Italian Bars of Greenwich Village

 

DanteBAR

The BAR at DANTE

Dante Bar has 12 different varieties of Negronis that they offers from their well-stocked bar. In particular? Dante seeks to bring the European tradition of the aperitivo, a refreshing cocktail or glass of Prosecco or Italian Wine, enjoyed late afternoon, or early evening, all over Italy, and of late, the hottest thing to do in New York as well.

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Monte’s Trattoria

Greenwich Village

Monte’s has been around a long time. One-Hundred & One Years as a matter of fact. The restaurant opened in 1918 and has been owned & operated by 3 Italian Families in the restaurants 101 year (so far) history. Originally opened in 1918 by the Monteverdi family. The Monteverde family first opened a Wine & Liquor store on the site, and in 1918 opened the restaurant, it is said as the family had heard of the oncoming event of Prohibition and the 18th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which would prohibit and outlaw the sale and consumption of alcholic berverages. The Monteverde’s took smart action and opened an Italian Restaurant in the highly concentrated Italian neighborhood of the southern part of Greenwich Village, and the rest Greenwich Village Italian New York history. The Rosasco family of Greenwich Village became the 2nd Italian family to own Monte’s. 

In 1983 the Mosconi Family who came from Piacenza, Italy in Emilia Romagna, bought the restaurant in 1983, and have been running it ever since, and had a big 100 Year Anniversary Party in 2018, Celebrating the restaurants 100 Birthday. 

Monte’s Trattoria is one of the few restaurants in New York that fits into the genre that New Yorker’s know as an Old School New York Italian Restaurant of which there used to be many all over Manhattan, but now few remain, and Monte’s Trattoria is one of them The restaurant is headed by Chef Pietro Mosconi with the help of his son Peter Mosconi who handles front of house operations, the business end of things and whatever else needs being done. This partnership works quite well, as Monte’s many regulars will attest to, as the restaurant is World Famous, and not only has “Local Regulars,” but regulars from all over America, and even the World.

Now most wouldn’t think of Monte’s as having one of the Best Bars in the city, or even Greenwich Village, but it does. And we mentioned the regulars? Well some of Monte’s most loyal regulars are the folks who hang out at the bar, and not just to drink, but have what many know as one of the best places to get great Italian food in all of New York City, especially Chef Pietro’s wonderful home-made pasta, like: Tortelloni, Agnolotti, Lasagna, Gnocchi, and both Meat and Cheese Ravioli.

Yes, the food is fine, as is the service, and ambience of the place, but, “weren’t we talking about the bar?” Yes, lets’ get back to the bar. It’s one of those little known facts, by a few hundred (or thousands) of those in the know, and it’s more or less those in-the-know, and those who merely serindipitously stumble upon the place by accident who truly know, the secret of the bar at Monte’s. Yeah the regulars like; John B., Julio, Dr. Mike, and all the rest know that Tony The Bartender (and Peter Mosconi now & then) mix up one of the Best Old Fashion Cocktails in town, as well as perfect Negroni’s (Superior to the more famous Dante Negroni), Killer Margarita’s made with Grand Marnier, spot-on Martinis, Manhattans, and anything else your little heart may desire. Yes the barmen (Tony & Peter) really know their stuff, and take pride in what they do. So if you’re looking for an Aperol Spritz or properly made Negroni, Monte’s is the go to Italian-Bar in Greenwich Village New York.

