Made in Bensonhurst

The D train takes us all the way from Manhattan to 18th Ave, Bensonhurst, way out in Brooklyn…a trip of approximately 45 minutes. Why am I heading to Bensonhurst…..for the food of course!

I’ve been promised the best panini, amazing hero sandwiches, ravioli from an old Italian family recipe and cannoli as good as we had in Sicily, all with a bit of history mixed in.

It turns out that Bensonhurst was important in early New York history.

But I’m racing ahead!

We’re looking for the New Utrecht Reformed Church, where we are to meet Dom Gervasi, the founder of Made in Brooklyn Tours.

Dom Gervasi from Made in Brooklyn Tours

Born in Bensonhurst of Italian parents who came from Sicily and Calabria in 1956, Dom knows all there is to know about the area and more!

Proudly Dom tells us that it was an Italian, Giovanni da Verrazano who discovered New York in 1524 but it was the Dutch who first established a permanent settlement on Manhattan in 1624. This was all before New York’s first governor bought Manhattan from the Native Americans in 1626. But many of the early Dutch settlers were farmers so they headed to Brooklyn in search of large tracts of land to farm.They traded happily with the native Americans and in 1652 the Dutch West India Company bought the land from the Niyak Indians where Bensonhurst is today. The town of Utrecht was one of the six original towns of Brooklyn.

The English arrived in 1664 and ownership wavered between the two. The Dutch reclaimed the land in 1673 only to lose it to the English again in 1674. The British then occupied New York until George Washington entered New York in 1783.

 

New Utrecht Reformed Church in Bensonhurst

The original Utrecht Reformed Church was built in 1677, rebuilt in 1700 on 64th St and because of the increasing numbers in the community, another had to built in 1828. Stones from the original building are included in the facade. It is here that we have met. At the front of the church stands the Liberty Pole. It was on this pole that the first flag in Utrecht was flown in 1783. 

New Utrecht Reformed Church Plaque, Bensonhurst

 

Dom continues the story as we wander around the streets….

Bensonhurst Brooklyn

In 1880, speculator James Lynch acquired many of the original farms in the area. He built 1000 villas, planted 5000 trees and calls the area Bensonhurst by the Sea. As land has been reclaimed, the sea disappeared, so the area became known as Bensonhurst.

The opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 helped people move from Manhattan to Brooklyn but it was with the building of the elevated rail line in 1917 that residential neighbourhoods started to form. 

Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

 

When inner city land prices in New York rose, the Jews moved out of Manhattan and into Bensonhurst bringing with them their businesses. They were then followed by the Italians. Today it is the Chinese from Fujon province, Central Americans, Mexicans and Central Europeans who are moving into the area but many of the original Italian businesses still remain.

Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

 

As we walk around the neighbourhood, Dom recalls his days here. After World War 2, a new wave of Italian immigrants came. It was a quiet area, easy going but a bit tough, says Dom.  The dress of the day said it all…tight jeans, disco fever shorts and the obligatory gold Jesus medallion hanging from the neck! His school mates now run some of the shops we visit and he knows the inside gossip on most of the families that still live here.

Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

 

Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

Locals in Bensonhurst!

 

In recent times there have also been a few changes. Around 2005 the ‘maker movement’ became important. The businesses are reminiscent of 1900 approach where immigrants formed their own artisanal maker groups but different in that today the Mum and Dad inspired businesses would like to pass them on to their children. 

 

Panino Rustico, Bensonhurst

Our first stop is Panino Rustico, a sandwich and panino shop that was based on the typical panino shops seen in Milan in the eighties. It’s a relatively new shop having been here for only 2 years but it has certainly established itself among the locals. The bread comes from Il Fornaretto, a small artisan bakery a few blocks away which we later see on our walk but first we have to try a few of the thirty four panini on offer. I couldn’t choose between the porchetta with smoked mozzarella and broccoli rabe,  the proscuitto with fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil pesto, a vegetarian panini filled with roasted vegetables or their most popular sandwich, the grilled chicken with roasted peppers, arugula and basil pesto, so we all had a little of each! Delizioso!

Panini at Panini Rustico, Bensonhurst

 

From here we head to Lioni’s Italian Heroeshome of the Lioni Italian Hero sandwich…all thirteen inches of a deliciously filled roll. Why is it a called a hero sandwich? It seems that Clementine Paddleford, a NY Tribune food writer in the 1930’s, wrote that you had to be hero to eat one…and the name stuck!

