in the 17th-century ruff collar, he chose a more open style. However, the city conceded and the statue was dedicated in 1976. For more information: http://nancymcfarlane.com/sir-walter-raleigh-statue/.  
  4. George Washington statue at the State Capitol downtown–The original sculpture, made of Carrara marble from Italy and sculpted by Antonio Canova (recommended by Thomas Jefferson) and Giuseppe Cerrachi, was dedicated in 1821. It was damaged in a fire, and the one at the capital today is a duplicate, also made of Carrara marble, sculpted in 1970 by Venetian sculptor, Romano Vio. The model for the sculpture is currently on display, for the first time outside of Italy, at the Frick Collection in New York City.   For more information: http://docsouth.unc.edu/commland/monument/407/.
  5. Fragment of the George Washington statue at the City of Raleigh Museum downtown on Fayetteville Street. For more information: https://cityofraleighmuseum.org
  6. Fragments and plaster replica of the George Washington statue at the North Carolina Museum of History in downtown Raleigh.  For more information: https://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org/
  7. Collections of Roman art and Italian Renaissance art in the permanent collection at the North Carolina Museum of Art on Blue Ridge Road. The collection includes Giotto’s Peruzzi Altarpiece. For more information: http://ncartmuseum.org/
  8. 235 Fayetteville Street, the site of Antonio Leo Dughi’s grocery store–Dughi was an Italian immigrant who came to the United States in 1875 and settled in Raleigh, opening a grocery store that sold wine, oysters and ice cream. The cornerstone of his shop and his family grave is at historic Oakwood Cemetery. For more information: http://www.waltermagazine.com/art_and_culture/shop-local/.  
  9. Altar and cornerstone at the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral on Western Boulevard–The altar is made of Carrara marble from Italy.   The cornerstone, made from Tuscan stone, was blessed by Pope Francis.  For more information: http://www.sacredheartcathedral.org/masstimeshnj.
  10. Jim Valvano statue at Reynolds Coliseum—In 2016, NC State honored four coaches, including Jim Valvano, with bronze likenesses. Valvano’s statue stands outside Reynolds Coliseum. For more information:   http://www.newsobserver.com/sports/college/acc/nc-state/article102285262.html.
  11. “Heroism and Sacrifice” sculpture, the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Memorial in downtown Raleigh’s Nash Square by sculptor Carl Regutti–This remarkable bronze sculpture was dedicated in 2006. Regutti was a world-renowned sculptor before his passing in 2013. His works are exhibited at museums internationally, including the Franklin Mint and Kentucky Derby Museum, and his client list was impressive. He won awards for his wildlife sculpture. For more information: https://www.freedommemorials.org/carl-regutti-cv/.
  12. Sports memorabilia of Italian Americans in sports at the North Carolina Museum of History in downtown Raleigh, such as Jim Valvano,  Sam Esposito,  basketball all-American Sam Ranzino, basketball all-American and 1959 ACC Player of the Year Lou Pucillo   and Francis Rogallo, father of the sport of hang gliding.  For more information: https://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org/.

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

Authentic Italian

***All writings and photographs are the intellectual property of me, unless I’ve noted otherwise, and can only be used with permission. If you are inspired by this blog, please use professional courtesy to note it.***

My Book, Authentic Italian, Is Now Available

Authentic Italian

Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People

by Dina M. Di Maio

Available from Amazon.com

Pizza. Spaghetti and meatballs. Are these beloved foods Italian or American?

Italy declares pizza from Naples the only true pizza, but what about New York, New Haven, and Chicago pizza? The media says spaghetti and meatballs isn’t found in Italy, but it exists around the globe. Worldwide, people regard pizza and spaghetti and meatballs as Italian. Why? Because the Italian immigrants to the United States brought their foodways with them 100 years ago and created successful food-related businesses. But a new message is emerging–that the only real Italian food comes from the contemporary Italian mainland. However, this ideology negatively affects Italian Americans, who still face discrimination that pervades the culture–from movies and TV to religion, academia, the workplace, and every aspect of their existence.

