07/30/14 11:12am

A vastedda sans ricotta at Ferdinando’s Focacceria.

I’ve been hearing about the 110-year-old Ferdinando’s Focacceria for at least 20 years. Last week I finally made it to the Carroll Gardens temple of Sicilian soul food. There I met Francesco Buffa who convinced me to order a vastedda the old-fashioned way, that is to say without the dollop of ricotta, which he insisted is not how way the calf spleen sandwich is served back home. “You really get the flavor of the meat,” he said. (more…)

06/11/14 9:27am

Photo: Kelli Anderson/Russ & Daughters

I’ve always been a big fan of Russ & Daughters the antediluvian appetizing shop that is one of the last vestiges of New York City’s Jewish Lower East Side. So I was particularly excited when the Russ & Daughters Cafe opened. I haven’t had a chance to fress there yet. My good friend Noah Arenstein beat me to the schmaltz and was kind enough to file this dispatch. Take it away Noah . . .

Entering the new Russ & Daughters Cafe, I can’t help but feel a dizzy gratification by the fact that one of the most anticipated openings of 2014 in New York City is a full-service restaurant from a 100-year-old purveyor of the type of smoked fish most easily associated with my grandparents’ generation. (more…)

03/19/14 10:02am

What’s better than vastedda?

A couple of weeks ago while doing some research for a Brooklyn Chinatown/Italian Bensonhurst food tour I stopped by Gino’s Focacceria for a vastedda. I was saddened to see the shop was for rent. I asked a local merchant where I might I obtain the traditional Sicilian calf spleen sandwich. “Joe’s of Avenue U,” she said.

I forgot all about the offal and cheese sandwich until Friday after leading that food tour. After several hours of eating and talking I often like to decompress with even more eating. So I paid the Gravesend institution a visit for a vastedda. My namesake Sicilian diner still sits beneath the Avenue U stop on the F. The old-school sign has been changed, but the magnificent steam table filled with stuffed artichokes and other Sicilian specialties looks exactly the same. And they still have vastedda ($6.99). (more…)

03/12/14 12:01pm

Photo: Sarah Drew

Like many a fresser I’ve always thought of the newly reopened Sarge’s as something of a third-string player in the delicatessen game. I’m glad to see an old school Jewish deli reopening instead of closing for good, but I’m not as excited about Sarge’s as some like my pal Noah Arenstein who has been kind enough to share his thought about this underdog of delis in this guest post. Take it away Noah . . .

Sarge’s in Murray Hill has long been overlooked in favor of more famous deli standards like Katz’s, Carnegie and even the Second Avenue Deli, but for me, it’s as deep a New York deli experience as I’ve ever experienced. Of course, at first glance, 24/7 delivery anywhere in Manhattan impressed me as much as anything, but soon the food won me over as well. (more…)

11/18/13 12:21pm

Knish Nosh’s perogies are pure Eastern European comfort food.

Sixty-year-old Knish Nosh is best known for its namesake old school New York City snack. The Forest Hills shop sells seven varieties of hand-rolled potato knishes, including sweet potato, broccoli, and mushroom. As much as I love the knishes, come late fall I like to snack on one of Knish Nosh’s lesser known, but heartier potato products: perogies. The hefty packages smothered in caramelized onions taste like they were cooked up on the stove of an Eastern European grandmother. That grandmother would be Romanian-born Ana Vasilescu, who prepares spinach and potato varieties ($2.50) as well as ones packed with brisket ($2.50). I prefer potato, but when especially hungry I get brisket. I have yet to try the spinach version, but I am sure it’s only a matter of time before my adopted Romanian grandmother tells me to eat my vegetables.

Knish Nosh, 100-30 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills, 718-897-5554

07/31/13 10:28am
Beef tongue and matzo ball soup, good for what ails you.

Beef tongue and matzo ball soup, good for what ails you.

Feed a cold, starve a fever, or so the old saying goes. But what if you’re down with a bit of both? Well then the cure  as any good Jewish mother knows is surely to eat something. Enter Ben’s Best, my local old-school Jewish deli. Whenever I have a cold I stop in for a bowl of Jewish penicillin, aka matzo ball soup ($6.75). Chicken soup helps with the cold part. As for the feeding yesterday I opted for a beef tongue sandwich. ($14.95). (more…)

05/03/13 10:17am

An old school slice in the midst of New York City’s most dynamic Chinatown.

Unlike Manhattan Chinatown, which borders Little Italy, downtown Flushing has little or no Italian food. There is precisely one Italian restaurant, Lucia Pizza. It sits across from New World Mall, and has been there since well before that mall was a Caldor. Its opening also predates New York  current pizza Napoletana craze.