As kids, the owner Paul Despirito and Dom used to work in the local bagel shop. They’ve grown up together and gone through the experience of being a kid in a tough neighbourhood. It’s great to see the easy banter between the two of them as we quiz Paul on the the ingredients of some of his 150 different varieties of sandwiches.

Lioni Italian Heroes, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

The sandwiches are all named after famous Italian-Americans!  The Frank Sinatra is based on his love of salami, the Marisa Tomei on her favourite eggplant. The most popular hero is the Alyssa Milano with a chicken cutlet, proscuitto, mozzarella and basil pesto. We try the No 69, the Christopher Colombus,  a roast beef, italian sausage, sopressato and fresh mozzarella sandwich with stuffed mushrooms together with a Manhattan Special, a carbonated coffee drink made in Brooklyn since the 1895. We also try their own smoked mozzarella that Paul smokes using with hickory wood.
“This is Brooklyn,” reflects Paul who says that Lioni’s gives you a taste of what it’s like to live here.

Hero Sandwich at Lioni Italian Heroes, Bensonhurst

 

Pastosa Ravioli, another successful Italian-American family business is our next stop.
The stories as to how these shops started are interesting. In 1967, a company called Palio Cheese made ricotta filled ravioli. When a young man noticed that they weren’t using their best ricotta to fill the ravioli, he decided to make the ricotta himself to his own specifications. The store now makes thirty different types of ravioli. The best sellers are spinach, lobster and butternut pumpkin as well as tortellini, fresh pasta, sauces and soups. They also sell their own private grocery lines sourced from the best producers around the world. Now in its 3rd generation, Anthony Jnr and Joseph Ajello, continue the traditions of this neighbourhood store that has a loyal staff and a very loyal patronage.

  Pastosa Ravioli, Bensonhurst

 

Our final stop is heaven for the sweet tooths amongst us!

Villabate, Bensonhurst

The result of a merger of two well known pastry houses, Villabate and Alba Pasticerria, Villabate Alba Pasticerria makes some of the most delicious Sicilian pastries, cakes, breads and gelato you will find outside of Sicily. At festival times, under the auspicious eyes of angels on the ceiling and religious statues on the cupboards, queues form all day long. It really does remind me of Sicily. The cannoli is definitely as good as I had there, so much so, it disappears before I can take a photo!

villabate alba  Collage

A perfect finish to a great tour!

 

If you are looking for an introduction to a different part of New York than you would otherwise see, I can recommend Dom’s Made in Brooklyn Tours. He is passionate about Brooklyn and loves nothing more than to introduce you to some fabulous neighbourhood areas and tastes. Tours of Williamsburg, Dumbo and Red Hook are also offered.

My thanks to Dom for my complimentary tour. As always, all opinions are my own. It would be really hard to write a bad review of these fabulous food stops in Bensonhurst!

 

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51 Responses to Made in Bensonhurst

  1. Murissa January 29, 2014 at 8:22 am #

    Yet another reason for me to return to the New York area. I only discovered a small portion of Brooklyn for a few hours but would love to go back for more foodie adventures.
    Great post!

    • Jenny Freedman February 1, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

      Thanks Murissa. I always love to have a reason to go back to New York! I certainly would love to explore more of Brooklyn too.

    • Maria Alexandra @LatinAbroad February 4, 2014 at 11:01 pm #

      NYC is so big and diverse, many trips required to appreciate (and witness) most of its boroughs, history and delicious food!

      -Maria Alexandra

      • Jenny Freedman February 6, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

        So true Maria Alexandra. I think living there could be the answer! There’s so many different boroughs to explore that it is the only way to see many of them!

  2. Krista January 29, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    What a fantastic tour to go on. 🙂 I love it when people from the area can tell you so many fascinating “insider” stories that make history so vivid. 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman January 30, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

      It was a great tour Krista. I agree..I love a bit of goss as well! I enjoy learning about the history of the area too…as well as tasting great food of course!

  3. Leigh January 30, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    Sounds like you got a lot out of this tour and what a mouthwatering one it was. I love the choice of paninos. I’ll have the eggplant version please – with a side of Frank Sinatra.How did you find out about this tour?