MONTE’S TRATTORIA … 97 Macdougal Street, GREENWICH VILLAGE ,  NY NY

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The Bar at BABBO

GREENWICH VILLAGE

NEW YORK

Well, Mario is gone, and the place is  famous for its Italian Food. It used to be uber hard to get a reservation to procure a table there, but it’s a lot easier, ever since the departure of Celebrity Chef Mario Batali (we’ll not talk of his departure). Anyway, although Babbo may have lost a little of its luster, it’s still a dam good place to eat, and has, along with Monte’s Trattoria, one of the Best Italian Bars in Greenwich Village, New York. Yes, a great Italian Bar, and not just for its restaurant and food. What constitutes a great Italian Bar? Well first and foremost, the bartenders must be versed in the art of making a Negroni, as well as pulling a perfect Espresso Italian Coffee. You should know how to make a good Manhattan, and Martini’s, as well as have a solid knowledge of Italian Wine which are served at the bar as well. Having a great personality is  required and of utmost importance. Now we don’t want to knock the bartenders at Babbo, they are professional and courtesy, and make great Negroni’s and other cocktails, but we have to say were lacking in having the personality that makes the Greatest of Bartenders, and a great Bar requires great bartenders, it’s the # 1 element in the equation. Not the liquor, nor the ambiance, though very important, the single most important aspect of a Great Bar is a great bartender, who must have all the elements required; have a outstanding personality, mix great drinks, be friendly and efficient, “that’s it.” 

We found, on our rounds of the Italian Bars of Greenwich Village, our two favorite Italian Bartenders were Tony and Peter, both of Monte’s. The bartenders at Dante were quite good as well, Bar Pisellino “Not So Much.”

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Someone once told me, that “going to Volare is like going to your favorite Aunt’s house for dinner.” That’s assuming that your aunt (my Aunts Helen & Fran) is a great Italian cook. Everyone treats you like you were part of the family. That’s the kind of place Ristorante Volare is. And it’s an Old School this great city of ours is losing fast. Lucky for us, Volare still survives, and it survives very well “Thank You.” Yes it’s an old school “Red Sauce Joint,” that serves all the New York Italian Red Sauce Classics, like Spaghetti & Meatballs, Baked Clams, Veal and Chicken Parmigiana just the way  you like it. Yes, you”ll be fed all your classic Italian dishes, and you’ll be fed well. And if you’re hankering for just a little cocktail or two, in cool old New York Italian joint, going to Volare will fit the bill quite well. Your not going to get any new style so-called Mixologist Cocktails at all. But if you’re into the old classics, like a properly made Martini or Manhattan, then you’ve gone to the right place. And if you want a nice plate of Spaghetti with Clam Sauce or a  nice thick Italian Style Veal Chop, again, “you’ve come to the right place.”

RISTORANTE VOLARE ….  147 West 3rd Street, GREENWICH VILLAGE, New York

BarPesillino

Bar Pisellino

GREENWICH VILLAGE

Bar Pisellino has all the elements to make a great bar one day, and one of the best Italian Bars in Greenwich Village. As of now, they’re not. Yes they have, if not all, then many elements to make it a great Greenwich Village Italian Bar. They make good Negroni’s, and Aperol Spritz’s, have a good selection of Amari (Amaro), and the place is well appointed, however it’s missing quite a lot, the place just doesn’t have a great vibe. When I first walked in and looked at the menu, I thought, “Wow,” this place is great, but as I sat there looking a the menu, and then getting my drink, the place just didn’t feel right. The vibe was not good, a combination of being quite contrived (not Organic), and because of this fact, drawing a crowd that just wasn’t right, not cool, but a crowd filled with followers, the types of  people who only go to a place that’s one of the hottest spots in town, and unable to find a truly cool unpretentious great restaurant or bar on their own. They have to read about it on Eater, Instgram, or wherever.

Anyway, Bar Pisellino has a lot of potential, and maybe after all the noise dies, the followers stop going there indroves, and the place starts filling with neighborhood people, along with well-healed tourists, and business people, the bar just might get a better vibe than it does now, which is, “not so good.”

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The BAR

JOHN’S of 12th STREET

John’s of 12th Street is not in Greenwich Village technically, but we’ve just got to include it in our Best Greenwich Village Italian Bars. John’s is in the East Village, east of Greenwich Village, so, close enough. The fact that this place has been there on East 12th Street in New York, that it has all its original decor, including the 110 year old bar, and that the place was once a Speakeasy that saw that likes of one Charles “Lucky” Luciano who  a couple blocks away, and the fact that it has many famous celebrities and famed Mobsters (Joe Maseria), we’ve just gotta include it here as well.

