My Old Stomping Grounds – New York and New Jersey

New York

I got spotted like a celebrity last Sunday as I stepped out of a shop in New York City’s Little Italy. Good thing I was behaving.

“Hey, you Gianni from the Web?” she asked.  The woman was born in Naples and has lived in the neighborhood for two decades. According to a recent article in the NY Times the 2010 Census reports that there are no Italians living in Little Italy. I guess she wasn’t home when they rang her bell.

Alleva Latteria Little Italy NYC

It’s a shame though. Little Italy used to be the Italian community. Now all that is visible is a three-block stage set on Mulberry Street loaded with touristy Italian restaurants. But actually, if you look carefully, you’ll find that some of the old-time places are still there.

Alleva have been making fresh mozzarella, ricotta, and other Italian goodies for over a hundred years.

The pasticceria Ferrara Bakery & Cafe makes great pastries, gelato and espresso. If you can’t get in there, try Caffe Roma a block north on Mulberry.

Buon Italia salumeria

I love Eataly, the Bastianich/Batali emporium of Italian food. It’s crowded and pricey, though. A friend told me to check out a similar store in Chelsea Market. Buon Italia has a much smaller selection of items but their prices are much better. I was able to get some candied citron and lemon peels. (I’ll need those when I make the pastiera napoletana a sweet ricotta torta that is part of my Easter tradition.)

Maybe it’s inevitable that demographics and neighborhoods change but what happened in New York’s Little Italy makes me sad. We’re really fortunate that North Beach is such a vibrant Italian neighborhood.

New Jersey

A bunch of my Jersey and NYC friends gathered in Clifton, NJ on Saturday. When we arrived we talked about what we would eat. Susan and I (we usually do the cooking) thought we’d just make some pasta with meatballs and sausage in red gravy. But no, who wanted porchetta, who wanted roasted peppers, cipollini agrodolce, roasted asparagus, sauteed escarole. So all of that stuff plus antipasti was added to the fresh pappardelle pasta for our meal. I think we ate for about six hours.

Choosing peppers to roast @ Corrado's Family Market

Northern Jersey still has a large Italian-American population. There are lots of bakeries and markets in the North Ward of Newark and in surrounding suburbs.

Whether with family or friends we always shop at Corrado’s in Clifton. They have a great selection of everything I need, and great prices too.

Home

I enjoyed my time in Manhattan and New Jersey, but I’m happy to be back in North Beach. Sorrow over my East Coast heritage has re-energized me to be sure you know about all of the authentic Italian gems that you can still enjoy here in our little Village.

14 Replies to “My Old Stomping Grounds – New York and New Jersey”

  1. gianni, my grandmother was born on spring street in1890. her father came over from naples after the
    civil war, early for italians. later on he moved the family to paterson, n.j. where they were one of the first
    italian families there. i miss her cooking especially her sunday gravy, raison and pignoli meatballs,
    ricotta raviolis from scratch and on and on. my sister and i miss the italian rum birthday cakes
    from the paterson pastry shop. we have searched everywhere to dublicate them without any success.
    i wish nana was alive to watch your videos, she would enjoy them and you so much.
    regards from costa rica, bob

    1. My brother and I also miss the italian rum birthday cakes from the paterson pastry shop. We have searched everywhere to find something like them. We’ve come close. Salamander does a good job. But did you ever find a recipe for them? They were special. We would like the recipe if possible.

      1. Ciao Susan. Yes, I make the Italian rum cake often for birthday celebrations. The last one I made was for a friend’s birthday celebration in Clifton. I’ll post my recipe the next time I make a rum cake as a special birthday gift.
        –Gianni

        1. Ciao, Gianni! Love all the info! It’s nice to see someone shares the same love of Italian specialties that I do. My family also loves Italian rum cake, but I was wondering if you could shed some insight on a cake we’ve been searching for. After Ferrara’s bakery closed its doors on Bloomfield Ave. in Newark we were never able to find a cake to replace my brother’s birthday cake. Every year my mother , or grandmother would get, I think it was called the black and white cake. It was a vanilla and chocolate layer cake finished with a pudding-like chocolate frosting and fill. The sides were decorated with cake crumbs and it was topped off with rosetts. Do you, or anyone you know recognize this description? If so, do you know a bakery that sells something close to this or do you have a recipe? We are at a loss– nothing even holds a candle to the original. Any help would be appreciated. It would make my brother’s birthday wish come true:-)

          Optimistically,
          Deanna

          1. Deanna, was searching web about Black and White cake from Ferrara and saw your post. I lived on 15th St in Bloomfield and we always went to Ferrara and LOVED that cake. I remember though that it had crushed walnuts on the side. Don’t remember the cake crumbs. I recently found it at Sorrento’s Baker in East Hanover. $20, but worth it. They had the cake crums on the sides. Delicious. I also found out that Shop Rite in Parsippany bakes it too and that one of the bakers at Ferrara after they closed went to work at that Shop Rite and left the recipe when he retired. Hope this was helpful. I can relate because I craved that cake for years!!!

