Italiano Americano: A Guide to America's Little Italies

Landon Nordeman

Between 1876 and 1924, almost one third of Italy's population immigrated to America, spreading and settling across the country. Bringing ingredients, flavors and techniques from the various regions of Italy, these adventurous Italians created dishes as unique as their new communities, giving rise to dishes evocative of both Italy and their new American homes. This hybrid Italian-American cuisine has evolved into one of the best-loved genres in America today, though from city to city each has its own flavor. Here's a tour of our favorite Little Italies, from sea to shining sea.

New York City

With New York the home to the largest Italian American community in the country, it seems appropriate that the city has two Little Italies: the original on Mulberry Street in Manhattan, and what some call the real Little Italy on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.

Arthur Avenue
Along Arthur Avenue from 184th St to 187th Street, and 187th St over to Belmont Ave.

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Flicker/Kristen Hess

Photo:Flickr/Kristen Hess

You can't really go wrong on Arthur Avenue with family-owned shops providing Italian goods, sweets and sausages to both the community and eager visitors. Don't miss Casa Della Mozzarella (604 E 187th St.) and Borgatti's Pasta (632 E. 187th), before turning onto Arthur Avenue for treats like the fresh bread at Madonia Brothers Bakery (2348 Arthur Ave.) or dry specialty goods from Teitel Brothers (2372 Arthur Ave.) If you want the condensed version, the Arthur Avenue Retail Market (2330 Arthur Ave.) brings all the delights of the neighborhood together under one roof. For a meal to remember, head to Dominicks's (2335 Arthur Ave.). This classic restaurant is loud, has no menus, no dessert, and is consistently named the neighborhood's favorite red-sauce joint. But worry not, dessert lovers: the neighborhood is overrun with sweet options; shops like Egidio Pastry (622 E 187th St.), which has been satisfying sugar cravings since 1912.

Manhattan
Along Mulberry Street and Mott Streets between Canal and Spring Streets, then Sprawling to the northwest along Bleecker Street from 6th to 7th Avenues

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Flicker/Paul Stein

Photo:Flickr/Paul Stein

Start off the day at the Italian American Museum (155 Mulberry St.) located at the site of the former Banca Stabile, established in 1885 to serve as a link back to Italy for the new Italian immigrants. Follow Mulberry north to the oldest espresso bar in the country, Ferrara (195 Grand St. between Mott and Mulberry) established in 1892, for a coffee and dessert. Continue on through the remnants of Little Italy, mostly crowded restaurants and souvenir shops, and hang a right onto Spring St. to try a slice of pie from Lombardi's (32 Spring St.), _the first pizzeria in America, dating back to 1905 when Sicilian Gennaro Lombardi peddled his first slice. Follow the emigration pattern northwest to Ottomanelli & Sons Meat Market (_285 Bleecker St.), one of the oldest butchers in New York City. For a sweet finish, pop next door to Pasticceria Rocco (243 Bleecker St.) for cannoli. It's an old neighborhood favorite: the former Joe Zema's Pastry, turned over to the 1954 newcomer Rocco, his southern Italian apprentice, in 1974.

_*The Annual Fest of San Gennaro is the biggest and longest running festival in New York, dating back 85 years. The September festival now runs for 11 days in both Little Italy of Manhattan and the Bronx. _

Philadelphia

Home to the second-largest Italian-American population in the United States, the first Italians to emigrate to Philly were intellectuals, artists and entrepreneurs. But it was the Genoese and Liguiran blue-collar workers and restaurateurs who came later in the 19th century that left behind the most delicious legacy in the form of Italian American treats like Pat Oliveri's Cheese steaks and Ralph's veal dinners. Rest assured, you will not leave South Philly hungry.

