Sadly, NYC’s Little Italy barely exists anymore. But in the neighboring West Village, Italian culture is alive and well. New York City saw a large influx of Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century, with small Italian “villages” popping up all over Lower Manhattan. And while much of the city’s neighborhood demographics have changed since then, you can still explore Italian culture using the short cultural stroll itinerary below.
Stop 1: Father Demo Square
Father Antonio Demo was an Italian priest who came to the United States in 1896. He’s remembered for his work serving one of the country’s largest Italian-American congregations at Our Lady of Pompeii Church, which is also on this stroll. In fact, he was so beloved, this peaceful square was named after him in 1941, filled with benches, a bubbling fountain that could have been plucked from any Italian city and—now—Citi Bikes.
Step 2: Numero 28 Pizzeria
Fact: New York-style pizza isn’t the only must-try pie in the city. At Numero 28 Pizzeria, they specialize in wood-fired Neapolitan pies. This type of pizza—originating from Naples, Italy—has an interesting history. Before the 1700s, many affluent Europeans believed tomatoes were poisonous (in fact, highly acidic tomatoes simply absorbed lead from their fancy pewter plates, causing lead poisoning). Peasants in Naples, however, began topping their flatbreads with them, not only giving birth to pizza, but vindicating tomatoes.
The defining characteristics of Numero 28 Pizza are simple ingredients (no honey and soppressata hipster pies here), more sauce than cheese and a 90-second cooking time at 800-900 degrees Fahrenheit. Savor your slice with a view of the Our Lady of Pompeii Church, the next stop on this stroll.
Stop 3: Our Lady of Pompeii Church
Across the street from Numero 28 stands a grand Italianate church, which looks like it belongs in Florence rather than NYC’s tranquil West Village. This Roman Catholic church’s history dates back to 1890, when Father Pietro Bandini formed a branch of the Saint Raphael Society for the Protection of Italian Immigrants.
Historically, Our Lady of Pomeii Church and the Saint Raphael Society played an important role in helping Italian immigrants assimilate into American culture. Today, their services have expanded to include immigrants from various backgrounds. It’s free to enter, with art-clad interiors as breathtaking as the ornate exterior.
Stop 4: GROM
Exit the church and look to your left, across Bleeker Street. You can’t miss the blue exterior of this always-popular gelato shop. Now, there are a number of gelato shops in the neighborhood, but what makes GROM special is the 100% natural treats and Italian roots.
GROM opened their first shop in Turin, Italy in 2003, and their West Village store sources many ingredients from their home country. Think Italian licorice, Sicilian lemons, Pizzuta almonds and fresh Italian yogurt (as well as other notable global products like Madagascar vanilla and Guatemalan coffee).
Stop 5: Faicco’s Italian Specialties
This old school Italian speciality shop has been serving the community since 1900—opened by Edward Faicco from Sorrento—and is still run by the same family. Faicco’s is known for its variety of sausages (try the fennel-laced links) and meats, as well as having a high-quality, home-cooked taste. Tip: One of the most delicious deals in town is their $1 arancini, deep-fried rice balls stuffed with cheese.
Stop 6: Pasticceria Rocco
Southern Italian immigrant Rocco Generoso opened Pasticceria Rocco in 1974, and he passed the business on to his children in 2010. Grab one of their hand-filled cannoli and enjoy it out in the sunny atrium. This is also a great spot to try homemade cookies the size of your head, Italian and New York cheesecakes, and traditional sfogliatelle. If you need fuel after the walk, they’ve got an extensive coffee menu, which features some unusual latte flavors like vanilla cupcake—made with real cupcake—and creme brûlée.