Category Archives: Pizza

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

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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.

Little Italy Isn’t Dead: Sal’s Little Italy

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.

Sal’s Little Italy

Sal’s Pizza opened in Little Italy in 1977. In 1982, Neapolitan immigrants Carmela and Antonio Triolo bought it and the family still owns it today. The star here is the fried calzone–how calzones should be made.

And this is one of the best pizzas in the city. Sal’s also has a full menu of appetizers, pastas, sandwiches and entrees, including specialties like Italian sausage and broccoli rabe.

Little Italy Isn’t Dead: Lombardi’s

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.

Lombardi’s

Lombardi’s on Spring Street is the oldest pizzeria in the United States, founded in 1905 by immigrant Gennaro Lombardi from Naples, Italy. The pizza is baked in a coal-fired oven just as it was back in the day. And it is one of the best pies in New York City and the country. It’s the must-stop for any pizza aficionado.

Dolce & Clemente’s Italian Market in Robbinsville, NJ

Owner Joe Clemente hails from Brooklyn where his family had successful grocery businesses. In 2008, he opened Dolce & Clemente in Robbinsville, New Jersey.  If you visit, it is in the same shopping center as De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies, so you can shop before or after your pizza.  They have a deli counter, bakery and prepared meal sections.

So much Italian bread

Imported cheeses

Giant cannoli

Plenty of taralli and even gluten-free pasta

Pizza With Cauliflower Crust

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I have been wanting to make pizza with cauliflower crust for a long time now. I had a package of frozen cauliflower, so I decided to try it. Most recipes I saw called for fresh cauliflower, but I figured I’d try anyway. I used this cauliflower crust pizza recipe on Tasty Kitchen as a guide.  So I used frozen cauliflower and thawed it.  When it was thawed, I followed the directions here to pulse it in a food processor and microwave it.  I used paper towels to get the water out.  Then I added about half the amount of parmesan and mozzarella.  I also added oregano and parsley but nothing else because I didn’t want garlic or pepper in mine.  I forgot to add the egg, but it was OK.  The cauliflower became like a dough ball and I patted it down to a circle on a baking sheet. I baked 8 minutes and then added pizza sauce, mozzarella and turkey pepperoni and baked 5 more minutes.  I probably could’ve left it in to get a bit more crispy.  I really liked this.  It was flavorful.  I mean, it’s not pizza, so don’t eat expecting pizza.  You can still taste cauliflower a little bit, so if you don’t like cauliflower, you may want to disguise it more with the garlic and pepper.

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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.