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Flicker/Yuri Long

Photo: Flickr/Yuri Long

South Philly
Concentrated along 9th Street from Wharton to Fitzwater Streets

Take a gander at the giant mural of Frank Rizzo painted on the side of resident Anges Viso's home on the corner of Montrose and 9th St, that's how you know you have arrived at the heart of the 9th Street Italian Market, the oldest outdoor market in America and the center of little Italy in Philly from 9th Street and Wharton to 9th and Fitzwater Streets. If you are around in May, you can celebrate with the locals at the Annual Italian Market festival on May 19th and 20th. You can enjoy the taste of competition anytime of year at neighboring cheese steak shops Pat's and Geno's. Start off with a bite of history at Pat's King of Steaks just South of Philly's Italian market (9th Street at Wharton and Passyunk Ave.) Established in 1930, Pat Oliveri invented the philly cheese steak when he switched from slingin' hot dogs to steak sandwiches after he was caught making himself one for lunch and his cabbie customers wanted a piece. Then head next door to Geno's Steaks (1219 South 9th Street): the relative newcomer burst on the scene in 1966 and ever since has been engaged in a battle of the best with original cheese steak pusher Pat's. There are fierce loyalties on both sides, and with locations less than a block from one another, it's up to you to decide. Walk off your lunch back at the market exploring the many Italian specialty stores, then head west on Christian street two blocks and pick up a box of fresh cannoli at Isgro Paticceria (1009 Christian Street), established in 1904 . Wrap up the day at the country's second oldest Italian restaurant, and the oldest family run restaurant in the country, Ralph's Italian Restaurant (760 S. 9th St.) Established in 1900 by Neapolitan immigrants Francesco and Catherine Dispigno, Ralph's has been a favorite of many Italian Americans over the years, including Frank Sinatra, as well as non-Italians like President Roosevelt. For staggeringly low prices you can dine on Italian American favorites like spaghetti and meatballs, buttered noodles, and clams casino. With popularity comes a crowd, so be sure to make a reservation.

San Francisco

North Beach boasts the oldest Italian restaurant, parade, and festival in America, and many of the country's oldest Italian shops and bakeries too. The city is crawling with history, but the innovative spirit of its residents has kept this former Sicilian fishing village buzzing with modernity while holding on to its heritage.

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Flicker/Cyril Caton

Photo: Flickr/Cyril Caton

North Beach
Running along Columbus Avenue from Broadway, technically all the way to the wharf, but shops peter out around Francisco Street. Everything in the neighborhood is within a five minute walk.

The main drag of North Beach Little Italy is Columbus Avenue, with shops and restaurants emanating off the blocks on either side. Washington Square Park is said to be the heart of the neighborhood, and the St. Peter and Paul Church (666 Filbert Street) at its edge has been blessing Italian fisherman at the wharf every year since 1924. Overlooking the park from the northeastern corner is a tiny foccaciaria, Liguria Bakery (1700 Stockton St.) opened by Ligurian brothers in 1911, and still run by the same family (the addition of garlic focaccia has been the menu's only change in a hundred years). Down Stockton a few blocks is the North Beach Museum (1435 Stockton St.), hidden away in the top of the Eureka Bank Building. The museum is dedicated to the rich Italian history of the neighborhood and is free of charge, but this little known gem is only open Monday through Friday. Just past the museum stands Cavalli & Co. (1441 Stockton St.), an Italian import shop open since 1880. While perusing the Italian newspapers and espresso machines, practice your Italian with owner John Valentini. Before heading back over toward Columbus Ave, stop into one of the oldest bakeries in the city Victoria Pastry Co. (1362 Stockton St.), opened in 1914, and ogle the spectacular multi-layer cakes for which it is famous. Even if you aren't in the market for a massive sugar structure, you can sample their expertise with mini-tiramisu cakes. Up on Columbus Avenue, grab lunch at centenarian Molinari Delicatessen (373 Columbus Ave.), where customers select a loaf of bread from the bread bins, and wait until their number is called to pass it over to the counter guys who build custom grinders out of the various gourmet Italian items sold in the shop, including their own famous Molinari salami. For dinner, head to the newest location of the oldest Italian restaurant in the country, Fior d'Italia(2237 Mason St.), for a bowl of the San Francisco specialty cioppino. Named after a family-style fisherman's dinner in which all the Sicilians contributed from their catch of the day (the bucket man would yell, 'chip-in' in an Italian ascent, thus cioppino), this dish is a perfect representation of the Italian-American adaptations of San Francisco's Little Italy. End your night a block over at Bimbo's 365 Club (1025 Columbus Ave.), the legendary lounge where Rita Hayworth and countless others got their starts, opened in 1930 by Tuscan immigrant Agostino Giuntoli.

