ABC News Now just aired a piece on my famous “Boot Of The Bronx” eating tour, one of the countless, customized, culinary tours I have to offer over at FamousFatDaveDotCom. We got Oprah’s camera man (!) and took a wild romp through The Bronx chowing down on Italian food the whole way through.
Unfortunately, they cut a scene showing those delicious Little Neck Clams Possilipo at Artie’s in City Island. But they’ve got great shots of the broccoli rabe at Fratelli’s in Hunt’s Point, the fried calzone at Louie and Ernie’s in Pelham Bay, the Italian Ice next door at Teresa’s, and the cannoli at Madonia Brothers on Arthur Ave. Classic food porn. Enjoy.
Click here for the story.
Click here for the video of “The Boot Of The Bronx Tour” With Famous Fat Dave
Yesterday was my 28th birthday. It was sometime around my 14th birthday that I went to visit my brother at Amherst College and went out to eat at an Italian restaurant called Carmelina’s. There, for the first time in my young life, I discovered what cannoli was. Josh and his roommates ordered them, and I watched as the waiter squeezed fresh ricotta from the tube into the waiting shell. I had one bite and I LOVED it. But I didn’t really start eating cannoli seriously until a couple years later at the Giaquinta household of Potomac, Maryland.
Number 28 isn’t really a big deal aside from the fact that it means I survived 27 which Jimi, Janis, Curt, Tupac, Valentino, and a few others didn’t. Still, this birthday is momentous in a way. It marks the 14th year since I first laid eyes on cannoli, meaning that cannoli have been a part of my life for half of its duration. For the rest of my life, I will have known of cannoli for the better part of it.
Little did I know 14 years ago how big a role cannoli would play not only in my life, but in my personality. I’ve been dubbed “The Cannoli Kid” by a real-life Sicilian. I made three separate pilgrimages to Sicily in search of cannoli. And I’ve scoured the five boroughs for true cannoli in my yellow cab. I even found a reason to speak of cannoli in the Village Voice article about me in which I am pictured with a giant pickle in my mouth.
And recently I recieved an incredibly heart-warming email from a reader whose love of cannoli seems to have sprung from my own:
I've been a long-time reader of your blog, and have to say I've become
secretly addicted to your reviews. Though I seriously loved your
"three burgers in a day" entry, my favorite has been your cannoli
saga, and it has stuck out as the pinnacle of NYC eating to this
Alas, I didn't have the time nor funds to go on your full tour when I
was visiting Manhattan last month, but I did have Rocco's on the top
of my foodie list...though of course...I forgot the address at home.
Dejected, I was convinced I would have to leave the city without
having tasted my first cannoli ever...until lo and behold I stumbled
upon it when I was on a mission to Bleeker St. Records. It was
seriously one of those serendipitous moments where you know you're at
the right place at the right time! Needless to say, the cannoli was
amazing, better than I ever could have imagined it to be: crispy
shell, thick, sweet cream, little pistachios for nuttiness...well, I
don't need to tell you, do I?
I just wanted to thank you for introducing me to Rocco's, and
consequently, one of the most heavenly foodie experiences of my life
to date. Keep up the great work with blog and your reviews in NFT and
Gothamist, and I hope one day to partake in a Wheels of Steel Tour
All the best,
(Zhaddi’s cannoli: she is clearly a better photographer than I am)
That letter warms my heart to no end. It makes me as proud a Sicilian. And it is exactly why I do what I do. If I were a chef, I’d watch with pride as people eat the food I cook them. But I’m just an eater. Thus my satisfaction comes from watching people’s eyes light up when I introduce them to the foods I love.
So yesterday, on an otherwise unimportant 28th birthday, Melissa knew exactly what I would love the most. She sneaked out to Rocco’s on the pretense that she was going to the deli. I had no clue what she was up to. But she came back to surprise me with a black and white, a strawberry shortcake, and TWO beautiful, fresh-made, hand-piped cannoli.
Read about my 4 favorite Sicilian culinary gems in Not For Tourist Guidebook’s “On Our Radar” section at:
Visit www.famousfatdave.com/FoodWriting/FoodWriting.html to read more of my NFT Guidebook writing and then click the cannoli at the bottom to see the main page and book an eating tour.
Be my guest on a virtual Famous Fat Dave’s Uptown and The Bronx Boogie Down. Come along on a double date from heaven with Rex and Steve and Sarah and Sha for deviled eggs, fried whiting, Littleneck clams posillipo, fresh mozzarella, maduros, broccoli rabe, hand-piped cannoli and MUCH more . You’ll get virtually hungry, then virtually full, then briefly virtually ashamed of yourself, and then virtually proud you virtually ate the whole thing. And visit the Famous Fat Dave’s Five Borough Eating Tour website to learn more about tour options or take other virtual tours.
