For nearly 100 years Manhattan's Little Italy has played host to the Feast of San Gennaro, which began in 1926 when Italian immigrants in the neighborhood threw an afternoon block party for the patron Saint of Naples.
The annual event is to honor the feast's saint, San Gennaro — Bishop of Benevento, Italy, who died a martyr in 305 AD. While Gennaro's body is preserved in Naples, a statue of the saint resides in The Most Precious Blood Church on Baxter Street, and gets wheeled out frequently during the feast for blessings and processions. You can find the full history of San Gennaro here.
The 2022 street festival is considerably more epic than it was in those early days, with some two million people expected to attend over eleven days, and scores of food vendors, merchants, and games lining the entire length of Mulberry Street.
WHAT TO EAT
In addition to classic San Gennaro fare like braciole, funnel cake, zeppoles, sausage and peppers, torrone, raw clams, cannoli, and fried Oreos, several of the neighborhood's newer establishments get in on the action with special feast-only dishes. Plus there's all of the outdoor seating from the year-round restaurants adding to the festive vibe.
Here's a look at some of the highlights.
There are at least a half dozen sausage and pepper spots from which to choose, and they're all probably fine, but our money always goes to Cuzzin Vinnie's Sausage Stand. The roll is nice and soft, the meat wonderfully charred and juicy, and the "hot" sausage has some serious kick. Want to sample some more? Gigi's is also very good.
These days Mulberry Street boasts several terrific pizza places, including the great Upside on the corner of Spring Street (which also sells incredible soft serve ice cream sundaes at the adjacent Softside window) and Manero's classic NYC-style slices down by Canal.
This year there's a newcomer to the scene, an offshoot of Pasquale Jones on Kenmare Street called Bar Pasquale slinging some doughy square slices. Definitely get the Diavola, topped with fiery salumi picante and sharp provolone.
There are also plenty of decidedly not-Italian stands at the feast, including several arepa vendors, Mexican aguas frescas tents and elote grills, and Tibetan newbie Kha-tsa from Queens, selling several types of dumplings, and loaded-up stir fried noodles.
When it's time for something sweet, you could go the old school Little Italy route and visit the Caffe Palermo, aka the Cannoli King, or Alleva Dairy ("America's Oldest Cheese Shop") for gelato. And of course, there's the legendary Vinny's Nut House, home of freshly-cracked torrone and Italian nougat — they remain a fixture near Grand Street.
Two favorite dessert spots, however, are Noelle Scala's Cafe Belle up near Houston Street, whose rainbow cookies (and rainbow cookie cake with cannoli cream filling, and rainbow cookie ice cream sandwiches) are among the very best in the city. And then there's Sophia's stand just south of Kenmare, which has mountains of fried everything (Oreos, rainbow cookies, zeppole, Twinkies) and whose booth always feels like a party.
GAMES, RIDES & SPECIAL EVENTS
Those sucker-bet games are amply represented at San Gennaro, with barkers shouting their well-oiled pitches hoping to entice passersby into laying down some bucks for a chance to win an overly-large plush toy of some sort.
The amusement park rides — a ferris wheel and spinning tea cups on Grand Street, for example — add carnival music, shrieks of joy, and flashing lights to the festivities, and are especially popular at night.
You'll also find special events happening throughout the feast, including several eating contests (cannolis, zeppoles pizza, meatballs), the Grand Procession up Mulberry on Saturday the 17th, which always means the crowds get even more massive. And don't miss Enrico Caruso Opera Night on September 20th.
GETTING TO THE FEAST
The Feast of San Gennaro takes place this year from Thursday, September 15th through Sunday, September 25th. It runs the length of Mulberry Street in Little Italy and Nolita, from Canal Street to Houston Street, with blocks-long branches spreading westward on Hester and Grand Streets.
San Gennaro is readily accessible via multiple subway lines, including the A, C, B, D, F, and M trains to the Broadway / Lafayette Station; the 6 train to Bleecker Street, Spring Street, or Canal Street; the J, Z trains to Canal Street, and the N, Q, R, W trains, also to Canal.
The Feast of San Gennaro runs along Mulberry Street and is a short walk from these train lines
The Feast starts up each day at around 11:30 a.m., and shuts down at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 11 p.m. on weeknights.