*_ North Beach claims the oldest urban street fair in the country and the oldest Italian Heritage parade, dating back to 1868. The Annual North Beach Festival features Italian street foods alongside Falafels and Teriyaki stands. The San Francisco Italian Heritage Parade, held annually on Columbus Day, begins at Fisherman's Warf and continues on through North Beach._

St. Louis

When the fire hydrants begin to look like Italian flags with green red and white stripes, you know you're on The Hill. With an Italian American style all their own, featuring Provel processed cheese and fried ravioli, there's an unmistakable St. Louis flair in this town's Italian flavor.

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Mama's On the Hill

Photo: courtesy Mama's On the Hill

The Hill
Manchester Avenue (Route 100) on the north, Columbia and Southwest Avenues on the south, South Kingshighway Boulevard on the east, and Hampton Avenue on the west

Opened in 1999, Shaw's Coffee is far from historic, but it's become a Hill favorite, playing on the Italian obsession with good coffee by roasting and grinding their own special blend. Stop in for an espresso before setting out to explore the many specialty shops and restaurants. In between meals, walk past The Italian Immigrants memorial stature in front of St. Ambrose Catholic Church (5130 Wilson Ave.), dedicated in 1926, or take a stroll down Baseball Hall of Fame Place, a renamed section of Elizabeth Avenue (between Macklind Ave and Macaroni Avenue) where Yogi Berra, Joe Garagiola, and broadcaster Jack Buck grew up. You can find their homes, marked by granite plaques listing the names and dates of their inductions into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The streets are loaded with specialty shops, including Volpi Foods (5250 Daggett Ave.), opened by Giovanni Volpi in 1902, which continues to crank out the best cured meats in the city (some argue they're the best in the country). Viviano and Sons (5139 Shaw Ave.), opened in by a macaroni factory worker, John Viviano to supplement his income, has blossomed into a neighborhood go-to shop, selling an array of Italian wines, olive oils and cheeses. Lunch options are limitless, but should include an item made with Provel, the signature shelf stable cheese of the St. Louis Italian community. Amighetti's (5141 Wilson Ave.), has been offering-up its namesake sandwich, a classic featuring brick cheese or Provel, since 1921. Dinner at Mama's On the Hill (2132 Edwards Ave.), is a must. Opened under the name Oldani's in 1940, Mama's claims to be the birthplace of toasted ravioli, and Mama will tell you all about it over dinner featuring the largest homemade meatball on The Hill (bigger than a baseball), served with spaghetti of course, or a cracker thin St. Louis style pizza covered with Provel cheese.

Chicago

With a history complete with Sicilian wise-guys and thick crust pies, Chicago's Little Italy comes with a decidedly hybrid Midwestern-Sicilian vibe. Deep dish is hardly the alpha and omega of Chicago's Italian American culinary contributions, as you'll find out in the Sicilian sector of Little Italy on Taylor Street.

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Ferrara Bakery

Photo: courtesy Ferrara Bakery

**Taylor Street **
West Taylor Street from the University at South Morgan Street to the end at South Western Ave.

Taylor Street is the main dining drag in Chicago's Sicilian Little Italy, anchored with favorites like Pompei (1531 W. Taylor St.), named after the neighborhood church. Opened by Sicilian Luigi Davino in 1909, Pompei has remained family-run ever since, so don't expect to find deep dish here: the pizza is still the thin Sicilian style. For a neighborhood specialty, stop at Al's Beef (1070 W Taylor St.); Chicago's iconic Italian beef sandwich was created here in 1938, and has grown from a humble depression era street food to a legendary Italian staple. Order yours with Italian sauce and eat it standing wide-legged and leaning over the counter. There are many neighborhood grocers, but Conte Di Savoia (2227 W. Taylor St.) has been the neighborhood specialty market since 1948 and continues to serve the area proudly. Opened in 1908, Salvatore Ferrara's Italian pastry legacy lives on today at Ferrara Bakery (2210 W Taylor St.), where the baked goods have been pretty well perfected over its century-plus existence. If you're craving deep dish, head about 15 minutes north of Sicilian Little Italy and pay a visit to Uno Pizzeria (_29 E Ohio St.), _home of the famous Chicago style pie created by Ike Sewell in 1943. (The franchise by the same name is a totally different animal, and no substitute for the original.)

