Tag Archives: cannoli

The New Italy in New York: Pisillo Italian Panini

A friend told me about Pisillo Italian Panini and I’m glad he did. Not only are the sandwiches delicious, but the owner comes from the town near my grandfather’s in Italy, Sant’Agata de’ Goti.  Sant’Agata de’ Goti is a prototypical Medieval Italian city located in the province of Benevento in the Campania region of Italy near Naples. A truly delightful place to visit and the hometown of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s grandfather.

Pisillo is a small shop in Manhattan’s Financial District that does a brisk lunch business.  Sometimes the line is out the door, but luckily, there are menus tacked up everywhere so you can read the long list of sandwiches before you get to the counter.

There is a variety of bread for your sandwich, including focaccia, ciabatta and sfilatino, a long, crunchier bread that would be familiar to Italian Americans but maybe not so to others.

I ordered the Sant’Agata with mortadella, fresh mozzarella, tomato and arugula on sfilatino.  The sandwich is very large and was very tasty.

Pisillo’s is so popular that it opened a coffee shop next door. The coffee shop has some seating as well that you are welcome to if there are no seats at the sandwich shop. When I visited, the coffee shop had a minimal amount of pastries.  Some cannoli, sfogliatelle and cookies. I opted for the pretty cannoli.

While it was pretty, I wasn’t sure about the filling. It was different from what I’m used to with ricotta cream. So I wasn’t able to discern what it was.  Maybe ricotta with confectioners’ sugar? Not sure.

I wouldn’t say the panini shop or the coffee shop are bringing anything new to New York that the Italian immigrants of old didn’t introduce before, but both  are a nice addition to an area lacking in good food choices and Italian choices.

 

The New Italy in New York: Unico Taste of Sicily

New York is continually hosting new immigrants. Due to high unemployment and negative economic forces in Italy, many Italians are seeking work and opportunity elsewhere, much like their cousins did 100 years ago. These new immigrants/expats are moving to other parts of Europe and the United States, particularly New York. Some are opening food-related businesses in areas that used to be predominantly Italian, like Little Italy, the West Village or Soho.

Unico looks to be one such business. A café in Soho across from the predominantly Italian Roman Catholic church of St. Anthony of Padua, Unico specializes in Sicilian cuisine. It is a small, hole-in-the-wall spot, but it serves contemporary Italian breakfast items like coffee and pastries, as well as snack foods like arancini (rice balls) and sandwiches to traditional Sicilian desserts like cassata and cannoli. Some of it could be classified as Sicilian street food like the panelle (chick pea fritter) sandwich and the arancini with various fillings like eggplant or mushroom and fontina.

On my visit, a hot day, I got some gelato, lemon and cassata. Both were yummy. I was able to try a sample of cannoli, unfortunately it had been sitting out in the sun, so it’s not the best example. The food looks very good here, and I’d like to go back and try something more substantial besides gelato.

In general, I wouldn’t say Unico (which means “unique” in Italian) is unique because Italian and Sicilian-style cafes have been in the city for over 100 years. But I would say the cornetti, pastries with sweet or savory fillings, are the unique item that you wouldn’t find elsewhere, especially the savory variety. “Cornetto” or plural “cornetti” is the Italian word for croissant. Usually, in the United States, these are served plain or as a sandwich, not with fillings. So that is something unique to try.

 

San Gennaro Festival 2016

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New Yorkers are a resilient bunch with much pride in their city.  The bombing in Chelsea on September 17 would not deter them from carrying on.  The bombing occurred only two days into the ten-day San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy, but it didn’t keep the crowds from coming.  That’s good because it’s an important year for the festival–its 90th anniversary.

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September 19 is the feast day of San Gennaro and that is the day organizers celebrated with a mass and procession from the doors of the Most Precious Blood Church on Baxter Street around Canal Street and up through Mulberry Street.

Most Precious Blood Church

Most Precious Blood Church

This year’s grand marshal was Joe Causi.  A Bronx Tale‘s Chazz Palminteri also made an appearance at the festival.  (Tony Danza was the grand marshal of the parade last year, but this year,  I had my second run-in with the actor.  I was shopping in Alleva Dairy, the country’s oldest Italian cheese store, when a man said, “Excuse me, ma’am,” and brushed past me.  It was Tony.  Years ago, I ran into him on Bleecker Street and I asked for a photo to which he rudely said no.)

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Before Mass, I pinned a dollar on the statue of San Gennaro and got a pamphlet about him as well as a pin and prayer card.  Inside the church, there is a large presepio (Nativity scene) from Naples on display.

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Street vendors sell everything from American food to fair festival food like roasted corn,

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to pizza and cannoli

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to Italian tchotchkes

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to traditional Italian foods like these Italian cookies, taralli, mostaccioli and biscotti.

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I ate at Sal’s Pizza on Broome near Mulberry for pizza, sausage and broccoli rape.  At Sal’s, you get a side order of pasta with your entree, the traditional way.

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For dessert, some cassata and coffee at Caffe Palermo.

