Monday, September 13, 2010


I had bruises on my fingers Sunday morning.

ON MY FINGERS! From derby! I have no idea how they got there, but in my first moments of the day, I already knew one thing for certain. As I began to assess my bodily damage from the prior night's game, I rolled over, a few joints popped, and I uttered my first words of the day:

"Jon, the only thing that will make me feel better today is lots of Italian sausage."

Enter the family Danna.

Since Tuesday is the last birthday of my twenties, I decided that we should meet on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and go to the Ferragosto festival. Ferragosto is an Italian holiday from way back in pre-Christian Rome that celebrated the harvest time and the end of the growing cycle.

How do you celebrate Ferragosto? With lots of food and drink, of course!

Although it's been on my to do list for years, I have never been to Arthur Avenue and was really excited that the day was finally here. Arthur Avenue is a neighborhood in the Bronx often referred to as the real Little Italy of NYC. It has all of the shops, restaurants, history, and... let's call it character, that you get from the Little Italy in Manhattan, but without the tourists. The shops there have been around for generations and boast the best imported and fresh specialty Italian foods in the city.

I was a bit apprehensive about going on a day where there was going to be a street fair. People who live in NYC know that if you've been to one street fair, you've been to them all. No matter what the occasion or neighborhood, every street fair is a generic cookie cutter copy of the last, lined with the same handful of bulk food vendors, offering exactly the same lineup of bulk concessions: deep-fried dough things, gyros, sausage and peppers, gyros, grilled corn, gyros, smoothies and let's not forget the gyros. Throw in a bunch of tents selling weird wholesale clothes, tube socks and discounted overstocked crappy housewares and ta-da! A NYC street fair!

I mean, don't get me wrong, when confronted with a street fair, I'll stop for a snack of fried Oreos or an ear of corn, but as far as uniqueness and authenticity goes, these things are more annoying than the traffic they cause. Even the Feast of San Gennaro is partially guilty of the street fair curse!

Was Ferragosto going to be just another clone?

Porcetta, classic Italian roast pig


Instead of the generic street vendor parade, Ferragosto was all about the neighborhood. The restaurants extended their seating to the sidewalk so you could sit in the middle of the festivities. Commedia dell'arte performers roamed the streets. A majority of the shops had set up tents outside their storefronts and were serving up a great big smorgasbord of Italian goodness. (Can I use the word smorgasbord in a post about Italian food? Hmm.) Meat shops were cooking homemade sausage, porcetta and braciola. Bakeries were filling cannoli to order. Mozzarella makers were pulling cheese (and giving samples!). The seafood shop was shucking fresh clams and oysters – just walk your ass over to the counter and order up a few, slurp, pay and walk away.

The Danna family stuffing our faces as usual

Zeppoles, of course

A sfogliatelle. It's like the flakiest croissant and the creamiest cheese danish had a beautiful Italian love child. And this one was still warm from the oven!

Yes, I know. Pizza is everywhere. But not this pizza. Holy shit. Just, holy delicious shit

There were even a few cigar shops. Arthur Avenue Cigar Shop was rolling cigars right on the street.

Remember the part in Godfather II when they're in Cuba? Yeah...

When you got sick of eating – I laugh at the mere thought – there was always inside the shops to explore as well.

"What is it, Jon?"

Lardo is hard pig fat cured with herbs such as rosemary. You can slice it thin and eat it like any other cured meat. It can also be rendered down and used for cooking fat. There it is dangling from the pipe.

One of my favorites as a kid... along with pickled pig's feet. Not so much anymore...

Perhaps just some Nutella. But please note that the stack of jars came up to my thigh! HUGE NUTELLA!

Jon practicing his hand at being an Italian mom

I'm pretty sure this is what Jon pictures when he imagines walking into Heaven

"Jon, can you fit that cheese in your bag? What if we fold it?"
I think I am going to request that my house be made out of biscotti bricks. Mortar of chocolate glaze please

And what's a celebration without a little entertainment?

No, these are not the commedia dell'arte clowns. That's my family.

Extra credit if you can name that singer. I'll even give you a hint:

It's Dominic Chianese! Bronx native and actor who has appeared in The Sopranos and The Godfather II. Crazy? Crazy appropriate!

I will readily admit that hearing Uncle Junior from The Sopranos sing "That's Amoré" in the middle of an Italian festival on Arthur Avenue while eating a sfogliatelle with my loud Italian-American family felt more than a little cliché.

But it still made me smile. Big.

Ché grande giorno!


  1. fabulous just simply fabulous!

  2. You captured the day wonderfully! I am so glad you got to witness this first-hand. I love going to this feast, I look forward to it all year long. Thanks for your great pictures and witty words. and again... Happy Birthday!