Boston

Italians began flocking to the North End around 1860, and by 1930, the area was almost 100 percent Italian. The new residents divided along regional lines, creating blocks of Sicilians and Napolians, Milanese and Genoans. These divisions helped to preserve local tradition and the result is a rich tapestry of regionalized Italian-American flavor bursting from every corner of the narrow Boston streets.

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Flicker/Randy Robertson

Photo: Flickr/Randy Robertson

The North End
One square mile, between Cross Street, Causeway Street and Atlantic Avenue loop, with Main streets Hanover and Salem

The restaurants, bakeries and markets of North End are sublime, though they can be an overwhelming embarrassment of riches. For the best cannoli and Italian pastry in town, there are two historic shops to check out. Modern Pastry Shop (257 Hanover St.), has been family owned since 1930, and continues to use recipes dating back over 150 years. A few blocks down, Mike's Pastry Shop (300 Hanover St.), is a North End legend, drawing celebrities and tourists since opening in 1943, offering an overwhelming number of special fillings for Italian treats like canolis, rum cakes and Sfogliatella. An old-world favorite, Polcari's Coffee (105 Salem St.), began as a simple coffee purveyor in 1932 and has since expanded into a destination for dry goods like rare spices, nuts, cured meats, pasta and both roasted and unroasted coffee. Salumeria Italiana (151 Richmond St.), debatably the best Italian grocer, has been receiving shipments of Italian oils, vinegars, pastas, meats and cheeses from the homeland every Friday for the last 50 years. As their name would indicate, their salami is fantastic. The Polcari family opened Boston's first pizzeria, Regina Pizzeria (11½ Thacher St.), in 1926, and their signature yeasty crust, zippy sauce, and aged whole milk mozzarella set the bar for all Bostonian pizzas to follow. Though contested, Cantina Italiana (346 Hanover St.), stakes a claim as the North End's oldest restaurant, in business since 1931. The classic Italian American vibe is instantly apparent in the neon sign featuring Chianti dripping into a goblet over their insignia and continues on the plate with classics like meat lasagna.

San Diego

Southern Italians flocked to San Diego: sea-loving Italian immigrants to the thriving fishing industry and land-lubbers to the sardine canning industry. But, the decline of the tuna industry and the building of a new freeway cutting through the area in the late 1960s devastated the area. Thanks to Italian American residents like Sicilian baker and Sicilian Heritage Foundation organizer Mario Cefalu, it is thriving once again. The area is beautifully maintained and full of fun odes to the Italian history of the block.

LI San Diego

Flicker/Joe Wolf

Photo: Flickr/Joe Wolf

**
**Concentrated along India Street, from Laurel South to West A Street

India Street is lined with restaurants, sidewalk cafes and shops, and most of them are new, coming after renewal projects, and they are fantastic. Italian Heritage Festivals can be enjoyed throughout the year. For some of the best pizza on the block, served in appropriately Italian American checked-tablecloth-fashion, head to Filippi's Pizza Grotto (1747 India St.). Vincent DePhilippis and his wife Madeleine came to America in 1922 and in 1950 and opened a deli on India Street and that deli expanded into a small pizza empire with Filippi's. If it's pasta you're after, try family run Assenti's Pasta (2044 India St.), offering the best artisan pasta in town. You can't get more Italian American than the red, white and green awnings hanging over the windows of a restaurant painted with Mona Lisa's faint smile. Mona Lisa Italian Restaurant and Deli (2016 India St.), opened in 1956 by Stefano Brunetto, is a family run area classic. Around 20 years ago the Solunto Baking Co. (_1643 India St.) _ was opened by passionate Sicilian American Mario Cefalu, who went on to organize the Sicilian Festival.

