By Jerry Del Priore
There’s something to be said for food establishments that have withstood the test of time. With places seemingly opening one day, and closing the next, Bensonhurst has a large number of fantastic Italian food establishments that have been around for years, surviving and thriving through the of toughest of times.
So get ready to tantalize your taste buds with a delectable cannoli or a savory slice – perhaps even a little pasta or an Italian Hero.
7001 18th Avenue
— Brooklyn Chamber (@BrooklynChamber) March 19, 2014
Since 1979, the Alaimo family has been bringing the finest authentic Sicilian pastries, cookies, cakes, and breads to the good people of Bensonhurst and beyond. In fact, Villabate Alba has arguably the best cannoli – stuffed with sheep’s milk imported from Sicily to make the ricotta cream filling – in the city. “Two to three hundred are sold daily from Monday to Thursday, and four to six hundred from Friday to Sunday,” said Anthony Alaimo, who, along with other family members, has taken over full-time operational responsibilities from his dad, Emanuele. Previously located on 72nd Street and 18th Avenue, Villabate Alba moved to its present digs at 7001 18th Avenue – the former site of Alba Bakery, a neighborhood institution since 1935 – in 2007 to serve a larger cliental. The Alaimos decided to keep the Alba name on the sign out of respect for the previous owner, Alaimo noted, and combined it with Villabate, the name of their hometown in Sicily, Italy.
2. John’s Deli, 2033 Stillwell Avenue
For true Brooklynites, John’s Deli, in operation for over 45 years, is the place to go for a mouthwatering Italian hero. John’s Deli, with the elevated D train hovering above in the background, is like a trip back in time. First, if you leave a tip, don’t be surprised when the workers yell, “Thank You, Subway.” It’s to commemorate when, in the 20s and 30s, the subway fare was a nickel, and people would generously tip local retail workers so they get home. It was later revived at John’s in the 60s and 70s by a costumer, who informed then-owner John of the custom. Secondly, it’s not for appearance, but the food is legendary. Its signature roast beef – smothered with mozzarella, sautéed onions and John’s Deli’s secret, special gravy – has been referred to by its loyal customers as the best they’ve ever tasted, bar none. I also love the Godfather, which boasts five different hardy meats with a variety of cheeses. This sandwich is so unbelievably appetizing that you won’t be able to refuse it (pun intended). The fried chicken cutlet with broccoli rabe and mozzarella and the chicken parm heroes are other lip-smacking options, as are the meatballs, fried ravioli and rice balls – stuffed with ham and cheese. Fuggettaboutit!
3. Da Vinci Pizzeria 6514 18th Avenue I have been going to Da Vinci since my childhood days, and it’s still one of my favorite pizza destinations to this day, especially for a Brooklyn Neapolitan. It must be the way the sauce and mozzarella ceremoniously come together, creating a symphony of greatness. Established in 1966, Da Vinci is owned and operated by brothers Angelo and Antonio Gnerre, who produce great pies founded on the recipes of their father, Fedele, a self-taught pizza chef who hailed from Avellino, Italy, the same town from where my parents originated. Aside from the pizza, Da Vinci serves up fantastic pepperoni rolls and an awesome eggplant panini.
4. Queen Ann Ravioli & Macaroni 7205 18th Avenue Alfredo Ferrara’s rise from meager beginnings to prominence is the classic immigrant success story. Leaving Italy in 1955 for America, he worked hard, and returned home in 1960 after saving up enough money in order to marry his childhood sweetheart, Anna. Following their wedding, the Ferraras ventured back to US, and worked tirelessly for several years before opening up Queen Ann Ravioli & Macaroni in 1972. Spanning over 43 years and three generations of Ferraras, the old-school charming Italian shop still manufactures fresh pasta and shells made daily on an old-fashioned hydraulic press built in Manhattan’s Lower East Side over 100 years ago. In addition, Queen Ann produces fresh made egg batter crepes for their delicious manicotti daily, along with cavatelli, agnolotti, gnocchi, ravioletti, stuffed rigatoni, tortellini, and tortelloni. They also carry a variety of imported specialty Italian products.
5. Bari Pork Store 158 Avenue U This place isn’t for vegetarians, as the name states. But if you have a carnivorous appetite, then Bari Pork Store is for your palate.
After over 40 years in business, the self-proclaimed “King of Sausage” still packs in patronages with a list of great Italian specialty meats, heroes, rice balls and prepared dishes such as fried artichoke hearts and hot antipasti.
They also offer a diverse import product selection including pastas, sauces, canned goods, seasonings, beverages, and dried goods.
Correction: A photo of heros used in an earlier version of this article was attributed to John’s Deli, when in fact the breads pictured were from at Lioni Italian Heroes – another classic Italian establishment in Dyker Heights.