What to Do in Little ItalyOctober 15, 2014 - by City Guide
Zeppole, tiramisu, gelato, and fried Oreos! Pork braciole and sausage & peppers! For many of us, the wonderful tastes are the highlight of Little Italy, and there's no better time to sample those tastes than during the annual Feast of San Gennaro, which takes place every September. But while food is the preeminent draw, it's not the only reason to visit Little Italy and the Festival.
Little Italy Catholics have flocked to St. Patrick's Old Cathedral ever since it was established in 1809. The cathedral ceased to be the seat of the Archdiocese after the "new," majestic Saint Patrick's Cathedral was built in 1879; but it became a parish church. The landmark features an Erben 3-41 organ that was built in 1852, and a large marble altar with gold-leaf decoration. The church's underground labyrinth is the resting place of many notable Catholics, including some of the city's first bishops and Pierre Toussaint, a New Yorker who is being considered for canonization.
When touring the streets of Little Italy, one may very well notice a verdigris dome pointing towards the sky. What one may not know is that this current apartment co-op complex on Centre Street from Grand to Broome was New York's Police Headquarters Building for over 60 years. Featuring Corinthian columns on the outside, the former headquarters (1909) exemplifies America's take on the 19th century Parisian Beaux-arts style. Interesting for both the architecturally and historically minded, the building utilized such media as limestone, copper and terra-cotta "to impress both the officer and the prisoner with the majesty of the law."
Cheeseheads will adore DiPalo's Fine Foods, a Little Italy fixture since 1910 that offers the best in imported Italian olive oil, pasta, and, of course, an impressive selection of cheeses.
A trip to Little Italy is incomplete without a fine meal at one of its great Italian restaurants. You can't go wrong at The Original Vincent's, La Mela or Umberto's Clam House. Mulberry Street also is home to Amici II, Casa Bella Ristorante, Da Nico, Il Cortile, La Bella Ferrara, and Pellegrino's, to name but a few, and the cross-streets host several more.
The aforementioned annual Feast of San Gennaro, Little Italy's world-famous salute to the Patron Saint of Naples, is celebrated for about 10 days every September. The street festivities -- including parades, entertainment, food stands, and a cannoli-eating contest -- are capped with a celebratory Mass and candlelit procession as the Statue of the Saint is carried from its permanent home in Most Precious Blood Church on Mulberry Street.
Highlights of the Feast include indoor and outdoor dining at Little Italy's most famous Italian restaurants and more than 300 licensed street vendors. Free entertainment is featured every night from at the bandstand located at Grand & Baxter Sts., ranging from Italian folk songs to rock to old standards.
Contributors: Alan Binenstock, Melissa Caminneci