In Authentic Italian, Italian-American food writer Dina M. Di Maio explores the history and food contributions of Italian immigrants in the United States and beyond. With thorough research and evidence, Di Maio proves the classic dishes like pizza and spaghetti and meatballs so beloved by the world are, indeed, Italian. Much more than a food history, Authentic Italian packs a sociopolitical punch and shows that the Italian-American people made Italian food what it is today. They and their food are real, true, and authentic Italian.

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

Authentic Italian

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

Columbus Day: Italian Americans vs. Native Americans?

I understand that Columbus Day is a controversial holiday to some. Saying that Columbus “discovered” America is denying the Native Americans who were already living on this land. But no one can argue that Columbus’s landing here precipitated events that led to the formation of the United States of America. And that is something to celebrate—the first country in the world founded on principles and ideas.

Columbus Day has been celebrated in the United States since at least the mid-1800s, when immigrants from Italy started arriving in the country, but it had been celebrated by the American people prior to Italian immigration. In later years, it became a source of pride for Italian immigrants and new Italian Americans born in the United States, a group that was historically discriminated against. It’s unfortunate that Columbus Day seems to be Italian Americans versus Native Americans, when these are two groups who historically suffered discrimination (and genocide). I can understand why Native Americans would not want to celebrate a day that led to the eventual taking of their land and the killing of their people. But I think maybe a bit of Italian history might help them understand the Italian side of things.

Many people have heard that Garibaldi united Italy in the 1860s, but what they don’t realize is that Italy didn’t want to be united. Southern Italy was a part of a different kingdom, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. After unification, Southern Italians rebelled. The government labeled these rebels as brigands to make it sound like they were a bunch of thieves, rather than the patriots they were. Even Benjamin Disraeli spoke of them as patriots. At this time, they were not just killing brigands, but any Southern Italian they could. Naples had been the third largest city after Paris and London, and soon it was raped of its resources and the funds reallocated to Northern Italy for economic improvements there. This is a revisionist history that until late, has been largely forgotten—and purposely so. The situation in Southern Italy became more and more devastating that through the years of the 1870s to the 1920s, more and more Italians left, many coming to the United States. Most of these immigrants were from Southern Italy. But, unfortunately, they left one country that didn’t want them for another that didn’t want them. They suffered much discrimination and prejudice in the United States. They were forced to worship in the basement of predominantly Irish Catholic churches. They were lynched in the South. Some Southern states banned them from living in their states in the early 1900s.

But Southern Italians were a hardy people and were fighters, much like Native Americans. They had cities in Southern Italy dating back thousands of years. Matera, in the region of Basilicata, is one such ancient city, where The Passion of the Christ was filmed because of its sassi, or houses carved in stone. Some of the older tribes of Italians were the Lucanians of this area and also the Samnites and Sabines of South-Central Italy. The Samnites were great warriors with a developed civilization alongside the Roman one. They had three wars with the Romans, and eventually lost to them. The Romans knew they had a formidable enemy, so they committed a genocide of the Samnites. Many did survive because they were familiar with the interior mountains of Italy and could hide. Others blended in with Roman society (Pontius Pilate was one of them). There is a famous battle, the battle of the Caudine Forks in 321 BC, where they defeated the Romans. The people from this area are still proud of this battle against the Romans. It is near the village where my grandfather was born, and I am a Samnite. Now, that was in 321 BC—a long time ago and yet I still identify with these people and this battle. It is still a great source of pride for me. Because I know that the Romans didn’t kill us off—because I’m still here. And the Northern Italians didn’t kill us off in the 1800s—because I’m still here. And the prejudice and discrimination we endured—and continue to endure as an “Other”ized group in the United States didn’t and doesn’t dissuade us—we are still here.

And I am sure that is how the Native Americans feel, a sense of loss but a sense of pride for fighting. I can always go back to Italy, even though I am culturally American. The homeland where my family comes from still exists albeit in a different way since millions of its children came from Southern Italy to America. Native Americans don’t have a homeland. Their homeland is here, a completely different place that was historically unkind to them and treated them much like the Roman Empire treated the Samnites, a nuisance standing in the way of Roman domination. But the Native Americans proudly fought, a fact I and many people greatly admire.