Baltimore

Located in the heart of downtown Baltimore, Maryland's Little Italy is still vibrant, despite its humble beginnings as an 1880s pit-stop for gold-rushing Italians on their way out west. The lure of steady work proved much stronger than the lust for gold for the Italians who stayed-on to work on the railroad and as fishermen, and it is their memory that echoes through the Little Italy of Baltmore's Inner harbor.

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Vaccaros Pastry

Photo: courtesy Vaccaros Pastry

**
**High Street and Albermarle Street from Eastern Avenue to E. Pratt Street

Vaccaro's Italian Pastry Shop (222 Albemarle St.), has been operated by the Vaccaro family since 1956 and continues to churn out delicious, fresh canolis, gelato, rum cakes, Cassata cakes and more. A few doors down, the Velleggia Family continues a half-century long tradition crafting a mind boggling 30 varieties of fresh stuffed and cut pastas at Casa di Pasta (210 Albermarle St.) A block over, Chiapparelli's (237 S. High St.), has been serving up their famous Caesar salad since 1940, and continues to make patrons feel like family. In 1953, Giovanna Aquia and her family sailed to Baltimore from Sicily, and haven't left since, and the recipes at Cafe Gia's (410 South High St.) are the product of four generations of Inner Harbor Sicilian cooking, and the mother-daughter team still run the helm, serving favorites like Fettuccine ai Frutti. The most distinctly Baltimorian-Italian specialty to come out of the Inner Harbor is spaghetti with crab, a meal made by fishermen's wives out of their husbands' unsellable crab. One place to sample this salty treat is Mo's Crab and Pasta Factory (502 Albermarle St.), the service is just as salty as you'd would expect on the docks, and the seafood just as fresh.

Providence

Italians were drawn en masse to Providence, Rhode Island in 1865, enticed by the booming jewelry and silverware business. As the community stabilized, many residents went into business along Atwells Avenue, developing a strong community on Federal Hill.

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Scialo Bakery

Photo: courtesy Scialo Bakery

**Federal Hill **
Along Atwells Avenue from Bradford Street to Knight Street

The arch over Atwells Avenue, adorned with the La Pigna (the pinecone) symbolizing Italian hospitality, welcomes visitors to Federal Hill. The centerpiece of the area is the fountain at DePasquale Plaze, where tables turn the square into a sitting area for the surrounding cafes. At one such cafe, Scialo Bakery (257 Atwells Ave.), the Scialo family has been serving Italian classics from their brick oven since 1916. Grab a pastry at Scialo and a coffee from newcomer Caffe Dolce Vita (59 DePasquale Square), in the neighborhood for a mere 20 years, and head to the square for people watching.Around the corner, Venda Ravioli (265 Atwells Ave.), has been in the pasta game since the 1930s, beginning as a small pasta shop and expanding into a large storefront offering 150 kinds of pasta with an espresso bar for waiting customers. Another throwback to bygone times is Antonelli's Butcher Shop (62 De Pasquale Ave.), where customers can have their chicken or rabbit slaughtered to order. Toward the end of the block, two landmark restaurants still serve the diverse needs of their community. Camille's (71 Bradford St.) opened in 1914 as a ritzy place to see and be seen, and Angelo's Civita Farnese (141 Atwells Ave.), opened in 1924 as a workingman's restaurant.

Bloomfield, PA

Five generations of Italian Americans have called this little town home, beginning with railroad and steel workers in the 1800s to the present day throngs of hospital workers. Cultural pride and small town hospitality keep Bloomfield's Little Italy thriving.

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Donatelli's Italian Food Center

