By Ernest Barteldes
In what has become an annual tradition for us, Renata and I – accompanied by a close friend – headed over to Little Italy for the annual Feast of San Gennaro a week-long religious festival that takes place following Labor Day weekend that celebrates everything Italian-American – a time when local restaurants extend to the sidewalks serving a variety of dishes while vendors sell Italian-inspired T-shirts and other souvenirs.
We went on the last Saturday of the event, and met at The Mulberry Street Bar, a venue also known as “Sinatra’s Bar” since he reportedly frequented the place with his friends whenever he was in New York. The place was packed with a loud crowd that were feeding the juke box with an endless amount of 80s music. On the outside some folks were smoking cigars as they drank, making the place less than enjoyable for non-smokers.
After we were all together we discussed dinner plans and agreed to check out Lombardi’s, a pizza restaurant famous for being the venue to have pioneered pizza in the United States ( and their website – http://www.firstpizza.com – is not shy about it) was established in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi, who opened the venue as a grocery store but then became dedicated to pizza – a tradition that continues to this day.
The place was, as expected, very crowded. The hostess told us there would be a 20-minute wait. We found a space at the bar and ordered a glass of wine. We were surprised that it was cash only there, but they had an ATM on side so it wasn’t a problem. After a short while, we were called and were conducted to our table, located in the same room as the restaurant’s wine cellar. After ordering another round of drinks, we selected their margherita pie which is a simple concoction made with fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato sauce.
Lombardi’s is one of the few pizza restaurants in New York that still uses a coal-fired oven due to the fact that environmental concerns make it difficult for new places to use this kind of oven (older places have been grandfathered in) , and that is clearly reflected in the flavor. Lombardi’s pie has a smokiness that is miles away from most other joints in town, and worth the experience. The service was quick but not rushed, and the servers were very courteous.
We then walked over to the legendary Ferrara Bakery, where we bought a few cannolli to go. We didn’t hang out as late as we did the last time, But it was a satisfying experience nevertheless, and I am surely looking forward to the next time.