Belly up to the bar that Lucky Luciano drank at, and where the great John Lennon once ate at, and the likes of legendary Italian Prize Fighter “Rocky Graziano,” also of the neighborhood. Have the bartender make you a Campari & Soda and just soak up over 100 years of New York Italian History, you’ll not find another place like it, as sadly two great 100 year old Italian Food Establishments, DeRobertis Italian Pastries, and Lanza’s Restaurant (Sicilian American) closed down in the past few years (A Sin!).

John’s of 12th East Street (302 East) East Village … New York NY

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John’s of 12th Street

NEW YORK , NY

photo Daniel Bellino-Zwicke

Watch The TRAILER

Documentary Film

“JOHN’S of 12th STREET

by Vanessa McDonell

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SUNDAY SAUCE

LEARN HOW to MAKE

NEGRONI

SPAGHETTI MEATBALLS

BRACIOLE

and More …

Fanelli Cafe

PRINCE STREET

Soho

Cafe Fanelli is one of New York’s oldest we, preserved Old Bars. What is w Cafe Fanelli’s first opened  as a bar on the corner of Prince Street & Mercer as Prince Cafe in the year 1872 by Italian immigrant Nicholas Volpe. The Fanelli family bought the bar in 1922 and re-named it Fanelli’s Cafe. The building was first erected in 1847 and its commercial space was operated as a grocery store from 1863, before a var opened there in 1872. During Prohibition Fanelli’s was a Speakeasy from he years of 1920 to 1933.

Though no longer owned by Italians, nor in Greenwich Village, because of its Italian-American history and the fact that Fanelli’s has retained so much of its former old-bar decor, we’ve include it in this piece. So if you’re looking to experience a wonderful piece of old New York, go have a couple drinks at Cafe Fanelli.

GENE’S

West 11th Street

GREENWICH VILLAGE

Gene’s first opened it’s doors in 1919, and operated as a “Speakeasy” during Prohibition. Gene’s has a long storied history of Italian and Artistic Greenwich Village, providing, staving artists, poets, and writers of the Beat Generation, and other eras, with inexpensive affordable Italian meals.

Old Vintage Postcard

GENE’S

The Bar at GENE’S

GREENWICH VILLAGE

NEW YORK

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RAOSpainting

RAO’S

Hardest Reservation in NEW YORK

RaosNickyVestBartender

New York’s most Famous Bartender

“NICKY The VEST”

Tending Bar at RAO’S

East Harlem

 

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Frank Pelligrino Sr holds court at RAO’S

East Harlem NEW YORK ,

as PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON looks on.

New York NY

2003

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ny.EATER.com

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SUNDAY SAUCE # 1 AMAZON BEST SELLER LIST

SUNDAY SAUCE  # 1 AMAZON BEST SELLER LIST

SUNDAY SAUCE Is # on AMAZON BEST SELLER LIST ITALIAN COOKBOOKS, Beating out Heavy Hitters like; MARIO BATALIA, Giada DeLaurentis, and Lidia Bastianich .. SUNDAY SAUCE by Daniel Bellino Zwicke is filled with stories and recipes of Italian-America, with Sunday Sauce Italian Gravy as the Centerpiece .. Learn How to Make SUNDAY SAUCE alla CLEMENZA, Momma DiMaggio’s Sunday Gravy, and Spaghetti Meatballs alla SINATRA …

ITALIAN FEAST of 7 FISH CHRISTMAS

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THE FEAST of THE 7 FISH ITALIAN CHRISTMAS
by Italian Cookbook Author Daniel Bellino-Zwicke …
 
“La Vigilia” The
Feast of The 7 Fish  …. Italian Christmas
      MyAunt Helen used to make the famous Italian Christmas Eve Dinner, “The Feast of
7 Fishes,” The 7 Fish of the Seven Sacraments. I know she made it because I
used to hear her talking about it when I was a little kid. Although I shared many
wonderful meals with my dear Aunt Helen, I never had the pleasure of having the
famous Christmas Eve Dinner “La Vigilia” Feast of Seven Fish with her. We
always had Christmas Eve dinner with the immediate family and Aunt Helen had
the Christmas Eve with her brother and sister and other family members. Aunt
Helen was born in Salerno, Italy and was my Uncle Franks (1 of my Mother’s 3
brothers) better half. So for our Christmas Dinner my mother would make an Antipasto
of Salami, Provolone, Peppers, and Olives, followed by Baked Ziti and a Baked
Ham studded with cloves and Pineapple rings.

