Category Archives: Local

Before You Check Out at the Grocery Store, Check Out Your Grocery Store

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

–Make a list of all the grocery stores/supermarkets in your city/county/area. Remember to include smaller, privately and family-owned markets, including markets with international foods like Italian, Asian, Mediterranean, etc. You can use a map feature online to help find the grocery stores.

Image by Firmbee from Pixabay 

–Look up the website of each grocery store in a search engine.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

–On each store’s website, read its “About Us” or “Company History” page. This is where you’ll find out more about the store, such as who owns it and what its core values are.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

–Try to find the answer to these questions:

–Is it locally owned by someone in your community?

–If family-owned, is the family of the millionaire/billionaire class or middle class and are they local?

–Is it employee-owned?

–Is it a privately held company or publicly traded on NASDAQ or NYSE?

–Is it part of a multinational corporation? If so, which one? Do their corporate values align with yours?

–Does it donate money to local causes that you personally believe in?

–Does it carry locally made products from local ingredients?

–Is it utilizing AI? How?

–What forms of payment does it accept?

–How is it dealing with the current situation? Are you comfortable with its policies?

–Shop at the store that aligns with your values. For example, I don’t shop anywhere that doesn’t accept cash.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 

It’s an interesting exercise, and you may find surprises. For example, in my area, I discovered that a beloved local grocery store had been bought by a multinational from a European country, and I’m sure many people shop there unknowingly because of brand recognition. That’s why I think it’s important to reflect on our purchases and who we give our money to because in the end, that is where our vote really counts.

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

How to Shop Local for the Holiday/Christmas Season

“Shop Local” is an ubiquitous phrase appearing on social media, in magazines and newspapers, and on websites. But what does it mean? I recently went to a locally owned store, which I was happy to support, but when I turned all the items over in my hand, I noticed most were stamped “Made in China.” That’s when I got to wondering, what is local?

 Stock photo by Tim Mossholder from Unsplash

Local has two meanings to me. The first, a locally owned business. This means “a business in your local area owned by a person, partners, or family.” But what does that mean? What kind of goods does this store sell? Are they locally produced? Who benefits from the sale of the items at this store? Where do the items come from? Are they locally produced with local materials or ingredients?

The second meaning of local to me, means “from the local area.” That means, for example, apples from New York state, sweet potatoes from North Carolina, cranberries from Maine.

Stock photo by Henk van der Steege from Unsplash

So for me, I have defined what local means and how I am going to shop local for the holiday season. This is how.

 

For the holiday table:

–Buying produce from local farmers’ markets or grocery stores that sell local produce that is in season now. Serving dishes made from local, in-season ingredients. Examples, baked sweet potatoes or apple cider.

Stock photo by sheri silver on Unsplash

 

For decorating:

–Decorating with some locally made or grown items, such as pumpkins from a local pumpkin patch or a handmade holiday ornament from a local artisan, extra points if it is made from a locally sourced material. Local artisans can be found at holiday fairs (many of which are doing virtual versions this year) or at shops that specialize in or carry local products.

Stock photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

 

For gift giving:

–Buying from local artisans to support the local economy BUT also paying attention to the materials used in the local products. If it is locally sourced, all the better.

–Producing a homemade gift from your own hobby, skill, or craft. Trying to use local ingredients or materials.

Stock photo by Bernadette Wurzinger from Pixabay

–Shipping food gifts from local companies that sell a product made from some local ingredients. This requires a little more work on my end, such as ignoring the glossy catalogs that come in the mail with their overpriced gift baskets, and opting for a local version that I seek out through a search on a search engine or through local word-of-mouth.

–Buying books that are self-published or independently published or published by a small press. It’s not enough to buy at an independent book seller or local bookstore. Local bookstores may fit into category one, “a business in your local area owned by a person, partners, or family,” but they usually contain books published through the BIG FIVE New York City publishers, whose books are often printed in China. Unfortunately, in my experience and as voiced by others, such as the Latinx community earlier this year, big publishing is elitist and often publishes material that reinforces an established narrative. This is why it is so important to buy self-published/independently/small press published books. By doing so, you are actively protecting freedom of speech and freedom of the press. How do you do this? Reach out to local writers’ groups whose members often have published books. Search for books and topics you enjoy through social media accounts. Search on Amazon for self-published books—these often don’t appear on the first search pages, so keep going! If you scroll down a book’s page on Amazon, you can read more information about the book, such as who the publisher is. Many self-published books are printed in the USA. For example, my books are printed in a state neighboring my own!

 

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

Authentic Italian

Dina’s Favorite Pizza in the Triangle

Dina’s Favorite Pizza in the Triangle

by Dina Di Maio

Photo by Alan Hardman on Unsplash

I’m a harsh judge of pizza. For a few good reasons. My parents owned a pizzeria. People in my family have owned pizzerias in the U.S. as early as the 1930s.  Both sides of my family are from Naples. And I wrote a book with a chapter on the history of pizza, Authentic Italian.

Authentic Italian

I’m qualified to write about pizza, and since I’ve lived in the Triangle off and on since 1993, I’m qualified to write about pizza in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.

Image by Mark Thomas from Pixabay

Pizza should be judged on 3 criteria, and 3 criteria only: 1. Crust 2. Sauce 3. Cheese

Crust is the most important component and an especially difficult one to master. If you cannot make a decent dough, you shouldn’t be making pizza. (The best crust I ever had was at Sally’s Apizza in New Haven.)

Photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash

Having said that, I’ve tried pizza at many of the area’s pizzerias, although not all, because despite the fact that pizza is so ingrained in my blood and heritage, it’s actually not one of my personally favorite foods. However, I am well-schooled in its craft and know a good one from a bad one.

