Italian Food in NYC: Eating My Way Through the City
A journey through Italian food in NYC
I arrived from LA searching for Italian food in NYC, and I soon found out that the city is all about food. The constant smell of food was the first thing I noticed. In a fast-paced place like this, people need to be able to grab a quick and filling bite at any given corner. New Yorkers might be not as health-oriented as Angelenos, but they sure know something about tasty.
Italian food in NYC, first stop: pizza, of course
I got off the train pretty hungry and ready to explore the Italian food NYC scene. My first stop was Famous Ben’s Pizza in SoHo, a casual fast-food pizzeria that claims to have the best Sicilian-style pizza in town.
Sicilian-style pizza is taller and softer than New York-style pizza. It is sold by the square instead of by the slice. This often happens in Italy too, at these grab-and-go pizza joints present even in the smallest town. Getting out of school and getting pizza al taglio (pizza by the square/slice) as an afternoon snack is something that every Italian has experienced as a kid.
Eating that soft and greasy square of Sicilian-style pizza at Ben’s brought me back good memories. I got the “Palermo”, which was topped with crispy and garlicky breadcrumbs. Not really something you can see in Italy but, whatever, was it delicious? Yes, indeed.
Since I was looking for Italian food in NYC, I obviously had to visit Little Italy. Unfortunately, it got very touristy over the past years, and Chinatown took over it. What is left now is just a couple of streets filled with tourist-packed restaurants.
A trio of desserts (plus gelato)
Looking for authenticity (and maybe something sweet), I headed over to Ferrara Bakery & Cafe, an institution for Italian food in NYC. As I couldn’t decide what to get, I ordered three miniatures of their most popular desserts: the cannoli, the sfogliatella, and the Napoleon.
The cannoli was a bit disappointing, maybe because of its reduced size, maybe because I got the chocolate-covered one. When having cannoli, I recommend going for a full-sized (and hopefully super fresh) one. The outer shell should be crispy and fried in a way to make it smell delicious and not heavy. The ricotta cream filling should be light but not too airy, and have a rounded and satisfying taste of milk, with chocolate chips folded in it for a crunchy kick. By the way, “cannoli” is plural in Italian. The correct (singular) form should be “cannolo”.
The Napoleon is a little decorated cube composed of three layers of puff pastry with pastry cream between them. It’s very delicate in taste, a tiny sweet masterpiece.
Finally, the sfogliatella is similar in shape and taste to the lobster tail. In fact, Italians sometimes call it aragostina, aka little lobster. It’s crispy on the outside, while the inside is moist, with hints of almond paste and orange. The outer layers, lightly dusted with powdered sugar, are a true example of pastry architecture, and reflect the elaborate preparation.
If you don’t feel like pastries, I recommend the nearby M’O Gelato, between Little Italy and Lolita. Because I’m always craving for heartier stuff, I got their brioche con gelato, a soft sweet panino filled with the gelato flavor of your choice. Highly recommended.
More Italian food to take home
Next, time to do some shopping. To buy Italian food in NYC, there’s hardly a better place than Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market, a gorgeous indoor marketplace. Their selection of Italian cheeses was outstanding. I was able to find types of cheese I used to eat back home and could not find in the US.
For example, griglino (also known as tomino) is an individually-portioned round cheese that is meant to be cooked on the griddle. It has a brie-like rind and a soft interior, which gets melty and gooey when grilled. Its slightly smoky flavor is unbelievable, especially if eaten inside piadina, i.e. thin Italian flatbread. For best results, pair it with grilled zucchini or speck.
Another great finding was robiola. Robiola is a spreadable cheese, delicate but unique and very distinguishable from ricotta, cream cheese, and other kinds of spreadable cheeses.
For more Italian food, Buon Italia also carries an amazing choice of fresh olives, flours, and frozen products. Of course Nutella, panettone, and pandoro were present, along with a good assortment of popular cookie brands. They also have a small but rich deli case with freshly-prepared dishes, which you can eat on the spot (they have a few tables) or take away.
Time for another gelato
In case you are still craving for gelato, you can find that at the Chelsea Market, too. Just look for L’Arte del Gelato (not far from Buon Italia). They sure will be able to please you with a variety of both traditional and more creative flavors. Like M’O, they also make brioche con gelato.
Time to shut down my stomach and get on the first train back home? Absolutely not! My quest for Italian food in NYC wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Eataly NYC, in the Flatiron District. But that’s another story… Stay tuned!