The first time I ever had the
mystical dinner was about 12 years ago with my cousin Joe, his family and my
girlfriend Duyen. We had been talking about this famous Italian Feast a few
weeks previous, and were thinking of making it.
Joe told me he wanted  to  have
the  Christmas  Eve
Meal of  The Feast of The 7  Fishes, known in Italy as  La Viglia (The Vigil) or “La Festa Dei Sette
Pesci,” which is also known in Italian-America as The Feast of The 7 Fish, that
signify the 7 Sacraments. Now, how’s all that for a mouthful?

This Dinner, La Viglia originated in Southern Italy, especially in and around
the environs of Napoli. The Feast of The 7 Fish is a Southern Italian tradition
that does not exist in the rest of Italy, it is of the South. La Viglia, or
“The Feast of  the  Seven Fishes” as it is known to Italian-Americans
commemorates the waiting (Vigil) of the Baby Jesus to be Born at Midnight and
the Seven Fish represent the Seven Sacraments of  the Roman Catholic Church. Some also believe
that the Seven Fish might signify the 7 Days of Creation, or The Seven Deadly
Sins, but most believe the 7 Fish pertain to the Seven Sacraments.

So Joe asked me if I wanted to
make this festive and all important dinner, to perform the ceremony. He didn’t
need to ask twice. I had never made it before and was dying to do so. For  a long time I had yearned to partake  in
this celebrated old  Southern  Italian Ritual, and this was my  chance. Naturally I was excited, so was Joe. The
anticipation of the Great Feast to come was of happy expectations and
excitement.

And what for the menu? I know Aunt Helen made
Bacala, Shrimp Oreganata, Mussels, Baked Clams, Calamari, Octopus, and eel, all
much Loved Southern Italian (especially Napoli and Sicily) Creatures of the
Sea. We decided which fish we wanted
and  how  to
cook each one.  Much thought and
planning went into the menu and its execution.
Joe wanted; Langoustines, Lobster, and Bacala. Alexandra asked if I would
make Stuffed Calamari. We also decided on Shrimp Cocktail, Baked Clams Oreganata,
and Cozze al Posillipo. The menu was set. Duyen helped me with the Calamari
which we stuffed with Shrimp, parsley, breadcrumbs, and Peas. We braised the
Calamari with tomato, White Wine, and herbs. If I must say so myself, the
Calamari came out superbly.  The Stuffed
Calamari were a lot of work to make, but well worth the effort as they were a
huge hit with all. The Macari boys, Joey, Edward, and Tommy, as well as sister
Gabriella, Alex,  Joe,  Duyen,
Jose  and Sergio from Barcelona
were all in attendance.

The Mussels Posillipo were cooked
with garlic, white wine, parsley, and tomato. The sauce is great to dip  your bread
into.  This dish was one of my
mother’s favorites back in the days when few Americans other than  those
of  Italian  origins ever ate these wonderful little bivalves.
Now-a-days every-body does. As a young boy I remember my mother sending me to
Bella Pizza in East Rutherford to get an order of them for her. She always gave
me a few and I have Loved them ever since.

Joe helped me to cook the Langoustines.
They are hard to find and I had to order a ten pound box from Silvano in order to  get them.
The best way to cook langoustines is to split them in half and sauté
them on each side in olive oil with a little butter and garlic. We served the
Langoustines the same way as Silvano does as we feel his recipe is the best and
everybody loves them that way.  The
Langoustines are served with a salad of thinly shaved fennel and celery dressed
in olive oil and lemon with some split cherry tomatoes. Absolutely delicious!!!

The Lobsters we prepared the
best way possible, the New England way, steamed and served simply with drawn butter
and lemon wedges. There’s nothing better on Earth, well except for Sunday Sauce
of course.

