Archive for the ‘Little Italy’ category

2010 Feast of San Gennaro

September 18, 2010

Earlier today I decided that I had to get out and see something again. So, I went to the annual Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy. I thought it was around this time of year and sure enough, it was. This weekend through about next weekend.

Little Italy continues to shrink, but it is still hanging in there. That’s good, but NYC is all about change and Little Italy is slowly going away.

I took some pictures with my iPhone, but when the light isn’t right it takes such poor pictures that I won’t even bother to post them here. Mulberry Street was blocked off and hundreds of concession stands were out in the street. It’s a pretty narrow street and the place gets very crowded. But that’s a good thing.

Two things I learned today. First, I was reminded that “Sausage and Peppers” really means sausage and onions with a very occasional (if you’re lucky) bit of green or red bell pepper. I didn’t try it, but it smells great.

Second, spumoni Italian ice is…wonderful. Wow. I was walking by a booth and they had these tiny paper cups (very small ones, not for drinking) with a price tag of $3 on it. It said “Italian Ice” on it and the concession owner saw me kind of smile at the absurdity of the price and said something like “Yeah, but you should see what they charge me for it, but it’s still worth it.” I laughed and decided I’d go ahead and try a bit. I noticed the spumoni was more than halfway gone and took that as a sign that it’s good. It looked a bit like Neopolitan ice cream, except the colors were white, brown, and green. It turns out that the flavor combination is pistachio, chocolate, and some sort of coffee (I think). In any case, the Italian Ice is very dense and the flavors were nearly overwhelming. Really good.

-H

Lieutenant Petrosino Square

August 5, 2008

At the point that SoHo and Little Italy meet are some north-south streets (Lafayette St. and Cleveland Place) that join up. Nothing particularly special about that; but whenever streets like that join; there’s a square. And so there is.

It’s the Lieutenant Petrosino Square. And the place is undergoing an absolutely total renovation.

I encourage you to read the link to the square’s origin. I’ve always thought of it (the few times I did) as something named after a World War I or World War II local hero. Nice, but nothing particularly unknown to nearly any community in the country. But I was wrong.

The Lieutenant wasn’t a military man. He was a cop of very uncommon courage and determination. Hey, Teddy Roosevelt liked the guy and that says something about him.  (Teddy was the NYC Police Commissioner before becoming governor/vice president and president.)  Interestingly, Petrosino almost prevented the assasination of McKinley which led to Teddy becoming president.

He immigrated to the US as a boy and became a cop. Not just any cop, but a cop with a decided interest in investigating the Mafia (or Black Hand) both in the US and in Italy.  He served both as an undercover investigator and the head of the task force.

The Lieutenant went on to help imprison hundreds of criminals and, while performing his duties on assignment in Italy; was killed in the line of duty. 

The park is located just north of the old police headquarters and commemorates the life of the only NYC police office killed on duty outside the US.  It’s a tiny place and is rather intimate.  I don’t know when it will re-open, but I imagine it will be available for sitting, staring, and musing sometime late Fall.

-H

Where Is Little Italy Anyway? Someone’s Confused.

January 4, 2008

I’ve been meaning to post this for a long time.  When I go to Church, I often pass this place on 45th.

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“Little Italy Pizza”?  And I always thought Little Italy was below Houston…actually, I know it’s down there.  Apparently, the owners of this have been chased out by the encroachment of China Town and want to set up a new neighborhood.

And I don’t think it’s a franchise.  Just someone who wanted to catch tourists before they got in a cab.

-H

Hail, the conquering pizza: Lombardi’s Pizza!

October 28, 2007

You’ve read my ramblings about the disappearance of Little Italy.  You’ve seen my flat out statements that Little Italy is only parts of Mulberry Street.

The problem with flat out statements like that is that there are going to be exceptions.  And Lombardi’s is no small exception.

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As you can see from the street sign:  at the corner of Spring St. and Mott St.  That’s old Little Italy.  And there are a couple of other places in the immediate area.  But, Lombardi’s is the key.

When you think Lombardi, you may remember the old Green Bay Packers coach.  But this Lombardi is much older and has something that Vince didn’t.

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Okay, both Lombardi’s have plaques, but this Lombardi is the FIRST PIZZERIA IN AMERICA!!!!!!! That’s worthy of applause. How could I have gotten through school without pizza?

I’ve eaten here.  It’s okay pizza in the restaurant.  They have one gimmick not followed by most NYC pizzerias:  they serve entire pizzas only.  Most places, you buy pizza by the slice (which I’ve come to love).  When I got my Lombardi’s pizza, I enjoyed it, but didn’t want to proclaim it “the best pizza on the planet”.  I took the remaining slices home and later ate them cold.  (Yeah, I like cold pizza.)

It is simply the most outstandingly magnificent cold pizza ever made by the hands of man.

