The best part? It's over a week long.
Today the Feast of San Gennaro takes over Mulberry Street for its 85th year. While officially a religious festival celebrating the patron Saint of Naples, the festival is always more reminiscent of a block party. But from September 15-25, this block party will feature pastries, gelato, and veal parmigiana that will put your neighbors to shame.
While the festa has some carnival games and food carts that you might find at any outdoor festival, Joonbug has whittled down your options from the good to the primo.
If you're not too busy checking out the freak shows on the main drag, navigate your way to the corner of Grand and Mott Streets, where demonstrations and performances will take place every afternoon (2-4pm) and evening (7-10pm). Some of our favorites:
Local busboys will also have their own pizza eating competition next Tuesday. But if you would rather not watch calories being consumed, consider stopping by next Wednesday, where you can participate in olive oil tasting (2pm) and mozzarella making workshops (5pm). The soirees will be guided by local chefs Lou DiPalo and Bobby Alleva.
The centerpiece of the festival, however, is Gennaro himself, whose statue will be paraded through the streets during the annual Grand Procession. Complete with floats, marching bands, and musical acts, the Saturday afternoon spectacle evokes the spirit of Little Italy like nothing else.
If you haven't quite gotten it yet, the festival is about food. At every corner there's a host ushering you into his restaurant, or a barker yelling for you to get your zeppole fix. How there are so many skinny little Italian grandfathers walking down Mulberry Street, we'll never know. But as we promised in August, San Gennaro is slowly undergoing a modernist makeover. Some of our recommendations:
The walk-in only restaurant will have a to-go booth open again this year, but if the line for the dining room is anything less than massive, we suggest you hop on. The menu, which changes nightly, values quality over quantity -- 1 antipasti, 1 pasta, 2 entrees, 1 dessert. Don't worry -- owners Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone are picky so you don't have to be.
Peasant (194 Elizabeth Street)
The brick oven in the back of Peasant can provide some solace from the ruckus a few blocks south, especially if you're waiting for a pizza to emerge. The rustic eatery offers Tuscan meals, extensive wine lists, and unlike much of Little Italy, restrained decor.
You've dunked the clown, you've shot the freak, and you've completed all the other bizarrely cruel games the festa has to offer. Time to relax, and not with a 3 foot-tall margarita that tastes suspiciously weak. The neighborhood has plenty of old-school bars that have previously housed strong hit men and stronger whiskey. Luckily, the latter lives on.
Mulberry Street Bar (176 1/2 Mulberry Street)
The owner, a Little Italy native, bought the place because it was his favorite bar and he always wanted a place where he could drink for free. The Italian-gangster-visits-a-social-club interior provides a homey, authentic atmosphere, and the clientele ranges from dark and broody to hipsteriffic. Take a seat, try a martini, and give the scary guy with the accent if he asks for it.
This place could not be less Italian -- the Irish and Italians didn't get along so well back in the day -- but its charm and history fits the neighborhood perfectly. Situated right across the street from a police station, this building operated as a speakeasy, with both gimlets and girls of ill-repute ready to service you. Fascinatingly, a tunnel was built underground linking it with the precinct...presumably to give the officers a few discreet night hours of off-duty fun. It might be a bit louder now, but the speakeasy is still a great spot for a cozy drink.