As an Italian American, I hate that Columbus Day makes Native Americans feel less than or as an “Other”ized group because my people were made to feel like an “Other”ized group and that is one reason Columbus Day is a source of pride for Italian Americans. I grew up near the Lumbee tribe and I do recognize the Lumbees as an official tribe. I also saw “Other”ization of them firsthand and experienced “Other”ization myself. I am hoping with more insight into this lost Italian history—that is never really told to a wider audience than Italian American academics, maybe Native Americans will see that they have more in common with Italian Americans and that Columbus Day isn’t about the beginning of the end for them. Just like the Samnites and Southern Italians, they fought and they are still here. And we are all Americans in the United States, a country that we love and hate, hate for its painful history but love for its progressive laws.

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

 

Authentic Italian

***All writings and photographs are the intellectual property of me, unless I’ve noted otherwise, and can only be used with permission. If you are inspired by this blog, please use professional courtesy to note it.***

Neapolitan Carnevale Meatballs

photo(2)

For Carnevale (aka Mardi Gras, aka Shrove Tuesday, aka Fat Tuesday) in Naples, it was traditional to make giant meatballs with raisins served in tomato sauce with spaghetti.  This recipe comes from my great-grandmother and grandmother, who are both from Naples.

photo

Here is a picture of the inside of the meatballs to see the raisins.  I used regular and golden raisins and made pork meatballs.

photo(1)

Neapolitan Carnevale Meatballs with Raisins

photo(3)

2 pounds chopped meat–beef, pork, veal or just one or a mix of all

2 or 3 large eggs

2/3 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1 tablespoon dried basil

3 cloves minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

6 slices stale bread, pulsed quickly in food processor (large crumbs not fine)

1/2 cup raisins

Combine all ingredients, except the bread, in a large bowl.  When well mixed, add enough bread to bind the meat mixture.  Shape into large balls, the size of a large egg.  Place the balls on a baking sheet, not touching, in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes or until done.  Alternatively, they can be added raw to tomato sauce for about 3 hours until done on low heat.  Serve with or without spaghetti.

Dina’s Guide to NYC Old World Bakeries

I love old world bakeries.  Whenever I visit a new city, I always look for old bakeries.  I don’t care if they look dirty or grungy from the outside, or if they have outdated signs out front.  Those signs are a sure “sign” that deliciousness awaits me inside. I feel good that I am supporting a family and the local economy as well as eating something that was made with pride and craft.  So if you are visiting NYC or if you live here, when you eat at most of the bakeries on this list, you are supporting local families and businesses that represent the history and culture of this diverse city.

In this list, I’ve tried to include all old world bakeries in Manhattan.  If I missed one, by all means, tell me about it because I’d love to go there.  (I’m focusing on the more “touristy” part of Manhattan.  This list doesn’t include Mexican or Dominican bakeries in Upper Manhattan, such as Bakery el Panadero, Capri, De Colores Bakery, Dyckman’s, D’Lillian’s, El Barrio, El Manantial, El Nazareno, Esmeraldo’s, Floridita, Grinis, Kenny Bakery, Las Americas, Mi Querido Mexico Lindo or Sweet Life Bakery.  It also doesn’t include kosher bakery Gideon’s, Hungarian Pastry Shop, Asian bakery In & Out or Ethiopian Injera Bakery.  Sounds like a bakery tour of Upper Manhattan is in order!)

I’ve written about Italian bakeries in Manhattan before in Dina’s Guide to NYC Italian Bakeries.  My favorite bakeries are old school and traditional German, Jewish and Italian ones.  There is only one German bakery and only one Jewish bakery left in Manhattan.  (As far as I know–please tell me if there are more.  There are other places to get German and Jewish baked goods, ex. Zabar’s, but not other old school bakeries.  East Broadway Kosher on Grand near Kossar’s closed, but I’m not sure if it reopened?  Last time I was there, it was closed.)  In this list I’m including bakeries that have sweet bakery items.  Following that is a list of specialty old world bakeries that make bread, knishes, bialys etc.  Many of these places are cash only, so go prepared.