One can find New York, Neapolitan, Chicago style and Turkish pide in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and other areas of the Triangle. Unfortunately, most I have had were mediocre.

Oakwood Pizza Box

I’ve been pizza-wowed only once in Raleigh. And that was at Oakwood Pizza Box, which I think is an example of good crust, sauce and cheese, and the best example of pizza to be found in the Triangle. Not a surprise from the owners of the former Bella Mia in Cary, a since-closed pizzeria that was also one of my favorites in the Triangle. The owner, Anthony Guerra, is an Italian American from New York with ancestry from Basilicata, a region of Southern Italy.

Have I had an OK pie elsewhere? Yes. I can’t say I’m an expert on Chicago style, although I’ve had a really good one in Chicago, but if I’m in the mood for it or the occasion arises, I go to Nancy’s in North Raleigh, a local franchise of the pizzeria chain created by Italian immigrants who patterned the pizza after a traditional Easter pie.

Nancy’s Pizzeria

I had a decent pie at Anna’s in Apex (while I like their regular pie, I wasn’t a fan of their grandma pizza). In Durham, Pizzeria Toro and Pie Pushers were OK, the latter especially if you like a cheesier pie.

Pizzeria Toro

Pie Pushers

Now and again, I enjoy an eggplant pizza from Frank’s Pizza, a classic old-fashioned pizza parlor. If I’m reminiscing for the simpler times of Raleigh, I’ll go to Mellow Mushroom or Lilly’s. Salvio’s is my go-to for New York-style. On the rare occasion I’m in Rolesville, I’ve enjoyed Pie-Zano’s, a pizzeria owned by Italians from New Jersey. If I want Turkish pide, I go to Istanbul or Bosphorus in Cary.

pide from Istanbul Restaurant

I like the chain Piola for the Brazilian catupiry cheese, created by an Italian immigrant to the country.

Pizza from Piola with catupiry cheese

All of these have something interesting to offer, even though some are chains or part of restaurant groups or not owned by Italians or Italian Americans. There aren’t older Italian-American pizzerias in North Carolina because Italians didn’t immigrate to the state due to its painful history toward Italian immigrants the first half of the last century.*

Generally, I don’t want a pizzeria that supports shareholders/investors or people looking to capitalize on pizza’s popularity, although sometimes it’s unavoidable, say if you’re out with a group and everyone decides to go to one of those places. I feel that if a restaurant group or chain wants to capitalize on an Italian and Italian-American food, it should give something back to the Italian-American community. Acknowledge the history of Italian Americans. Maybe donate to a scholarship fund for local Italian Americans. Or donate to an Italian-American organization, museum, or charity somewhere in the United States to in some way honor the heritage from which you are borrowing.

Photo by Nicolas Hoizey on Unsplash

What do I want in a pizza? Is it too much to ask for that Di Fara’s Pizza pride, the heritage, the craftsmanship? Domenico De Marco became a legend because of his obsessive devotion to pizza. That, and the fact that he makes one of the best dang pies around. One can’t expect that from every pizzeria, but what stands out to me is a pizza that stays true to my heritage and that supports a local family business and the cultural history of pizza. Oh, yeah, it has to taste good too.

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

*(There is a town named Valdese that was settled by Protestant Northern Italians, but their foodways are different from Southern Italians, who originated pizza as we know it.)

Please check to make sure these shops are open.

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.

7 Italian American-Owned Food Businesses in the Carolinas

Here is a list of some of my favorite local food products and food trucks in North Carolina and South Carolina owned by Italian Americans.

Nellino’s Sauce Co.–A pasta sauce company started in Raleigh, North Carolina, by Italian-American Neal McTighe based on his mother’s and great-grandmother’s recipes for classic sauces like marinara or tomato and basil made with good ingredients.

 

Melina’s Fresh Pasta–Italian-American owner Carmella makes classic fresh pastas like spaghetti and linguine as well as many creative ravioli like roasted red pepper & feta or goat cheese & honey. There’s even the pimento cheese ravioli. She also teaches pasta making classes in Durham, North Carolina.

 

 

Barone Meatball Company–Serving up classic Italian meatballs as well as fun creations like buffalo chicken meatballs and vegetarian ricotta balls. Owned by Italian-American Stephen Dewey, based in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina.

 

 

Oak City Amaretto–An Italian-American amaretto made by Italian-American Anthony Scalabrino from a recipe inspired by his grandmother’s homemade amaretto, made in Raleigh, North Carolina.

 

Benny T’s Vesta–The first dry hot sauce available in five grades of heat made from a variety of fresh chile peppers grown in North Carolina, created by Italian-American chile enthusiast Ben Tuorto.

 

Charleston Bloody Mary Mix–A bloody Mary mix made by Italian-American Ryan Eleuteri that has all good ingredients and no horseradish–its distinctive flavor comes from a habanero mash, made in Charleston, South Carolina, found throughout the East Coast and Midwest.

 

Mr. A’s Beignets–A food truck serving delicious beignets and coffee with chicory New Orleans style in Apex, North Carolina, owned by Italian-American Arlton Cangelosi.

 

All photos in this article were used with permission of their respective owners.

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

***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.***

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.***

Bagliani’s Italian Market in Hammonton, New Jersey

Bagliani’s Italian Market is a third-generation family-owned Italian market in Hammonton, New Jersey, a city in a farming community with an Italian-American population of 45%.  They have everything an Italian could want.

Italian bread

good-quality ricotta

the hard-to-find basket cheese

real buttermilk! (OK, maybe the average Italian cook doesn’t need this one, but I sure do!)

a huge deli department

pasta

lots of cheeses and even canned Jersey tomatoes!  And, of course, plenty of Brioschi for after the meal!

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

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.

moishes

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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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

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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.  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.

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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.  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

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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

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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.