    • Jenny Freedman January 30, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

      It was a great tour Leigh.I always love to learn about an area as well as taste the food. A friend in New York told me about the company knowing that I love food tours! The other tours that Dom offers sound great too.

  4. Tonya {The Traveling Praters} January 30, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

    This would be a great tour to take. Food, history, sight seeing- what more could a person ask for? Last time I was in NYC I went on a pizza tour with A Slice of Brooklyn. It was great too and I found it a wonderful way to learn about the borough.

    • Jenny Freedman January 30, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

      Brooklyn is such an fabulous area. We’ve been over there a couple of times now but there’s still a lot more I’d like to see. Great to hear that you learnt a lot with your tour too Tonya…it’s one of the reasons I enjoy doing them.

  5. Muza-chan January 30, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    Looks yummy! 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman January 30, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

      It was Lili…a delicious tour!

  6. budget jan January 30, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

    It is such a great idea to be shown around by someone who knows all the best places. I enjoy listening to the stories of the guides life, it really sets the scene. Is that a gun the guy is packing in his belt?

    • Jenny Freedman January 30, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

      It really is a fun way to learn about a new area Jan, especially when you have someone as knowledgeable as Dom to show you around. No guns…only a phone and a few parrots on his shoulder…as everyone does!!

      • budget jan January 31, 2014 at 8:13 am #

        So Funny – I totally missed them 🙂

  7. Marcia January 30, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

    This is indeed a delicious tour, Jenny! I’ve not been to Bensonhurst but I’d go for a tour by Dom and some panini and pastry. Yum!

    • Jenny Freedman February 1, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

      It’s a fun area to visit Marcia. I can highly recommend Dom’s tours!

  8. Michele {Malaysian Meanders} January 30, 2014 at 10:58 pm #

    How did you get through this tour without exploding? Did you just take a tiny bite of each thing? I certainly would have a hard time narrowing it down to just a few items to try, even in the panini shop alone. I’ve been to Manhattan but never Brooklyn. I think I’d truly enjoy this tour, too.

    • Jenny Freedman February 1, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

      It was tricky Michele! Even pacing yourself was hard…everything was so delicious. A little bit of everything was the answer! Brooklyn is definitely worth a visit!

  9. Susan January 30, 2014 at 11:52 pm #

    I probably need to pack my bags soon. The way you have described everything about your trip makes it vicarious.
    The cuisine is really tempting and the coming summers seems to the apt time to give NY a visit. Hope to read more about your journey and I would love to share one .

    Thanks
    Susan

    • Jenny Freedman February 1, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

      Hi Susan. Anytime is a great time to visit New York! I’ve been in all seasons and it’s different every time! if you are thinking of going, check the blog under New York..there are quite a few posts there to help you find what to do and where to eat. Have fun and thank you for visiting and for your comment

  10. noel January 31, 2014 at 2:28 am #

    Looks like a fun tour, love all the foodie visits especially…those delis look yummy!

    • Jenny Freedman February 1, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

      It’s a great tour Noel and yes, the delis were delizioso!!

  11. Jess @UsedYorkCity January 31, 2014 at 2:53 am #

    What an amazing tour! I will certainly look into Made In Brooklyn Tours, as I LOVE local neighborhood food discoveries! Thanks for the info:-)

    • Jenny Freedman February 1, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

      Dom has four different tours in Brooklyn Jess…it’s right on your doorstep, perfect for you!! Tell him I sent you!!

  12. Heather January 31, 2014 at 4:54 am #

    Love all the local history! I regret not seeing more of the outer boroughs when I lived in Manhattan. Looks like I missed out on some really good food!

    • Jenny Freedman February 1, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

      You sure did Heather! it’s such a big city, I’m not surprised. I’m a bit the same with exploring my home town!

  13. Mary {The World Is A Book} January 31, 2014 at 6:59 am #

    What a great tour full of history and delicious food. Those paninis and dessert goodies look mouthwatering. I’ve never been to Brooklyn despite numerous NYC trips. I’m thinking i need to venture to this part of NY next time.

    • Jenny Freedman February 1, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

      I’m certainly going to be exploring more of Brooklyn on my next visit too Mary..there’s another world over there full of fabulous restaurants and cafes,galleries and shops. Food tours are certainly the way to find out the best places to go!