Moishe’sLower East Side, Grand Street at East Broadway, and East Village, 2nd Avenue at 7th Street, Moishe’s is my favorite bakery in the city–the quintessential bakery.  I am addicted to Moishe’s.  The best hamentaschen, the best black and white cookies, the best rainbow cookies.  I’ve never had anything here that wasn’t delicious.  It’s no frills with graffiti on the window, but who cares?  I’m here for the cookies, not the decor.  They do have a new sign out front, but I’m keeping this photo of the old one.  I’ve sung the praises of Moishe’s many times. 

Poseidon Bakery

PoseidonHell’s Kitchen, 9th Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets, At 90 years old, Poseidon is still family owned and the only Greek bakery in Manhattan, and one of the last businesses in what used to be a Greek neighborhood.  Here, you can get delicious Greek goodies like baklava and cookies.  The handmade phyllo dough strudels are a must-get.  I’ve written about Poseidon before.

Glaser's

Glaser’s Bake ShopYorkville, Upper East Side, 1st Avenue at 87th Street, Family-owned since 1902, Glaser’s is the only German bakery in Manhattan in what used to be a German neighborhood.  It still turns out amazing crumb cake, jelly doughnuts and danishes.  However, it also makes American favorites like brownies too.  This is an old school bakery at its best.  Check out the beautiful wood interior and tile floor.  I’ve written about Glaser’s before.

2012-07-23_13-31-08_136

La DeliceKips Bay, 3rd Avenue at 27th Street, La Delice is an old school bakery with a variety of classic baked goods and beautiful cakes.  They have many colorful macarons.

Andre’s HungarianMidtown East, 1st Avenue at 57th Street and Upper East Side, 2nd Avenue at 85th Street, Andre’s is the place to go for traditional, handmade strudel and other Hungarian pastries and gorgeous cakes.

Ferrara2

FerraraLittle Italy, Grand Street at Mulberry,  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

Ferrara’s pastries

La Bella FerraraLittle Italy, Mulberry Street at Canal, is an old school bakery.  Walk in here and the waft of fresh-baked cookies fills the air.  Many are displayed in the usual bakery case but there’s also a table of cookies that reminds me of the dessert table at a family party.

Veniero's pastry

Veniero’sEast Village, East 11th Street at 1st Avenue, Veniero’s claims to be America’s oldest pastry shop, opening in 1894.  Veniero’s is also owned by Bruce Springsteen’s cousin.  It has a beautiful display of traditional Italian pastries as well as a cafe.

2013-06-21_20-53-50_56

Pasticceria RoccoWest Village, Bleecker Street near Carmine, is the last man standing in this old Italian neighborhood.  (Rocco Generoso apprenticed with the owner of a prior bakery before purchasing it and renaming it in 1974.  Now, Rocco Jr. is at the helm.)  My family came from this area, lived on Carmine Street and went to Our Lady of Pompeii Church across the street.   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.)

William Greenberg DessertsUpper East Side, Madison Avenue at 82nd Street, Rugelach, black and whites, hamentaschen, rainbow cookies and Linzers…need I say more?  Oh yeah, how about black and whites in custom colors?

2013-10-29_12-58-16_331

Orwasher’s, Upper East Side, 78th Street at 2nd Avenue, Orwasher’s opened in 1916 and was known for its Eastern European-style bread.  The bakery got a new owner in 2007 who added other European artisanal breads, and there are still the same wonderful pastries.  Did I mention fill-to-order jelly doughnuts and the sweetest staff in NYC?

Fay Davarious locations, While I’m not an expert in Chinese baked goods, I’ve been to many bakeries in Chinatown.  Fay Da is my favorite with consistently fresh and tasty pastries.

Specialty Bakeries

Russ & DaughtersLower East Side, Houston Street at Orchard Street, Celebrating 100 years this year, Russ & Daughters is a classic NYC institution.  It is in this category because it specializes in smoked fish and also has baked goods like babka, rugelach and macaroons.  But it also serves a bit of feminist history.  As the original owner had no sons, he left his shop to his daughters, hence the name.