Sometimes it takes a guy from Jersey to teach you about your own neighborhood. Yesterday, during one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever experienced in New York, I was taking a happy family of day trippers to the PATH station at 9th Street and 6th Avenue for the journey back across the Hudson River. They’d spent the glorious, sunny day showing the kids the old neighborhood. The grandfather sat in the front seat with me, his son and three young grandchildren in the back.
The grandfather, I suppose still in nostalgia mode, decided to tell me about growing up on Carmine Street in the Village in the 40s and 50s, and how it used to be a great Italian neighborhood. I told him about my discovery of Euro Cafe out on Cypress Avenue last week, and I lamented that there is no place left where you could get hand-piped cannoli in his old hood anymore.
He was VERY quick to correct me. He told me Rocco’s still bakes their own shells and hand-pipes their ricotta. I was stunned. I told him I’d just been to Bruno, the Italian pastry shop that shares a wall with Rocco’s, and they most certainly do not make their cannoli to order.
(The cannoli at Bruno sit neglected in the case)
I had, wrongly, assumed that the neighboring shop did likewise.
(Bruno and Rocco’s have shared a wall for generations)
I live around the corner from the twin pastry shops, and I can sometimes smell baking sweets through my courtyard window. So as soon as I got home today, I wandered past Bruno and into Rocco’s. There I found Frank, a friendly, mustached man who works the kitchen and the counter with his daughter. I asked him if what the old man told me was true, and he just pointed to a pile of fresh shells sitting on a baking sheet.
(Cannoli shells at Rocco’s without ricotta in sight)
I’d spent years looking for hand-piped cannoli in New York, and here they were LITERALLY in my own backyard. I tried two mini cannoli, one regular, the other’s shell dipped in chocolate. They were both wonderful. I still like the ones out on Cypress Avenue better, but now that I know I can find real, hand-piped cannoli around the corner from my house, I’ll be crossing the bridge a little less often.
(Frank mugs for shot with his cannoli before wieghing them)
Rocco’s Pastry, Bleeker btwn Leroy and Carmine, The Village, Manhattan
Check out http://www.famousfatdave.com for a chuckle or to book an eating tour
Picture it: Sicily, 1650. The people of Palermo are celebrating Martedi Grasso, the Catholic celebration of Fat Tuesday. The streets are jammed with revelers indulging in sweets to enliven the merriment of the Carnevale. Cannoli are being exchanged like beads at the modern day New Orleans Mardi Gras. One Sicilian man, whose name is lost to history, is moved to poetry:
|Beddi Cannola di Carnalivari
Megghiu vuccuni a la munnu ‘un ci nn’è:
Sú biniditti spisi li dinari;
Ogni cannolu è scettru d’orgni Re.
Arrivunu li donni a disistari;
Lu cannolu è la virga di Moisè
Cui nun ni mancia, si fazza ammazzari,
Cu li disprezza è un gran curnutu affè!
|Beautiful are the Cannoli of Carnevale,
No tastier morsel in the world:
Blessed is the money used to buy them;
Cannoli are the scepters of all Kings.
Women even desist [from pregnancy]
For the cannolo, which is Moses’s Staff:
He who won’t eat them should let himself be killed;
He who doesn’t like them is a cuckold, Olè!
That is pride. The Sicilians, a proud people, take particular pride in their cannoli.
A few centuries later, in suburban Maryland, my new high school sweetheart is the daughter of a Sicilian immigrant. She is also a vegan. Her father, Tony, is overjoyed that his daughter’s new boyfriend would gladly eat anything and everything. He takes to cooking me spaghetti with clam sauce and rice balls filled with peas and ground beef while his daughter subsists on baked beans and tofutti cuties. Before long, Tony makes his ritualistic trip up I-95 to Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop in Baltimore’s Little Italy. Upon his return I find Tony in the kitchen with a glowing expression on his face, a whopping spoonful of sweet ricotta in one hand, and a delicate fried wafer in the other. It is time for my cannoli education.
(The Albemarle Street location as seen on vaccaropastry.com)
Tony inserts the ricotta into the waiting shell before my eyes, sprinkles it with powdered sugar, and triumphantly serves me dessert at eleven in the morning. Before I swallow my first bite, I know I have found the first true love of my young life. The look of almost giddy anticipation on Tony’s face prompts me to speak with my mouth still full. “So good,” I moan, flakes of shell flying from my lips. A big slap on the back, a few more bites, and I am the son Tony never had.
Still, Tony feels a responsibility to teach me the true Sicilian way. He carefully explains to me exactly why my first cannolo tasted so good. The ricotta must always be stored in a cool, dry place. The shells must be made with Marsala wine. And the two must never, ever meet until just before the cannoli are to be enjoyed, lest the shells lose their crunch and the ricotta grows warm and runny.
My love of cannoli flourished, so Tony began making extra trips to Baltimore to be sure he was stocked up for my frequent visits. Much like the “cutter” in Breaking Away, I began thinking I was Italian, although every member of my family is of Eatern European Jewish descent. Tony soon dubbed me “The Cannoli Kid,” and I took to the moniker with a Sicilian’s pride.