Well, that Christmas Eve Dinner
The Feast of Seven Fishes was quite a wonderful experience. It was a huge success
but quite a bit too much work and actually, too much food, everyone was kind of
full already by the fifth fish. The following year we decided on incorporating
the Seven Fish into three courses instead
of seven separate  ones  as it’s just
too much,  too much to
eat and too much to cook, a lot of work,
and who needs to  work that hard
on Christmas.  It was a good decision. We
still had 7 different fish, which is a must. Serving these 7 Fish in three
courses was a good idea as it is much more manageable that way, both to cook
and to eat.

On  this  Feast of
The 7 Fish in “3 Courses” we decided to make the Stuffed Calamari, which
I would not have  chosen again  because it
was  a lot of work, but it was
Alex and Joe’s favorite and they said that it was a must. This was our
Antipasto Course.  Alexandra and her mom
helped me,  so the amount of work was cut
down  and
divided into three, “A good thing.”

The stuffed calamari took care of two of the
seven the shrimp that were stuffed into the squid.

The second course (Primi) of Linguine
Frutti de Mare consumed four of the Seven Fish required for the meal.  It consisted of Mussels, Clams, Lobster, and Scallops
cooked with garlic, oil, herbs, and just a touch of tomato.

The seventh and final fish was
fresh Cod that I roasted and served with a sweet and sour onion sauce (Bacala
Fresca Agro Dolce). Everybody went bananas for it especially cousin Joe who
raved at each and every dish I put down.
It’s a pleasure cooking for Joe as his passion for eating and for the
Italian American way of life, the food,
the wine,  the rituals. Joe truly
Loves  and  savors the experience, so I always love to cook
for him,  Alexandra, their children, or
just about anyone for who savors the experience so well. This goes the same
for  my cousin  Anthony Bellino his wife Debbie and  their
three girls Chrissy, Danna, and
Allison,  along  with all my
close friends and family.
    It
makes cooking a joy rather than a chore. When cooking for family or friends, you
give two of life’s great  gifts,  a tasty
Home-Cooked meal combined with a little bit of Love.  Scratch that. “A whole lotta Love!”

If you don’t want to go so crazy, with 7 Fish as it’s quite an
undertaking, you should try to do an odd numbers; 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, or 11.
Three  (3) is a Nice Number and
Represents the Holy Trinity of The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Buon Natale!
 
 La Vigilai
“The Fest of The 7 Fish” 
EXCERPTED From The FEAST of THE 7 FISH
                                   by Daniel Bellino-Zwicke
 
 


Free Recipe From Daniel Bellino-Zwicke

PESCE en SOAR “SWEET & SOUR FISH
  Pesce en Soar is derived from the famous
Venetian Dish “Sarde en Saor” or Soar Sardines. This dish is served in
restaurants, Trattoria, and Wine Bars (Bacaro) all over Venice, but is
especially popular at the many Venetian Wine Bars, known as Bacaro “The House
of Bacchus” in Venice, where the Sarde en Saor is one of many great little
dishes known as “Cichetti” (Small Bites). This dish is also known as Sarde Agro
Dolce in Sicily, Agro Dolce meaning Sweet & Sour.
   Pesce en Saor (Sour Fish) is a wonderful
dish to pick for your Feast of The 7 Fish. It is especially great at this meal
or any dinner party as it can and should be prepared a day in advance, as the
fish needs to marinate in the sweet and sour onions.
INGREDIENTS:
1 ½ pounds Monkfish Filet cut into ¾” medallions
3 mediumOnions, peeled and sliced ¼” thick
5 tablespoons Olive Oil
5 tablespoons Balsamic or Red Wine Vinegar
4 tablespoons Sugar
5 tablespoons Raisons
Sea Salt & ground Black Pepper to taste
Flour (about 6 tablespoon 2-3 Tablespoons Fresh chopped Parsley or Chives

