The Italian Food Lover’s Guide to New York City
New York City— the epicenter, the melting pot, Rome itself according to John Lennon and as of late heralded as one of the best food cities in the world. It is a delicious adventure exploring the vast and thrilling food of this metropolis; I spent years doing just that. One could speak of New York with the same exuberance that Hemingway wrote of Paris, “a moveable feast.” For round every corner it seems a new and heady culinary experience.
For the Italian food lover it is a treasure trove, the finest products are both imported from Italy and crafted in food shops all over Manhattan. It was in this city that I first tasted fine green olive oil, house made gnocchi, and the madness that is the buffalo milk cheeses from the Brothers Gritti.
In the late 1800’s it all began when throngs of Italian immigrants rushed the shores of Ellis Island. They brought with them rich culinary traditions. Recipes tucked into suitcases, grandpa’s Bacalao committed to memory, plans to bake and sell the family bread. I even heard a story of a boy that stepped off the boat clutching a painting. His families recipes secretly stashed in the back of the frame.
I love that story.
They set up shops and restaurants exposing Americans to the joys of ravioli, minestrone, parmigiano, cappuccino. It has been said that “no other country has had its national dishes so wholeheartedly adopted by Americans,” and those traditions continue today.
So here is the guide to some of my favorite places, less the guide of the latest and greatest, bucking novelty and trend, but more the places that I found myself returning to again and again. The finest foods made by artisans prepared with all the pomp and ceremony: the waxed paper, twine, the expert slicing, hand pulling, all these special touches, a rarity these days. May you be inspired to try the Italian Foods of New York City. Check out these places and then do what is most fun and find your own hidden gems.
15 East 18th Street
A place to tuck in early morning for a perfectly pulled espresso and cornetti pastries bursting with apricot, they have been known to serve chocolate croissants warm, the best trick in the world, and their iced cappuccino is proper too, whirled in an unidentified frothing machine. It is transporting, an escape standing at this bar taking coffee. One might imagine that instead of heading off to drone the day away in the office, (my fate when I found this place), you might have plans to witness a Caravaggio, hunt for truffles or some other splendid thing.
283 Amsterdam Avenue
This is a great spot for authentic Italian salumeri. Every Christmas we serve big platters for our Grand Antipasto and what a treat. Salty ribbons of prosciutto, sweet speckled mortadella, speck, culatello, sopressato—the real thing, these beautiful products are crafted with the finest ingredients and chosen by the uber charming chef Cesare Casella. You may see him buzzing around, his signature sprig of rosemary in his lapel. This restaurant is also known for well executed small plates and grand imports like heirloom beans and a famed Tuscan aphrodisiac spieze forte.
156 Sullivan Street
This place feels old world to me and these folks have been making mozzarella for over 25 years. My criteria for good fresh mozzarella is that it is well, fresh and you will be hard pressed to find a shop with fresher product than this. You may find the shopkeeper stirring vats in the back, the windows trickle with condensation, they may even sell you mozzarella still warm. The real standout though is the smoked mozzarella. The cheese, put over a wood fire on premises astounds, toasty and brown on the outside and still that wonderful creamy center, with summer tomatoes, bliss.
200 5th Avenue
Fellini said life is magic and pasta, that is what I thought of when I set eyes on the fresh pasta bar at Eataly. I have searched for a place such as this; having yet to master fresh pasta making and finding most in the package an unrefined mess. In order to purchase this gorgeous handmade pasta you must endure what New York Times writer Sam Sifton called the “circus maximus” that is Eataly, but like most things in this indoor market place it is well worth it. Angnolotti and ravioli with wonderful fillings like veal or pumpkin. Strands of tagliatelle inspire by a bride’s golden hair, a little pasta poetry, a little poetry with your pasta. Just think, homemade pasta for you next dinner party. I guarantee it is well worth the hullabaloo.
271 Bleecker Street
It is impossible to gather consensus on the topic of the best pizza whether in Italy or New York, it is a profoundly personal thing but many mention Keste as a place not to miss. My friend Jordan a connoisseur has this to say of the Neapolitan pies, “must be consumed upon arrival, the delicate chewy crust, hot and steamy on the interior with just a slight char and firmness on the exterior is at its peak when it hits the table. Be forewarned, like a Fiat of the 70’s this little masterpiece starts to depreciate in value as soon as it leaves the lot. Still, like owning a Ferrari, the value is in the pure joy this little masterpiece will bring to your senses.”
The quality of ingredients is what shines through so remarkably at Grom: organic eggs, mountain water, lemons and almonds from Sicily, fruits grown on their own farm. There is an acute clarity in the flavors and the consistency of this gelato is so smooth and luscious that compared to others, it make the competition seem like an awkward teenager with knobby knees and braces compared to this sophisticated, fully realized Sophia Lauren.