When many of my American friends and acquaintances try to imagine what “growing up Italian” was like for me, I usually like to tell various stories about being relentlessly, suffocatingly hen-pecked by my very strong willed mother, and the ensuing contradictions of then being schooled at the equivalent of Riker’s Island for kids. (The Italian version of Little Lord Fauntleroy wasn’t especially well received by faculty or the tough kids.)
I eventually come to my fondest memories: My relatives boisterously enjoying a Sunday meal together. I tell them about the comfort of the Sunday ritual that was equal parts stand up comedy, group therapy, weekly audit and feast. I remember the stories being told, chops being busted, the laughter, and oh yes, the food!
In preparation, my family would go shopping at the Italian oasis that is Arthur Avenue, and collect the culinary treasures that would sustain us in the strange now land that was northern Manhattan at the time. They would fastidiously curate the foods that would grace the family table. They had their favorites and couldn’t be dissuaded.
The antipasto course was my father’s domain. He would go to Joe’s Italian Deli and pick up the fresh bocconcini (or little bites of fresh mozzarella) and prosciutto sliced so thin it floated. Next, was the soppressata dolce or dried cured pork sausage, naturally from Calabria Pork Store. I still remember his smiling face when he smelled the aroma of the sausage chandelier. He would carefully lay out the salumi, and various cheeses, olives, and bread on a platter. These delicacies would be served alongside a mandatory scotch and soda that he and my relatives would enjoy while cooking the rest of the meal, and kick off the chop-busting and story telling.
I then tell my friends about the pasta course, the Sunday tomato and meat sauce simmered slowly over the course of hours being served on plates of perfectly al dente pasta. I still dream of the braciola, pork sausages and meatballs that seem to magically flavor that near mythic gravy. Each of the ingredients meticulously sourced, from Biancardi’s Meat Market and cooked with love and care.
As the pasta was served, it would always be sprinkled with parmigiano reggiano, specifically the Rocca brand which we also got at Biancardi’s. By this time my family would get around to asking me about school, and invariably my father and cousin would give me boxing tips.
I remember the perfectly sliced, breaded and golden fried cutlets that my father and uncle seemingly consumed by the kilo, as they would laugh about either the interactions they’d had with our quirky Washington Heights neighbors or their coworkers that week. If the bread crumbs weren’t from Addeo’s, my father would notice, and it would annoy my mother no end that he could tell. Ironically, this was the same woman who kept the apartment so clean and organized that I needed a doily if I had the temerity to take a can of soda into the room where I slept. (EVERY room in the house was known to be my father’s room.)
The last course consisted of either sfogliatelle, or cannoli and coffee, brewed fresh on the stove top Moka. By this time we were satisfied, and catharsis had set in too. The ultimate bonding activity had been achieved.
My warm memories of this wonderful neighborhood led me to offer our food tours, so as Danielle and I were reminiscing, I had another idea:
Let’s recreate this for our friends and guests! We have put together our own Italian Sunday experience, where we will walk our guests around the neighborhood, tell its stories (always through the delicious lens of the food) and sit down and tell our own stories and bond over a fantastic private meal, at one of our favorite family style restaurants.
Let’s create some new fond memories. Who’s hungry?
$95 adults, $55 children Ages 5-12
Everyone is Italian on Sunday
Best for groups
Come back to our old neighborhood for our iconic Sunday dinner. We start at noon at Little Italy’s best deli for an antipasto plate of cheese and salumi. On our way to the main course we stop by the 83-year-old pasta shop that makes the ravioli we’re about to enjoy. A special table is already set for us at Dominick’s where we’ll have ravioli and ragù (aka sauce, aka gravy) with meatballs and braciola. Lunch ends with a green salad, but don’t fear, the dessert course is served at a very special pastry shop.