Great Moments in Italian-American Food

From the first Italian to land in New York City, to Ghirardelli chocolate, to Chef Boyardee, to the Mario Batali-led recent regional Italian renaissance, the history of Italian cuisine in America is a long and storied one.

By Rina Oh

Published on November 11, 2011


Giovanni da Verrazano is the first European to enter New York Harbor. A century later, Venetian Pietro Cesare Alberti is the country's first Italian immigrant.


Two Italian brothers from Ticino, Switzerland, open the nation's first fine dining restaurant, Delmonico's, in downtown Manhattan, serving French cuisine.


Ligurian chocolatier Domingo Ghirardelli opens a storefront in San Francisco. Within a few decades, his chocolate is sold in supermarkets nationwide.


Frederic T. Bioletti perfects a method for canning olives, a key Italian-American ingredient, launching California's olive industry.


Polly-O Italian Cheese Company is founded by Giuseppe Pollio, who sold his handmade mozzarella and ricotta from a stand in Coney Island, New York.


New York lemon ice vendor Italo Marchioni files the patent for a mold to make mass-produced pastry cones for serving ice cream.


Sicilian Vincent Taormina founds an importing business in New Orleans that becomes Progresso, selling bread crumbs and canned soups.


The nation's first pizzeria, Lombardi's, opens in New York City, where it remains today. By the 1940s, pizzerias had opened across the U.S.


Emanuele Ronzoni starts a pasta company in Queens, New York, introducing "fancy-cut" shapes such as penne rigati from his native Liguria.


Hector Boiardi, a Cleveland chef, starts selling boxed spaghetti dinners in supermarkets under the brand Chef Boy-Ar-Dee.


The Palm, an Italian-American steakhouse featuring fancy dishes like surf and turf, opens in Manhattan. The chain is still going strong today.


Cesare Mondavi and his family purchase Charles Krug winery in St. Helena, California. Sons Robert and Peter go on to raise the profile of California wine far beyond the state's borders, while, farther south in Modesto, the winery founded in 1933 by Ernest and Julio Gallo becomes the world's largest.


Astoria, New York-based Michael Rienzi sells tomatoes from Basilicata. Before long, importers begin marketing San Marzano tomatoes from Campania.


Da Silvano popularizes trattoria fare in downtown New York. Two years later, Dean & Deluca opens, offering regional specialties like Modena's balsamic vinegar.


The first Olive Garden opens in Orlando, Florida, offering help-yourself bread, oil, and wine. There are now more than 730 locations.


Cooking show hosts, from Lidia Bastianch to Mary Ann Esposito to Mario Batali, popularize regional Italian cooking.


The International Culinary Center launches the School of Italian Studies offering classes in New York and Italy.


Lidia Bastianch, her son Joe Bastianch, and Mario Batali open America's first Eataly, a 50,000-square-foot mega-market featuring six restaurants and thousands of Italian cheeses, salumi, wines, sweets, and more—paradise for Italophiles.

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