Enough said.

-H

The Feast of San Gennaro

September 20, 2007

Okay, it’s September, it’s NYC, I’m not Italian; but I’m going to the Feast.

St. Gennaro (AKA St. Januarius) is the patron saint of Naples.  That’s something I just recently learned and have to admit that too many mafia movies had me thinking of Little Italy only in Sicilian terms.  The Feast of San Gennaro is Little Italy’s biggest celebration and is a magnet for tourists and the occasional ankler (your host).  I’ve been there over the past couple of years, but each time was at a quiet point at the end of the Feast, so I never got too much of a sense as to how crowded it was.

Well, this year, I bested myself big time.  I went there on the first Saturday of the festival and then I went on Wednesday night (the actual Feast Day of San Gennaro).  In a word:  crowded.  In a few words:  really, really crowded…oh, and lots of food and a carnival atmosphere.

Here’re some pictures from Saturday.

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The Feast is held mostly on Mulberry Street and goes all the way from Houston Street in the north (okay, about 20 yard shy of the end of the block) to Canal Street in the South.  This is traditional Little Italy, although it used to include a couple of other blocks, but which are now mostly Chinatown and a bit of SoHo.

Saturday’s crowd was massive.  But I suspect there’s a bit of trick to it.  Mulberry is a pretty thin street, but they add all the stands to the edges of the street.  That makes a thin street even thinner.  It would have a crowded feel if there were just a few dozen people and not a couple of thousand (I guess).  The crowding drives up the energy, of course.  And that’s the sort of thing I thoroughly enjoy.

Parts of the Feast are totally dominated by food vendor after food vendor.  The best of them are ones that are just extensions of the restaurants.  Lots of NYC restaurants dominate the sidewalks outside, but in the Feast they get to take over a lot of the street.

As I was exploring on Saturday, I became a bit discouraged with the situation.  I kept seeing a lot of standard NYC “street fair” vendors.  I see street fairs each and every weekend.  You wanna buy socks?  Wallets?  Linens?  The street fairs have them plus a lot of other boring stuff.  The fairs also have a lot of food vendors, typically dominated by gyro, smoothie, and crepe suppliers.  Boring and repetitive and not attractive to me.  And I was seeing some of these same food vendors at the Feast (thankfully, no sock and wallet guys).  One thing that the Feast of San Gennaro has done that’s warmed my heart is to not have that junk.  Instead, they are very ethnic.  And, yet here they were.

So, I wandered down to the lower reaches of Mulberry and thought I’d check out a bit of authentic Little Italy:  the Church.  When I’ve seen it before, they’ve had money next to the statue of the saint.  This time there was more.

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I’d seen the bills attached to some cardboard before, but this time it was on the statue.

The statue of Mary was similarly bedecked.

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So, I left on Saturday feeling a little discouraged.  The street vendors had busted through and it seemed to be a really nice version of a street fair, but a street fair nonetheless.

And then I went on Wednesday night and the Feast was back in order.  The vendors didn’t get up quite as near Houston as on Saturday, but it seems that most of the street fair places were gone.  Good.  (Hey, I know those people work hard but I see them everywhere on the weekends and the repetitiveness is not to my taste.)

Lots of games and other stuff for the kids.20070919-feast-of-san-gennaro-01-game.jpg

They didn’t seem to be doing the business they had on Saturday, but fewer kids were out on a school night.  That’s fine with me.

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One character I certainly didn’t see on Saturday.

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Two snakes, one iguana, and two parrots.  I would have noticed him Saturday, don’tchathink? 

And there was food.  And more food.  And a bit more.  And after that, more food.

The mainstay of the Feast of San Gennaro is?  (Answer:  sausage and peppers!)  It’s everywhere.
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But don’t let the “peppers” fool you.  It’s about 95% onion.  They’ll put a few bell peppers on the top, but it’s onions all the way down.

Okay, what do you think this guy is selling?

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It’s the other mainstays of the Feast:  zeppoles and calzones.

Now, zeppoles are a mainstay, but they ain’t the only choice for dessert.

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The above is just one of many.  The cannoli people are everywhere, too.  I love me a good cannoli.

The Feast doesn’t cover a big area, but it covers the area it does have very tightly.  I do enjoy it and am delighted that my initial concern didn’t hold for the whole Feast time. 

I haven’t mentioned that it does encompass parts of some of the sidestreets, but it does.

And I’ve saved the “worst” for last.  Everyone reading this blog who has been to the Feast is wondering when I’m going to mention him.  Drown the clown.  Or, drown the insulting clown.  He’ s a clown figure who sits in a dunking booth and spews out minor insults to passerbys, or more directly at the people who are throwing baseballs at the lever to send him into the water.  As I was walking nearby on Saturday, I was right behind a family and the kids saw him and got excited.  “Mom” said something like “Oh, your father can’t stand him” and “Dad” responded “He always makes fun of my nose.”  The kids laughed and the last I saw they were on their way to try to drown the clown.
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-H

What a weekend! Ankle reports forthcoming…

September 16, 2007

Okay:  three parades, one protest, and the Feast of San Gennaro.  That’s a heavy weekend for Famous Ankles.

