USA Today, December 2010
10 Great Places that Offer a Taste of Italy
Forget mistletoe. Why not celebrate the holidays with pasta and a parade? Italian neighborhoods welcome Christmas with a host of traditions, says Sheryll Bellman, author of America's Little Italys (Seller, $21.95). "They're filled with lights, decorations and carols." She shares with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY some favorite places to absorb Italian culture during the holidays and throughout the year.
You wouldn't know it from its name, but the Quarter has Italian heritage, too. During the mid-1850s, it became one of the largest Italian neighborhoods in the USA. The city's famous Antoine's Restaurant was founded by an Italian immigrant from France. But perhaps the most celebrated Italian contribution is the muffaletta sandwich, said to be invented at Central Grocery in the Quarter. 504-524-4784; NewOrleansOnline.com
New York City
New York's Little Italy is a bona-fide tourist attraction, but many businesses have been in the same families for three or four generations, Bellman says. The neighborhood celebrates Christmas in a big way with parades, a manger petting zoo, street vendors and entertainment. "The weeks before Christmas are quite beautiful. It's always lit up with green and red and white lights. It's glorious," Bellman says. 212-484-1222; nycgo.com and littleitalyguide.com
The Bronx, N.Y.
Bellman calls this small neighborhood a quintessential Little Italy, where locals come for cured meats, cheeses and specialty items. Especially popular is the indoor Arthur Avenue Retail Market, which even has a cigar roller. The four-block stretch is decorated for the holidays, and is a foodie's delight with bakeries and restaurants. 212-484-1222; nycgo.com; arthuravenuebronx.com and arthuravenue.com
9th Street Italian Market
For more than a century, this market has attracted shoppers and chefs to South Philly for what is called the oldest and largest working outdoor market in the country. With more than 100 vendors over nearly 10 blocks, you'll find several shops just selling cheeses and others specializing in pasta. "It's very colorful, and very inexpensive for produce, meats and fish," Bellman says. 800-537-7676; visitphilly.com and italianmarketphilly.org
Brick- and tile-making first brought immigrants from Northern Italy to clay mines here in the 1880s. Visitors still come for a chance to sample Italian specialties, like the unique toasted ravioli served at Charlie Gitto's restaurant. 800-916-8938; explorestlouis.com and thehill-stl.org
Boston's North End is an area of winding roads and alleys. "It's very picturesque wandering up and down the street — almost like being in a small Italian town," Bellman says. She's a fan of restaurants like Caffe Vittoria, known for its coffee and pastries; and Cantina Italiana, famous for homemade bombolotti, a wagon-wheel-shaped pasta. 888-733-2678; bostonusa.com and northendboston.com
This small neighborhood centers on Atwells Avenue, which is marked by a piazza and an arch adorned with a pine cone, an Italian symbol for abundance and hospitality. "It's like being in Florence. They have music during the summer and you can sit outside and have coffee," Bellman says. Many people come for Venda Ravioli, a huge store with 200 types of pasta, a bustling bakery and aisles of specialty products. 401-751-1177; goprovidence.com and providencefederalhill.com
Like many immigrants, Italians were drawn to Northern California by the Gold Rush. A former Italian neighborhood, North Beach is now a popular tourist attraction. It's home to Fior d'Italia, which calls itself the oldest continuously running Italian restaurant in the country. Many also visit the famous Caffe Trieste for espresso, and to listen to opera on Saturday afternoon. 415-391-2000; onlyinsanfrancisco.com
It was tuna fishing that first attracted Italians to this Southern California neighborhood. Although that industry has largely disappeared, the area has bounced back in the past 20 years, and is now known for its restaurants and farmers market. "Every week, they've got something going on," Bellman says. "Tons of people come out for every festival." 619-232-3101; www.sandiego.org or 619-233-3898; littleitalysd.com
New Haven, Conn.
Yale students and pizza lovers know this is where to come for legendary pies. Bellman loves Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana's famous white clam pizza. It's baked in an increasingly rare coal oven that produces a slightly charred crust. "Their pizza, I have to tell you, there's nothing better. People line up before they open, all week all the time." Others are just as passionate about rival restaurant Sally's Apizza. 203-777-8550; visitnewhaven.com