Tag Archives: New York

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.

Top 10 Foods to Get at NYC’s San Gennaro Festival

This list of top 10 foods to get at NYC’s San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy is the definitive guide to the traditional foods eaten by Italian Americans.

1. If you try nothing else at the San Gennaro festival, you have to try cannoli.

La Bella Ferrara cannoli

Where to get cannoli:  the legendary Ferrara on Grand Street and Mulberry, La Bella Ferrara on Mulberry, Caffe Palermo on Mulberry, Caffe Roma corner of Mulberry and Broome.

2. Sausage and peppers sandwiches–When Italians go to festivals, this is what they get.

Where to get sausage and peppers–at a stand.

3.  Zeppole are fried dough balls in powdered sugar–a staple of Italian festivals.

Where to get zeppole–at a stand.

4.  Clams

Where to get clams–at a stand, Umberto’s Clam House on Mulberry.

5.  Pizza/calzones

Where to get pizza/calzones–Sal’s on Broome Street (the fried calzone is to die for!), the first pizzeria in America–Lombardi’s on Spring Street.

6.  Torrone–Italian nutty nougat confection

Where to get torrone–at a stand or at Ferrara on Grand.

7.  Italian cookies

Where to get Italian cookies–the legendary Ferrara on Grand, La Bella Ferrara on Mulberry, at a stand.

8.  Gelato

Where to get gelato–Ferrara on Grand, Caffe Roma on Broome, Mo on Mulberry.

9.  Pasta

Where to get pasta–Puglia on Hester, Vincent’s on Hester/Mott, Benito One on Mulberry.

10. Italian pastries

Where to get Italian pastries–the legendary Ferrara on Grand Street and Mulberry, La Bella Ferrara on Mulberry, Caffe Palermo on Mulberry, Caffe Roma corner of Mulberry and Broome.

–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.***

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.

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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

San Gennaro Festival 2012

The San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy kicked off this past week.

Mulberry Street

This is the 86th year of the feast that celebrates the patron saint of Naples.  September 19 is the feast day of San Gennaro, and there will be a Mass at Most Precious Blood church followed by a procession down Mulberry Street.

Most Precious Blood church

Foods that are traditional at Italian festivals include fried dough called zeppole, served with powdered sugar.  My grandma would make zeppole on St. Joseph’s Day.

Other Italian festival favorites include sausage and pepper sandwiches, clams, and fried calamari:

sausage and peppers

shucking clams

There are a lot of other Italian foods available at the festival, including Italian cookies and pastries, gelato, and pizza as well as fair foods like fried Oreos and funnel cakes.

Italian cookies

St. Joseph’s Day sfinge and sfogliatelle

fresh-cut torrone

struffoli (a Christmas treat)