Kossar’sLower East Side, Grand Street at Essex Street, Kossar’s specializes in bialys.

Yonah SchimmelLower East Side, Houston Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, Yonah Schimmel has specialized in knishes for over 100 years.

Parisi BakeryLittle Italy, two locations at Elizabeth and Mott Streets,  Family-owned for over 100 years, Parisi Bakery specializes in bread and deli sandwiches.

 

–Dina Di Maio

Italian Easter Rice Pie

This year for Easter, I made an Italian Easter rice pie.  I’ve written before about the Italian Easter pies, the pizza chiena, or pizza rustica, and the pastiera, or pizza grano.  This is a variation of the pizza grano.  The pizza grano is a Neapolitan wheat pie served at Easter.  My family traditionally made this pie at Easter time.  Part of my dad’s family is from the area near Benevento, Italy, and there they make a variation with rice instead of wheat.  So he grew up with both the wheat and rice pies at Easter.

I wanted to be ambitious this Easter/Lent and make a lot more, but I haven’t had the time.  I had wanted to make hot cross buns, but instead just got some yummy ones from a bakery.  I’m also going to make a pizza chiena.  My grandma has a variation of the pizza chiena that is vegetarian, using mashed potatoes.  I don’t think I will be making that one this year though, as I don’t have time.  Now, I do have a homemade crust recipe, but I can’t publish it or else I may get the malocchio from my aunt.

IMG_1797

Italian Easter Rice Pie

1 1/2 cups whole milk or 1 cup skim/1/2% milk and 1/2 cup light cream/half and half

1/2 cup rice

5 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 pound ricotta (I use Calabro brand.)

1 tablespoon orange blossom water  (You can find this at any Italian specialty shop like Di Palo’s or order it online.)

1 teaspoon vanilla

8 oz. candied citron  (You can find this at any Italian specialty shop like Di Palo’s or order it online.)

1 deep dish frozen pie crust

1 regular frozen pie crust

Cook rice according to package directions (with water).  Add milk and cook on low until milk is absorbed.  Cool.  Beat eggs and beat in sugar.  Add ricotta, orange blossom water, vanilla and citron and stir.  Put into deep dish pie crust and top with top crust.  (I used a regular pie crust for the top and cut strips with a pastry cutter.)  Bake at 350 for 1 hour.  Cool and serve.

IMG_1812

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.

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. 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

img_3395

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.  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.)

2013-06-21_20-53-50_56

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.

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.  Just walk in to Ferrara and look at the glass case.

2012-04-28_12-22-50_447

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Villabate Alba in Bensonhurst used to be two separate bakeries, Villabate and Alba.  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.

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

Neighborhood Watch: Arthur Avenue in the Bronx

2013-07-12_14-00-53_343

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.

2013-07-12_13-39-25_839

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.

2013-07-12_14-11-11_90

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

2013-07-12_12-20-57_24

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

2013-07-12_12-25-38_856
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.

2013-07-12_12-23-50_604
DeLillo Pastry has outdoor seating and a mighty fine cannoli with creamy ricotta filling.

2013-07-12_12-30-39_73
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.
2013-07-12_12-37-54_57
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.

2013-07-12_12-41-14_827

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

2013-07-12_12-43-27_501

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.

2013-07-12_12-47-40_13

Look at that bread.

2013-07-12_12-47-30_977

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

2013-07-12_12-48-28_243

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

2013-07-12_12-52-52_867

I got some yummy cookies for the road.

2013-07-12_16-00-37_996

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.

2013-07-12_12-53-56_194

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

2013-07-12_12-54-55_40

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.

2013-07-12_12-55-01_94

Brains, anyone?

2013-07-12_12-55-04_518

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

2013-07-12_13-06-38_654

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

2013-07-12_13-11-09_418

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.)

2013-07-12_13-44-47_215

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

2013-07-12_13-24-58_122

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.