Parade 1:  Steuben Day Parade

Parade 2:  Mexican Day Parade

Parade 3:  African-American Day Parade

I even had to give up on “Broadway on Broadway”.  But here’s a few pictures of the preparations at Times Square.  I passed there on the way to Church this morning (we had 12).

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This next one is right after Church.  It was filling up fast, but probably didn’t start for a couple of hours.

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Excepting Broadway on Broadway, I went to ’em all.  It’s going to take a day or two to come up with the reports, so hold on.

-H

Ankling through Little Italy

August 31, 2007

In my previous post on the Lower East Side, I called Little Italy’s current status as an independent area questionable (I had earlier entered “laughable” but thought twice about it, and now I’m thinking of it a third time).  That sentiment isn’t original to me.  If you saw one of the very last episodes of “The Sopranos”, there was a little in-joke where two of the characters are walking through Little Italy plotting evil deeds and all of a sudden…they’re in Chinatown.  They do a bit of a double-take and the scene cuts away.

It’s sad, but Little Italy is almost gone.  Yeah, it’s there, but only in spirit.  For the couple of years I’ve been wandering through Little Italy, it’s been relegated to Mulberry Street only with parts of a couple of side streets.  Famous Little Italy streets such as Elizabeth and Mott…all are parts of Chinatown now.  Even Mulberry Street’s claim to Little Italy status is truncated.  Below Canal, pure Chinatown.  Above Broome, mostly non-Little Italy.  There’s just a couple of blocks left, but even they are no longer “pure” Little Italy.  I haven’t seen a Chinese restaurant open yet, but it’ll come.

But is it bad?  Nah.  The neighborhood is evolving and the Italians have moved on to greener pastures.  Little Italy will continue for a while simply because it’s a pure tourist attraction.  But I don’t think the Italian heart remains…except perhaps within the church near Canal.

Saturday on Mulberry Street.  Notice the decorations in the distance.  It’s the annual Little Italy Festival.  Not to be confused with the Feast of San Gennaro (now, that’s a spectacle in and of itself despite the vanishing of Little Italy).  This festival is muted and pleasant.  It does the traditional blocking-of-the-streets-to-all-traffic.  I think most residents of streets in that part of Manhattan would love to close off their streets, but only Little Italy seems to get it done on a regular basis.

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And a nice historic little place:  Umbertos Clam House.  It calls itself the “Heart of Little Italy” and that’s not a problem for me.  But I tend to remember it for the biggest even associated with the murder of Crazy Joey Gallo in 1972 while he was there for a party.  I recommend Jimmy Breslin’s book “The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight” for a humorous roman a clef about Joey Gallo.  But the real Crazy Joey was a murderous thug who may have been actual killer of Albert Anatasia and behind the shooting of Joe Columbo.  And who know how many others.

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I’ve eaten at Umbertos.  It’s pretty good, and I won’t say that about a lot of other Little Italy restaurants.  (Truth:  I never found them memorable enough to bother remembering which one I went to; but Umbertos has history.)

And now the interesting part.  Google maps still says that Umbertos is at Mulberry and Hestor.  That ain’t true at all!  It’s up on Broome.  Apparently, after the murder of Crazy Joey, the restaurant was moved to escape the notoriety.  But Famous Ankles remembers…and apparently so does Google.

A nice shot of Mulberry and Hestor…

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And finally, the last really authentic part of Little Italy:  the Church of the Most Precious Blood.  It’s apparently run by the Franciscans.  I don’t know if there’s an actual monestary associated with it, but maybe.

Mulberry St - Church of the Most Precious Blood

My best memory of the church is during last year’s Feast of San Gennaro (held each September so I’m going back soon!).  The streets get incredibly jammed with people and restaurants spilling out onto the street and pushcarts everywhere and the like.  You look at it and see a lot of money changing hands (good old fashioned capitalism).  When I got to the church, I saw a statue of San Gennaro next to a board with money tacked onto it (sort of like “The Godfather Part 2” and the statue going down the street, but this time the money was simply tacked to a board).  There must have been…$50 or $60, max.  The Church sponsors the feast, but doesn’t seem to get to partake in the commerce surrounding it (they try with some trinkets, but I didn’t see many borrowers).  I’m hopeful they got recompensed somehow and were able to use the money to good ends.  It sure doesn’t look like they spend it on luxurious digs.

Stay tuned for an update from the Feast of San Gennaro.

-H