The draw here is unreconstructed old-school New York City pizza, by the pie,or more often the slice. Hand over $2.25, grab a perch at the counter and dig into a taste of days gone by. The Sicilian slice is pretty good too. I once asked the counterman here  why he didn’t have kimchi pizza, like T.J.’s a spot that has since closed. He looked at me like I was nuts.

Lucia Pizza, 136-55 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing, 718-445-1313

04/04/13 4:22pm

About a week ago I had the honor of appearing on Travel Channel’s Street Eats: U.S.A. for a segment on street foods in New York City. For those who didn’t get to see it and for those who crave more curbside cuisine I’ve devoted this week’s edition of The Seven to street food. Here then in no particular order are seven of my current street food faves. Some appeared on the show, and some some didn’t. Have a favorite street food you think I left out? Let me know in the comments, or hit me up on the Twitter, @JoeDiStefano.


1. Pedro El Cevichero
I first encountered Pedro’s sidewalk ceviche outside a market in Elmhurst. His Mexican ceviche mise en place includes olive oil, limes, onions, cilantro, and a tomato-based sauce. South of the Border ceviche is called coctele, as in shrimp cocktail. It’s more of a cold seafood soup than the Peruvian version. Pedro makes it right before your very eyes. It’s like watching a seafood mixologist as you listen to the 7 train rumble by overhead. Shrimp cocteles are available in three sizes ($8, $10, $12). The excellent mixto, shrimp and octopus is ($6, $8, $10). Find Pedro at Roosevelt Ave. and 80th St. from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.


2. Baul Daada Jaal Muri Shop
This is not so much a shop as a streetside Bangladeshi chaat vendor. As the name implies there’s only one specialty here, jaal muri. Three bucks gets you an order of Baul Daada’s spicy puffed rice. It’s a sensory overload of a snack consisting of puffed rice, kala chana (black chickpeas) chopped tomatoes, cilantro, green chili paste, red onions, crunchy dried soybeans, cilantro, spicy fried noodles, and squirts and shakes from the various and sundry bottles, including some sinus-clearing mustard oil. Find Daada on 73 St. near 37 Ave. from late afternoon to around 10 p.m. weather permitting. (more…)

03/15/13 12:16pm
A sign of the older times.

The sign is gone, but the Cuban sandwich is still as good as ever.

“Oh it’s at my house,” the owner of El Sitio, the wonderful Cuban luncheonette hard by the corner of 69th St. and Roosevelt Ave. said to me about the restaurant’s old sign.  That sign, with its old school lettering that evokes 1960s and 70s salsa music and Don Quixote was a true classic. The piggy in the top hat at right enthusiastically beckoned passerby to try the lechon asado. And in the smallest letters on the sign a humble plug for what is quite possibly this joint’s  greatest achievement, sandwiches cubanos. It’s 2013 and that old school sign has been updated with a flashier, more modern one. Thankfully nothing has changed about the Cuban sandwiches here or the orange formica counter in the front room where they are best eaten. They are still a celebration of porky, cheesy, garlicky goodness. That little guy in the top hat would be proud.

El Sitio, 68-28 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, 718-424-2369

03/12/13 10:02am
Getting to the heart of the matter, Sicilian style.

Getting to the heart of the matter, Sicilian style.

I’ve been told more than once that I have forsaken my Italian heritage to devote myself to Asian cuisine. Usually I take this in stride, especially since my Sicilian-American father inspired my love of Asian food. Sometime though I need to feel that red sauce flowing in my veins. I head over to Mama’s of Corona for a meatball parmigiana sandwich. If that doesn’t get my Italian heart beating then I know I need serious treatment, a pilgrimage to that shrine of Sicilian soul food, Joe’s of Avenue U, located in deepest Brooklyn.

Via the F from from Queens it’s an hour-plus trek. Visible from the subway platform Joe’s specializes in all manner of Sicilian grandma food like cacocciuli stufati ($7.99.) I cut my teeth on my mother’s gigantic globe artichokes stuffed with a mixture of garlicky breadcrumbs. More unusual is the occasional special of cacocciuli frittu ($6), or fried artichoke hearts. It’s something I haven’t seen outside of Joe’s. I could go for some right now and perhaps a vastedda ($6.99), a calf spleen sandwich topped with a dollop of ricotta. I think feel a pilgrimage coming on.

 Joe of Avenue U, 287 Avenue U, Gravesend, 718-449-9285