A Mulberry Street tradition since 1926, the annual Feast of San Gennaro kicked off its ten-day run on Thursday afternoon, filling the historic thoroughfare with all of the usual fried delights, sucker games, carnival rides, and booze everywhere you look. And people. Lots and lots of people. Even on a drizzly afternoon, the crowds were ample all up and down the block, and they're only going to get more so as we head into the weekend.
As is recent custom, in addition to the zeppole and bracciole, sausages and fried Oreos, cannoli and clams, touristy tchotchkes and hand-rolled cigars, a few of the more contemporary, more Nolita-y establishments on Mulberry also hit the street, often hawking dishes exclusive to the feast. And while I couldn't find anything truly bizarre like last year's creepy ice cream Shar-Pei puppy, there are plenty of unexpected and delicious things here upon which to feast. Here's a quick look at some of the highlights from opening day.
- The Major Food Group's charitable organization Major Good, working with Baldor and Pat LaFrieda, is selling (Friday only) a Chinese BBQ Sandwich, the plump soft roll filled with pork ribs, cabbage slaw, and spicy Chinese mustard. This is a great sandwich, and 100% of the proceeds go directly to Robin Hood's food partners, which help feed New Yorkers in need. The booth is right outside of Parm, which will take over the spot on Saturday with a menu of favorites for the rest of the run.
- The family-run Cafe Belle up near Houston has a big blue booth again outside their bakery and, in addition to all of their usual first-rate Italian treats, they're offering a fun new item for the feast, a sort of deconstructed Cannoli in which you dip house-fried pastry chips into a cup of tangy, chocolate-studded cream. Bonus this year: they're sharing the booth with some cousins who are debuting a meatball concept, My Sister's Balls.
- On the corner of Kenmare Street, Pasquale Jones has two sandwiches exclusive to the feast, a Burrata and Heirloom Tomato beauty and an excellent Prosciutto di Parma Meatball Sub, which is bigger than it looks because they scoop out the bottom of the roll so the fat, funky meatball can sit comfortably inside. There's a large walled-off outdoor bar area here as well.
- Down between Grand and Hester there's a generic-looking zeppole booth called Lucy's and they've been slinging their powdered fried dough at the feast for almost two decades now. This year, however, they've added something new to their repertoire, an utterly decadent Fried Rainbow Cookie that's so good and satisfying you wonder why you don't see them everywhere. Definitely don't miss these.
- If you want to be all old-school and just wolf down one of those glorious, greasy sausage and peppers heroes, make sure you get it at the Ned's Food booth between Grand and Broome. The sausages here are specially made according to their own proprietary blend, and they are so juicy, so porky, so delicious.
- Big Mozz is back again with their peerless Mozzarella Sticks, but this year they've added dessert, a clever Neapolitan Ice Cream Sandwich from the Good Batch folks. It has chocolate cookies on the outside, a hefty disc of vanilla ice cream within, and a layer of strawberry jam to complete the classic flavor combo.
- Just north of Canal the new Manero's Pizza is making their feast debut, and though they're not doing anything gimmicky, the occasion offers you a good opportunity to try a couple of their stellar slices.
One other note: the Shrine Church of the Most Precious Blood, home of the San Gennaro shrine that each year gets covered in money by the faithful, sold their saint's home in the rectory garden to a developer, and so now have to wheel him out into the street.
You'll find the Feast of San Gennaro on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, running 10 blocks from Canal to East Houston streets. The feast runs through Sunday, September 22nd, and is open from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until midnight Friday and Saturday.