  14. Neva Fels January 31, 2014 at 7:38 am #

    You obviously got the best of the Brooklyn, food and walk, history and walk, more food and walk it off. The tour guide can make or break a trip and you scored big time.

    • Jenny Freedman February 1, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

      Yes, Neva, having someone who has lived in the area show you the highlights is certainly the best way to see a place. I’m glad we walked in between eating this delicious food!

  15. Johanna January 31, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

    What a fabulous tour, and how much you discovered. It’s great to have someone who knows the area well show you around, isn’t it. I love your account of the history of Bensonhurst – what a great name! We’ve been watching Downton Abbey on DVD – it sounds just the name for a Butler – “Mr Benson!” The food as usual looks amazing – those paninis, oh my. I would have had to have a bit of each one 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman February 1, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

      I did have a bit of each of the panini Jo! I always love it when you also learn about the history of the area as well as the food. Dom is the perfect person to run these tours..he’s so proud of his hometown area.

  16. Farrah January 31, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

    I love your posts. And I drool over your IG food shots. If I could I would drop everything and just travel with you wherever you’d want to go because you have the best experiences 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman February 1, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

      Thanks Farrah! It would be fun to have you travel with us! I wish I lived a bit closer so I could join you and Ann on your next girls trip!!

  17. jennifer January 31, 2014 at 10:57 pm #

    This is the first time I’ve seen a blog post about the neighborhood I live in! I am ridiculously excited to have seen this!

    • Jenny Freedman February 1, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

      Hi Jennifer. That’s fantastic…do you visit these places all the time? I’d be eating panini and hero sandwiches constantly if I lived in the area, not to mention the pasta and cannoli! Lucky you!

      • jennifer February 3, 2014 at 1:55 am #

        Nope! When I first moved here, I definitely did. Now though, I save every spare penny I own to travel so I don’t splurge. Although I will admit, I am so very tempted to go get a panini right NOW.

        • Jenny Freedman February 6, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

          I know the feeling! Travel is certainly worth it! The sandwiches are so big you could easily share them!

  18. Jackie Smith February 1, 2014 at 5:47 am #

    Now that was a real taste of everything; sights, sounds, smells, taste — I felt like I was there with you! Great tour!!

    • Jenny Freedman February 1, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

      Thanks Jackie. Glad you enjoyed it…it really was a fabulous tour!

  19. Sophie February 2, 2014 at 10:02 pm #

    I’ve never made it across the bridge to Brooklyn, but I’m curious to see it, so next time. Brooklyn is where many Norwegian emigrants in the early 1900s settled as well. Some of them, I hear, never even bothered to learn English, since it was so many of them it wasn’t necessary. The sandwiches look super yummy and the Bensonhurst tour sounds great.

    • Jenny Freedman February 6, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

      There’s never enough time to do it all is there Sophie! It’s interesting that Norwegians settled therein the 1900s. I can definitely vouch for the tour…and the panini and hero sandwiches!!

  20. Nancie February 4, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    What a fun and delicious tour! It’s also nice to see another part of New York. I can’t imagine coming up with 150 different sandwiches. I would want one of each. Lobster ravioli too, please!

    • Jenny Freedman February 6, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

      It was a great tour thanks Nancie. It’s hard to imagine so many sandwich combinations but Paul knew everyone of them when we quizzed him about them!

  21. Karen (Back Road Journal) February 5, 2014 at 4:13 am #

    What a fun and delicious way to get to know a neighborhood.

    • Jenny Freedman February 6, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

      it’s the perfect way Karen…I love food tours!!

  22. Mrs. Chasing the Donkey February 11, 2014 at 5:11 am #

    How did you eat of all of that? Kidding I know how – easy… YUUUMMY

    • Jenny Freedman February 11, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

      Mmmmm…I’d say it probably had a lot to do with pure greed…and not wanting to miss out! How could I say no to anything..it was all soooo delicious!

  23. Tom July 6, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    Finally I am on my way to NY. The way you described everything, It looks tempting. NY AM COMING…

    • Jenny Freedman July 6, 2014 at 10:23 pm #

      Have a fabulous trip Tom…you won’t be disappointed!

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