One doesn’t have to stroll far along the streets of Poughkeepsie’s Mount Carmel Little Italy district to come across a bakery or restaurant that reaches back into the century-old culinary traditions brought to the Hudson Valley by Italian emigrants. The Poughkeepsie waterfront saw an influx of émigrés in 1910, who settled around Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, the house of worship built specifically to serve them. Soon the once-predominantly-Irish enclave began to take on the flavors and aromas of Old World-style Italian cooking.
Today the area is culturally mixed, but the heritage of the old country survives in its colorful festivals and favorite eateries, many of which have been family-owned and operated for decades. Centered within Verrazano Boulevard, Mill Street and Mt. Carmel Place, Little Italy was loosely defined by church parish boundaries and the Italian Center, a fraternal organization founded by combining several separate Italian-American clubs that were active in the region. Located in a historically significant, mid-19th-century building on Mill Street, the Italian Center hosts public and private events celebrating Italian culture such as this weekend’s Italian Festival 2019.
Beginning Thursday, May 16, and running through Sunday, May 19, the Festa is open to the public and will feature live music – Cruise Control, Midnite Image, Jerry Nicolato, Jungle Love, Roberto Milanese and Angela Bruno and the Chain Gang –along with magicians, balloons, spin art and other fun stuff. See the detailed schedule at www.theitaliancenter.com/events.html and check it out. And there will be food, of course. What would a Festa be without food? Which brings us to a brief review of all those bakeries and restaurants in the neighborhood…
Caffe Aurora, located at 145 Mill Street, is a traditional pasticceria opened in 1941 by Paolo Strippoli. For more than 75 years, succeeding generations of the famiglia have produced cakes, pastries and other authentic Italian desserts, following the patriarch’s efforts to create a little bit of Italy for the region’s tabletops. The story goes that Eleanor Roosevelt’s limousine driver would pull up to Caffe Aurora and fetch her a box of petit fours to take home to Hyde Park.
More common clientele could count on finding an array of cookies, biscotti, éclairs, sugared almonds, cakes, tarts and sugar-free and gluten-free cookies as well. An espresso bar cranks out steaming cups of the black elixir, along with those to-die-for Italian ices in 25 rotating flavors: chocolate fudge, cannoli cream, cantaloupe and others. Espresso accoutrements and other gift items adorn the shelves in the decidedly traditional atmosphere. Learn more at www.caffeaurora.com.
La Deliziosa Italian Pastry Shop at 10 Mount Carmel Place offers New York City-style pastries without the hassle of going into the City. Since 1974, La Deliziosa has sold the real deal in cannoli, sfogliatelle, biscotti and rum baba to customers who feel that they’ve stepped back in time. Indeed, for 45 years the shop has provided specialty cakes and trays full of Italian baked goods to weddings and parties up and down the Valley. The story goes that one-time dishwasher Frank Cordaro, who eventually took over the business nearly 25 years ago, invented the Cannoli Chip, a delectable made of leftover cannoli shells dipped in cannoli cream, thus taking his place among the more famous Italian inventors and innovators in history. Look into their senior citizen and military discounts at www.ladeliziosany.com.
Rossi Rosticceria Deli is a 40-year-old establishment at 45 South Clover Street where hungry customers can find a lavish array of entrées, salads, antipasti and specials to go. You can build your own sandwiches, choosing from a variety of breads, meats and cheeses, toppings and condiments. (Check out the build-your-own-sandwich photo page of the website at www.rossideli.com/todays-specials.html.) And the panini options, made on small or larger focaccia, are mouthwatering.
Then there’s Aloy’s at 157 Garden Street, serving the Hudson Valley since 1929, famous for its “square” thin-crust pizza (it’s actually a rectangle). Aloy’s offers free parking to customers visiting the Walkway over the Hudson, too.
Amici’s, at 35 Main Street on the riverfront, serves classic and contemporary Italian American fare, prepared by CIA-trained chef/owner Joel Trocino. The seasonal menu and daily specials, served in the casual-but-upscale atmosphere, make for a special night out, indeed. Meanwhile, a separate lounge offers music, TV, drinks, casual dining and a game of pool: a great spot for a group party of 30 to 50 people.
Milanese, at 115 Main Street, was opened in 1971 by the patriarch of the family, Santino Milanese. A Poughkeepsie landmark for decades, this is where generations of family members have served up classics like veal or chicken parmigiana to eager customers continuously. Simple ingredients, artfully prepared in the old-fashioned way, keep people coming back – not to omit mentioning an $18.95 three-course special on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. With a seating capacity of up to 200 people, Milanese can accommodate birthday parties, communions, retirements and any other event with Old Country family hospitality.
Hungry? Come to Little Italy and mangia tutti!