Photo: courtesy Donatelli's Italian Food Center

Along Liberty Avenue and its side streets

Strolling down Liberty Avenue and meandering off on side streets, there is distinctly European ambiance coupled with small-town America friendliness. Groceria Italiana (237 Cedarville St.) opened almost 50 years ago, and continues to draw crowds with its 14 varieties of handmade ravioli and rich ricotta-stuffed sfogliatelli. Donatelli's Italian Food Center (4711 Liberty Ave.), is another neighborhood favorite founded by Frank Donatelli in 1932 and now run by his son who continues the tradition of passionately providing the freshest Italian prepared foods and imports in town including bottles of Grandma Donatelli's sauce. Down the road, a second generation of brothers, Alex and John, run their father's (and uncle's) Sanchioli Brother's Bakery (4731 Juniper St.), which has been providing many of the restaurants in the area with their famous onion bread since 1924. One of the most interesting Italian American delicacies can be found at newcomer Grasso Roberto (4709 Liberty Ave.), where in addition to traditional Italian treats, customers can sample the local specialty: spaghetti ice cream, made from vanilla gelato noodles, brownie meatballs, and white chocolate "parmesan" shreds. Del's Bar and Ristorante (4428 Liberty Ave.), is an ode to Grandpa and Grandma DelPizzo, who came to Bloomfield in 1908 and started the first embodiment of Del's: Meadow Grill. The grandkids continue to supply Bloomfield with Italian American classics like their signature veal scaloppini. The best time to come by Bloomfield is in late September for Little Italy Days, a festival featuring everything from zucchini egg rolls to Frank Sinatra impersonations.

Wilmington, DE

In addition to railroad work in the 1890s, many of Wilmington's first Northern Italian residents found work in leather, iron and steel.Today the neighborhood is diverse, but still retains a definite Tuscan essence, celebrated annually during the St. Anthony's Italian Festival.

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Mrs. Robino's Italian Restaurant

Photo: courtesy Mrs. Robino's Italian Restaurant

****Along Union and Lincoln Streets between Pennsylvania Avenue and 4th Street

The large green arch featuring Italian crests hangs over 4th Street and Lincoln Street, welcoming visitors and residents to Little Italy. Italian specialty stores are few, but fantastic. The Napoleton Fierro family has been making cheese in Wilmington at M.Fierro and Sons Fierro Cheese (1025 N. Union St.), since 1928, and are know for their luscious ricotta. A few blocks down, Papa's Pastry Shop (600 N. Union St.) puts a decidedly modern twist on Italian sweets by offering gluten-free versions. Restaurants are not in short supply, but the two oldest also have the distinction of both being opened by women over half a century ago. Four generations of Robino's have been running Mrs. Robino's Restaurant (520 N. Union St.) since 1940, with house specials like Greens with Garlic and Lottie's Special: seafood tossed in a creamy blush sauce over penne. Madelines (531 N. Dupont St.), is another of Wilmington's older restaurants, with over 50 years in the same location run by the same family. They're known for the house Spezzato entree, featuring diced veal and mushrooms in a red gravy.

New Haven, CT

Italians came on the scene in New Haven to work in factories in the late 1800s and formed a community around Wooster Square. Their most famous contribution to the Italian American culinary repertoire is New Haven-style pizza.

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Flicker/Krista

Photo: Flickr/Krista

**Wooster Street **
Wooster Street is one block below Wooster Square (surrounded by Greene Street, Wooster Place, Chapel Street and Academy Street) from Oliver to Franklin Street

Thin crust, New Haven-style pizza wars live on in the square, one contender Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana,(157 Wooster St), opened in 1925. Known as Pepe's to locals, they originally offered only two pies: the thin crust Original Tomato with tomato, garlic, oregano, and olive oil, or a marinara pie featuring anchovies, but over the last near-century they've expanded the menu a little. The other major competitor (and Pepe's rival) is Sally's Apizza (237 Wooster St.), opened in 1938, still serving only pizza, soda, and beer. In between the two warring pizzerias, the Dell'Amura family has been serving sweets at Libby's Italian Pastry Shop (139 Wooster St.) since 1922, specializing in traditional Italian cookies and biscotti. If delis are more your speed, head next door to Ferrucci's Italian Deli (140 Wooster St.), where they serve daily specials and signature sandwiches like the Ferrucci's Special: porchetta, broccoli rabe, provolone, and roasted red peppers, or the Jenny Boom Ba: breaded chicken cutlet, broccoli rabe, hot cherry peppers, provolone, parmesan and tomato. Dinner at Consiglio's (165 Wooster St.), has been a tradition in New Haven since the 1930s, when Annuziata and Salavatore Consiglio emigrated from southern Italy and opened shop. They offer all the Italian American classics, from ceasar salad and clams casino to linguini and meatballs and three variations on veal. They also offer 4-course meal cooking classes, so you can bring back a taste of Wooster into your own kitchen.