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Dina’s Guide to NYC Italian Bakeries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manhattan

East Village

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

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

West Village

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

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

Noho

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

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

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

treats from La Bella Ferrara

treats from La Bella Ferrara

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

cassata from Caffe Palermo

cassata from Caffe Palermo

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

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

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

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

Hell’s Kitchen

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

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

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

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

Brooklyn

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

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

Hoboken

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

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

Jersey City

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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.  My  family has been going here for ages.  Their Italian rum cake is the best.  Their cannoli are the best.  You can’t go wrong here.  They even have American pastries.  There’s nothing like their crumb cake fresh in the morning.  If you come during Lent, you have to try a hot cross bun.  I can’t sing the praises of Monteleone’s enough.

Sfinge (and crumb cake) from Monteleone's

Sfinge and crumb cake from Monteleone’s

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

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

5 Pumpkin Recipes for Fall

There was a little crispness in the air yesterday, so I think fall is here.  One of my favorite fall flavors–even more so than apple–is pumpkin.
1.  Pumpkin pie pops from The View from Great Island

photo used with permission of The View from Great Island

photo used with permission of The View from Great Island

2.  Pumpkin pizzelle cannoli from Fake Ginger

photo used with permission of Fake Ginger

photo used with permission of Fake Ginger

3. Pumpkin pie cupcakes from Une-deux senses

photo used with permission of Une-deux senses

photo used with permission of Une-deux senses

4. Skinny pumpkin frappuccino from Sally’s Baking Addiction

photo used with permission of Sally's Baking Addiction

photo used with permission of Sally’s Baking Addiction

5. Pumpkin toffee gooey bars from Crazy for Crust

photo used with permission of Crazy for Crust

photo used with permission of Crazy for Crust

Two for Tuesday: San Gennaro Cannoli

Last year, I did a Two for Tuesday on San Gennaro cannoli and compared the cannoli from Ferrara and La Ferrara.  This year, I’m featuring cannoli from Caffe Palermo on Mulberry Street and Caffe Roma on Broome Street.  Caffe Palermo has a sign advertising the best cannoli, and it is also the sponsor of the cannoli man.

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I thought the cannoli cream and shell were good and had a hint of cinnamon.

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Caffe Roma’s cannoli cream was a little less ricotta-y than Caffe Palermo’s and the shell was a bit more cinnamon-y.

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My favorite cannoli in Little Italy would probably be a combination of Ferrara’s and La Ferrara’s.

OK, I know it’s two for Tuesday, but I’m going to throw in the frozen cannoli.  I had wanted to try this last year.  It’s a cannoli shell filled with soft serve vanilla, chocolate or swirl ice cream.  I got vanilla.  The soft serve isn’t the best quality, so I would opt for a real cannoli over this.

San Gennaro Festival 2013

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This past Thursday, the San Gennaro Festival kicked off in Little Italy for the 87th year.  The feast is held in honor of the patron saint of Naples, San Gennaro.  Although it is a religious holiday, it is enjoyed by all for its food, fun and celebration of Italian American culture.

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San Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples, and each year on three dates, including September 19, his blood miraculously liquefies.  On September 19, the Most Precious Blood Church on Baxter Street holds Mass and the religious procession begins at the church and goes down Mulberry Street with traditional music played by a marching band.

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If you are Roman Catholic or interested in the meaning behind the festival, you may want to check out the shrine to San Gennaro at the church.

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The church also has other lovely statues and a beautiful grotto as well.

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Outside the church on Mulberry Street, you can pin a dollar bill to the statue of San Gennaro as well as purchase religious articles.

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The San Gennaro Festival has much for the family to enjoy, including games, kiddie rides, food, musical entertainment, celebrities and a guy in a cannoli suit.

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Caffe Palermo advertises the best cannoli, and it’s good.

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This year’s grand marshals were former New York governor Mario Cuomo and his wife, Matilda, and

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a special appearance by honored guest, wrestler Bruno Sammartino.

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The festival crowds the streets of Little Italy, and of course, everyone goes for the food.  There’s traditional fair food, as well as traditional Italian food like sausage and peppers,

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zeppole, clams, cannoli, gelato and ices, cookies, torrone, calzones, pizza and more.

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This year, knockoff “cronuts,” or croissant doughnuts made an appearance.  I got a cannoli-flavored one.

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It was good–the cannoli cream was really good.  It tasted like a cannoli cream-filled cinnamon doughnut.

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At street fairs, I always get zeppole.  They were yummy.

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This year, I also got Irish cream gelato at Caffe Roma.  This was particularly yummy.  The bits of chocolate were soft.  I hate when chocolate chunks in ice cream are hard, so I loved this.

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And if you’re looking for a fried calzone, try Gina’s, the stand that claims to be the only fried calzone at the festival.  Trust me, you’ve never had a calzone until you’ve had a fried one.  That’s how my grandma always made them.

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Or try the fried calzones at Little Italy’s restaurant Sal’s on Broome Street.

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And the pizza there is perfect New York-style.

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I also got pizza at the Italian Food Center booth and it was delicious–creamy mozzarella, nice crust and tasty sauce.

delicious pizza with creamy mozzarella from Italian Food Center on Mulberry Street