Years passed and, while my relationship with Tony’s daughter did not withstand the test of time, my love affair with the cannoli was beginning to blossom. Mostlly as a result of my mounting indentity crisis, I found myself studying in Florence, Italy during my junior year of college. Once I arrived, I didn’t waste any time reaching my adopted motherland.
I skipped orientation week and took the overnight train to the toe of the boot. My new apartment in Florence had seemed alien and unwelcoming, but when I got off the ferry in the port town of Messina, I felt like I had come home. The people expressed that familiar sort of warmth I’d come to love back in Maryland. The distinctly Mediterranean weather agreed with my constitution, and the food was the best I’d ever eaten. Like Tony had done for me years earlier, I considered it my responsibility to introduce my classmates back in Florence to the glories of real Sicilian cannoli.
I made sure to eat cannoli with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the way I do with lobster when I am in Maine, or pickles on the Lower East Side. I followed my belly to the tiny hilltop town of Corleone. Yes, The Godfather was filmed there, and a cinematic pilgrimage was part of the reason for my visit. But more importantly, Corleone is located in the heart of Sicily’s sheep country. The people of Corleone, therefore, make superior ricotta for their connoli.
After wandering around the town for a few hours fielding an array of confused looks from the Corleonese, I met Eustachio in a piazza. We exchanged niceties in my broken Italian, and I asked something to the effect of, “Where could I find a tasty cannolo around here?” His eyes lit up.
(The piazza in which I met my destiny)
Eustachio whisked me across a couple cobblestoned blocks of Corleone, announcing to friends he passed the excitement that was about to ensue. By the time we reached the cool, dry basement of a poorly stocked grocery store that his uncle owned, I was surrounded by a least half a dozen eager Sicilian men. Eustachio did the honors of building my cannolo before my eyes, just as Tony taught me years earlier. I felt the anticipation in the air as I took my first bite. It was even better than the first time back in Tony’s kitchen. My knees actually went weak, and I shouted, “Que buono!” A joyous cheer went up all around me, and I was showered with brotherly shoulder smacks and bear hugs. I felt as though I had just gotten married.
Eustachio arranged for his uncle to supply me twenty shells and a gallon jar full of ricotta at an unnecessarily discounted price. He imposed the strict condition that I do everything possible to keep the ricotta cool during the sixteen hour journey back to Florence. He even drove me to the train station in Palermo with the air conditioning on full blast. The rest was up to me.
Back in Messina, I had to wait two hours for the train to be dismantled and loaded onto a ferry to the mainland. Under the blazing Mediterranean sun, I sprinted to a nearby focacceria. My Italian was not good enough to explain my situation, even though I had picked up the thick Sicilian accent nature had intended for me. The proprietor refused to even look at the contents of my wrinkled paper bag, and he seemed to think I was some American drug fiend who needed a place to hide his stash.
I started to grow desperate, pacing the floor, gesticulating wildly with my hands, and repeating “mingia,” the word for fuck in the Sicilian dialect. These were things the proud Sicilian standing before me could comprehend, so he finally inspected my mysterious bag. I understood him say something about “cannoli” and “why didn’t you say so” as he hurriedly shoved my jar in his soda case. The ricotta was saved, and when I returned to Florence, I bestowed the precious cannoli upon my classmates. I felt like Tony must have when he gave me the sacred gift.
Since I moved to New York, I’ve scoured the five boroughs for cannoli that rivaled the ones I first had back in Maryland or the ones I found everywhere in Sicily. But even institutions like Veniero’s Pastry Shop on 11th Street and Fortunato Brothers in Williamsburg refused to hand-pipe their ricotta. Sicilians had immigrated to New York City in large numbers more than a century ago. But no matter where I looked or who I consulted for advice, I could not find a cannolo that would satisfy Tony, Eustachio, or me. Had New York’s Sicilian population lost its sense of pride in the crown jewel of their ancestral cuisine?
Last week, I picked up an old man with warm, smiling eyes in my cab. I took him from Grand Central Station out to Cypress Avenue on the border between Brooklyn and Queens. As we passed a modest storefront at Stanhope Street, he spoke to me unsolicited in a familiar accent. “This place here has great cannoli.”
Within minutes of dropping him off in Ridgewood, I was seated on the sidewalk beneath the “Euro Cafe” awning. I ordered two cannoli from a woman with that same familiar accent. I watched her at the counter, squeezing cool ricotta into a fresh shell that smelled of Marsala wine. Before swallowing the first bite, my taste-buds transported me back to Tony’s kitchen, then to Corleone, and finally to Martedi Grasso.
Euro Cafe, Cypress Ave btwn Stanhope and Himrod, Brooklyn
Check out http://www.famousfatdave.com for a chuckle or to book an eating tour