Dec 2015. I was back in NYC after nearly a decade. Anyone who’s been here knows that every nook and cranny of this megacity is crammed with eateries that come highly recommended – from Michelin-star restaurants to exciting ethnic cuisines, traditional diners and delis to hip food trucks, humble hot dog stands to gourmet food places – the choice is endless. And honestly, a bit overwhelming!
But after a long day sightseeing or at the museum, there is no better place to reenergize than at one of NYC’s favourite pasticerrias (Italian pastry shops).
It is estimated that nearly 5 million Italians immigrated to America between 1875 and 1925. Many settled in the New York area and a few went on to open pasticerrias, making and selling food items they were familiar with back home in Italy. Some of these pastry shops from the late 19th / early 20th century are still operational today and retain an old-world charm that is so endearing in an ultra-modern city like NYC.
Hubby was determined to find himself a 12-string guitar in NYC. Just the thought of one more guitar in the house drove me straight into the arms of the closest pastry shop. So on most days, hubby’s guitar search and my pastry hunt went hand in hand. I bring you 3 of NYC’s most loved Italian bakeries.
Ferrara Bakery & Café 195 Grand Street (between Mulberry & Mott Street)
After a long evening at Rudy’s Music, hubby and I took a brisk 10-min walk to get to Ferrara Bakery, NYC’s oldest pasticerria. A family owned business, it is currently operated by the 5th generation of founder Antonio Ferrara’s family. It has come a long way since its opening in 1892, when it served opera goers returning from late night shows, with coffee and cookies.
One look at the display cases at Ferrara, will have you screaming “Holy Canoli!”, a phrase that this legendary pastry shop is credited with inventing. This landmark Little Italy establishment offers a mind-boggling array of classic Italian pastries.
A hot favourite here are the biscotti (twice-baked, oblong, almond biscuits). One portion consists of four assorted biscotti, which you can choose from the six available flavours – chocolate, almond, prato, anise, chocolate dipped and hazelnut. Dunk the biscotti in your Cappuccino and you have yourself a coffee break to remember.
When celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli was asked to choose her ‘last meal’, she preferred to skip the main meal and instead chose this hallowed pasticerria’s Sfogliatella (a flaky, ricotta filled-pastry resembling a stack of leaves) and Lobster Tail (similar to a Sfogliatella but larger, and filled with cream). Such is the allure of Ferrara’s delicacies!
Ferrara is best visited at Christmas time, when the festive décor adds an extra shot of charm to the experience. Here’s what we sampled at Ferrara…..
Rocco’s Pastry Shop and Espresso Café 243 Bleecker St
Ardell at Matt Umanov Guitars, Greenwich Village directed us to Rocco’s and even gave his recommendations on what we should try there. He suggested the French Lulu (pastry shell filled with vanilla french cream and topped with chocolate coconut macaroon & cocoa powder) and their freshly made Cannoli (a Sicilian pastry meaning ‘little tube’).
The pasticerria is the handiwork of Rocco Generoso who came to NYC in 1957. He learnt how to make authentic Italian pastries from the owner of the bakery he worked at, and mastered the art of making Cannoli, for which he became very famous.
Rocco purchased the bakery in 1974 and Rocco’s Pastry Shop was born. The business is currently managed by Rocco’s children, and Rocco Jr. who is now the Head Pastry Chef, sticks steadfastly to his father’s recipes. Cannoli is still the speciality here; the crispy, fried shell provides a delightful contrast to the soft cream filling. Customers can choose from regular or chocolate shells and the cream is piped in fresh, on order. To make it even more decadent, toppings like pistachio or chocolate chips are added. Another item to try here is their Baba Rum, a sponge cake soaked in rum-flavoured syrup and filled with cannoli cream.
The pasticerria also has an overwhelming selection of cheesecakes, cookies, gelato and other Italian delicacies. A new Brooklyn location was added in 2014 (9402 4th Ave), making Rocco’s pastries even more accessible to New Yorkers and tourists alike.
At Rocco’s, Hubby didn’t hesitate for a second to add Baba Rum (sponge cake soaked in a rum flavoured syrup and filled with cannoli cream) to our order 😀
Veniero’s Pasticceria & Caffé 342 E. 11th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenue)
This was by far the most warm and inviting experience we had, as far as Italian bakeries in NYC go! Established in 1894, it is run today by Robert Zerilli (the great nephew of Antonio Veniero, the founder) and his siblings. This pasticerria began its life as a confection store before taking the city by storm with its baked Italian goodies.
It was late morning when we got to Veniero’s and their take-away pastry shop was crowded. We had to pull ourselves away from the tantalizing 40-foot display counter and headed straight to its café, appropriately called the Venetian Room. Here one is immediately transported to old Venice – the room complete with a bright stained-glass ceiling, Italian marble flooring, mirrors and all. Luckily, we were the only customers in the café.
Halfway through our quiet yet scrumptious breakfast of Sfogliatella (a clam shaped pastry filled with sweet ricotta) and a slice of Fruit Supreme (sponge cake infused with raspberry brandy and filled with bavarian cream and fresh fruits), Robert Zerilli joined us for a long chat about travel and food.
Robert also, very generously treated us to some of Veniero’s favourites – Strawberry Shortcake and Zuppa Inglese (sponge cake soaked in rum and layered with chocolate custard). Complete calorie overload but I wasn’t complaining!
Definitely one of the highlights of our NYC trip! Of all the pasticerrias in NYC, this East Village mainstay has made the most number of TV appearances, including NBC’s Law & Order and HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. But the real reason for its popularity are the 200+ varieties of Italian pastries, cakes and cookies that are baked fresh on the premises every day.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed my sugar-laden journey! Do let me know about your favourite Italian bakeries in NYC. Ciao!