1) Place onions in a large frying pan with Olive Oil and cook over low heat for 25 minutes.
2) Soak
Raisons in hot water for 20 minutes then drain.
3) Add
sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper, and raisons to onions and cook 3 minutes. Remove
from heat and let cool.
4) Season
Monkfish with salt & pepper. Dust each piece of fish into flour. Shake off
excess flour.
5) Place
olive oil or vegetable oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Cook fish in pan
about 1 ½ minutes per side over a medium heat until all the fish is cook. Put
on a plate and let cool to room temperature.
6) In a
shallow glass or ceramic Casserole Dish, place
a third of
the onion mixture across the bottom of the casserole. Then place a layer of
half the fish over these onions. Place a third of the onions over the fish,
then
top with
the remaining fish. Top with remaining onions. Cover tightly and place in the
refrigerator overnight (or at least 2 hours) to serve the next day.
7) To
serve remove the fish at least 45 minutes before serving. Place two pieces of
fish on each person’s plate in a crisscross fashion. Garnish, by sprinkling
Chives or Parsley over top.
NOTE:  You can serve Buffet Style, leaving the Pesce
en Saor in the casserole or other nice serving dish for guest to help
themselves. You can also place a piece of toasted bread on plate or nice slice
of ripe tomato, or Cucumber, then top with Fish and Onions.
PS
.. You can use practically any fish you like for this preparation. Good
alternate choices of fish would be; Sardines, Swordfish, Shrimp, Sea Scallops,
or any fish that you might catch yourself. And remember, this dish is not just
for The Feast of The 7 Fish but any day of the year. An optional garnish that
is very nice for this dish is toasted Pignoli Nuts sprinkle over the top.
Enjoy!
 
 
 
 
 
 
                               Daniel Bellino’s Recipe For STUFFED CALAMARI Is IN
                                                 THE FEAST of THE 7 FISH
                                                      ITALIAN CHRISTMAS
 
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 The Feast of The 7 FISH is Available in Paperback & Kindle on AMAZON.com
 
  1. The Seven Virtues – faith, hope, charity, temperance, prudence, fortitude, and justice
  2. The Seven Deadly Sins – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride
  3. The Seven Sacraments – baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance or reconciliation, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and marriage
  4. Seven days it took God to create the world
  5. The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel (right judgment), fortitude (courage), knowledge, piety (reverence), fear of the Lord (wonder and awe)
  6. The number of days it took Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem
  7. Miracle of the Five Loaves and Two Fish – Jesus fed 5,000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish
  8. Miracle of the Seven Loaves and Fish – Jesus fed 4,000 people with only seven loaves and fish
  9. Biblical perfection – biblical number for divinity is three and the most perfect earthly number is four, so combining them represents perfection, God on Earth, or Jesus Christ
  10. 10. The Seven Hills of Rome 
 
 

THE FEAST of The 7 FISH ITALIAN CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER

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The FEAST of THE 7 FISH  is AVAILABLE on AMAZON.com

Christmas Eve Fish Dinner is, without question, the most important, the most festive, the most familial, the warmest and most memorable family gathering. For me, Christmas Eve Dinner surpasses every other holiday, As important and delightful as Thanksgiving of Easter or even Fourth of July might be, nothing approaches the ineffable depth and richness of Christmas Eve Fish Dinner offered a table unlike that of any other holiday.

But before I go further, let’s consider the name of this dinner. Among some Italians that I have questioned it is called “Feast of the Seven Fishes,” for other families, including my own, it was simply Christmas Eve Fish Dinner. There was no specific number of fish involved. Carol Field’ Celebrating Italy, a most thorough study of Italian holidays, notes that Christmas Eve dinner calls for fish but makes no mention of the number of fish dishes. Moving my investigation of the Christmas Eve dinner to Google Italy, I found that it is generally called “Il Cenone della Vigilia” (The great dinner of the Eve.) No Italian site I found made mention of the number of fish. I have the sense that the notion of seven fish may be Italian American and even here only among certain families.

The next question I considered was the type of fish. Almost every reference I found and all the people I interviewed had numerous variations. Among most Italians sites two fish appeared most often, baccalà and eel. Among traditional Italian Americans the two most common dishes were baccalà (usually in a cold salad recipe) and fried smelts. In many younger and less traditionally bound Italian Americans all the old time fish were gone. The new fish platters now included shrimp and fried fish and even fish sticks. Italian Americans are not alone in modernization. It seems that even in Italy the younger generations recoil at the notion of such fish as eel.