  2. John: You mention the North Ward in Newark. Is this the First Ward where Dad had his butcher shop on 6th Avenue and Aunt Florence, the first female butcher in Newark, had her store on 7th Avenue? Have you ever gone down to that area when you travel to NJ? I know that area was devestated by the riots in the late 1900’s and people left, moving to the suburbs.

    1. Hi Spike. Hope all’s well brother.

      The North Ward of Newark is the area around where we grew up, Columbus Hospital, St. Francis Xavier Church, Calandra’s Bakery on First Avenue, Dickey Dee’s Italian Hot Dogs, Ferrara Pastries, and Katherine’s Bakery on Bloomfield Avenue, Celetano’s salumeria on Roseville Avenue.

      The First Ward where Dad and Aunt Flo had their butcher shops is down near the Sacred Heart Cathedral on the other side of Branch Brook Park. The area around St. Lucy’s Church was the fifth largest Italian community through the first have of the 20th century. Many residents moved out when a swath of the neighborhood was demolished to make way for the high-density Columbus Homes project in the 50s. By the time of the civil disturbances in the 60s the Italian community was pretty much gone.

      Rose and I went down to explore the old ‘hood not long ago. St. Lucy’s has been restored. The church piazza is gorgeous with lots of reminders of when this was a bustling Italian community but it’s an oasis in the middle of new mixed housing townhouses that replaced the Columbus Homes that were torn down about a decade ago.

      1. Hi Gianni. I grew up in the Newark North Ward in the 1960’s. Trying to Remember the name of a small Italian general grocery store right across the street from Ferrara’s pastry on Bloomfield Ave (no Large chain grocery stores back then !!). Can’t remember the name at all. Do you recall?

        Some other local stores/restaurants that may bring back memories: Sal’s Seafood on Blfd. Ave (now a West Indian grocery) and a very small pork store near Columbus Hospital (where I was born). I vividly remember this pork store when I was a young child. The place was pure white inside (floor/refrigerated cases) and immaculate. Also De Bellis music store, Biasi’s and Nicastro’s Restaurants, Giannatto’s Pharmacy and of course Calandra’s Bakery, Celentano’s and Dickey Dee’s lemon Ice/Hot Dogs.

        Those were the days !!!!! A much simpler time. People were so different then……

        1. Ciao Robert.

          Are you thinking about Prosperity’s Market? Great store, they had it all. We shopped there and at Pinto’s that was on the corner across from Columbus Hospital.

          Do you still live near the old neighborhood?

          I was born in Columbus Hospital too. It was right around the corner from where I grew up. It’s gone now as are many of the places you mentioned, but I remember them all. I was on the Giannato’s Pharmacy team when I played in the St. Francis Xavier Church Little League in City Schools Stadium. Calandra’s Bakery is still one of my favorites. I love the twist with sesame seeds. I think you can still get Dickey Dee’s fried hot dogs, potatoes, onions and peppers all stuffed into the flat, round roll with the hole in the center. I had one a few years ago. They still there?

          I’ll be with family in the suburbs near the old neighborhood for Thanksgiving. Can’t wait to go with my sister and my goddaughter to buy everything we need for Thanksgiving Day and a special family reunion on Saturday.

          I’ll share my shopping and cooking experiences later in the week.

  3. A good time was had by all last Saturday, can’t wait to do it again. I’m waiting for my neice, Baby and Will I Am, today’s menu is simple. Made a pot of gravy this morning, no shit tomatoes, we’re having chicken parm, linguine, salad, fresh garlic bread and I hope sombody brings a desert . Well, gotta get back in the kitchen.
    Susan your cooking partner frim Clifton NJ

  4. As an Italian Anerican girl from Northern NJ, now working in NYC, I agree with everything you said. Great round up.

    1. Ciao Elana. Thanks for your email. Despite the changes I love returning to northern Jersey an NYC to spend time with family and friends. These days it just takes a little bit of searching to find some of the old Italian gems. Thank God there are still many to be enjoyed and thanks to my east coast posse I can find them.

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