While what this dinner is rightly called and which fish are those to be presented seems to vary from region to region and family to family a few things about Christmas Eve fish dinner, go unquestioned. Christmas Eve fish dinner was the one dinner no one missed. Christmas Eve fish dinner was at the home of the patriarch or matriarch. Every child and grandchild was present. The power of the Italian American Christmas Eve dinner overwhelmed all other cultural influences. While the fish dinner may have been rooted in Italy it spread its branches to include and embrace not only those non-Italians who had married into the family but all those of other ethnic backgrounds who were friends beyond the family. Everyone with any association to the family was invited to the Christmas Eve fish dinner.

While all other holiday dinners gathered the family while there was still light in the sky, Christmas Eve Fish Dinner began sometime after sunset. It was and is, the only festive dinner in the Italian American tradition that is shared in darkness. All other holidays in the Italian American tradition are celebrated at the table sometime shortly after noon. Christmas Eve Fish Dinner always began sometime after six in the evening.

Christmas Eve Fish Dinner differs from all other dinners by its lack of structure. Other dinners, whether Sunday Gravy or Easter Sunday follow a certain formality. For other dinners there is always a soup course, an antipasto, the pasta, the main course and then the dessert. The Christmas Eve Fish Dinner was quite different. The Christmas Eve Fish Dinner had courses, but the courses were not single dishes. For the Christmas Eve fish dinner each course was composed of several offerings. And the whole dinner was preceded by a cold table of finger foods that allowed mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews to chatter for an hour or so before dinner began. The finger foods were set on small tables in the living room. The platters included olives, slices of celery and broccoli, and a dish of crackers. There were also plates of cooked shrimp with sides of shrimp cocktail sauce. The olives were from cans and the children liked to slide the pit wholes over their fingers as they chomped on the olives. I would guess that the shrimp and the horseradish based cocktail sauce was an influence from the fashionable restaurants of the time.

After at least an hour of nibbling on the side platters the dinner bell called us to the tables. Yes, tables. In our family there were three. In our center hall style house, the dining room table was turned towards the center hall. A second and third table were butted up to the main table. The three tables continued through the center hall into the living room. Seating was determined by age. The oldest sat in the dining room section; the younger the child the closer to the living room.

There was no soup on Christmas Eve. When we sat at the table we first saw a small bowl of whiting salad with lemon and a serving of “scungilli,” conch. When I was small there was a cold baccalà salad with tomato. These cold fish salads were followed by the pasta. Of course, we never heard or used the word “pasta.” For us the “pasta” dish was one of three possibilities. It changed from year to year. It could be either “Clams and Spaghetti,” “Mussels and Spaghetti,” or “Squid and Spaghetti.” The spaghetti were always the very thin “angel hair” (“capellini.”)

The next course is always a serving of several varieties of fried fish. My Irish background mother prepared several fish offerings in different ways. There are three central dishes. First, she made a tray of plain American fish sticks for the children and for those at the table of a less than Italian heritage. Then, as a middle ground, my mother makes the most exquisite crab cakes that would appeal to Italian traditionalists as much as to the non- Italian in-laws. For the old timers there is always the most wonderful finger food, fried smelts with lemon. There are also fried scallops, fried shrimp, fried calamari and fried oysters.

Following the fried dishes, the table is covered with several trays of broiled scallop, shrimp and clams. Then comes the main fish platter. This platter has no Italian precedent that I know of. My mother introduced this dish about thirty years ago: stuffed orange roughy papillote. The orange roughy papillote is made by splitting the fish into two pieces and filling with a layer of spinach with tomato, garlic and olive oil. The fish is wrapped in parchment and baked.

After a rest and an interlude of conversation the Christmas Eve Fish dinner is crowned by the dish everyone waits for, my mother’s tray of Christmas cookies. We began at five in the evening. After the cookies it is after 11. The culmination of the Christmas Eve Fish Dinner is Midnight Mass. Following Christmas Midnight Mass the family came home to a wonderful breakfast of eggs and bacon and, in Philadelphia, of scrapple. The special delight of the breakfast was the Christmas Bread, a wonderful brioche-like pastry shaped in a ring and decorated with multi-colored sprinkles. But Christmas bread is another page.

 

by TONY D MORINELLI