Williamsburg has seen a lot of immigrant culinary traditions come and go over the years, but a few have managed to take root despite trends—and real estate—changing around them. One of these traditions is that of old-school Italian restaurants and bakeries, which began arriving at around the turn of the 20th century alongside their southern Italian owners. Nowadays, only a handful or so of them still exist in the neighborhood, but they are still just as beloved.
The oldest is Bamonte’s Restaurant, open since 1902—just a year before Nolani immigrants from southern Italy held what would become the first annual Giglio Feast, still hosted every July, bringing hundreds of current and former residents to this famous traditional Italian red sauce joint for tastes of the familiar: baked clams, spaghetti with meat sauce and meatballs, pork chop with vinegar peppers, chicken marsala and heaping lasagna.
Even more than the food, the third-generation, family-run restaurant on Withers Street, managed now by Pasquale Bamonte’s grandson, Anthony, specializes in conjuring the atmosphere of classic 1940s Italian Americana, complete with waiters in bow ties, white tablecloths, carpeted floors, an old cigarette machine and family pictures on the walls.
Known for their trademark fresh seafood dishes, Frost Restaurant has been a neighborhood favorite since 1959, serving up classic linguine with white or red clam sauce, broiled lobster tails, fried and sautéed calamari, baked clams and scungilli fra diavolo.
Naturally, Frost’s menu also carries other Italian antipasti and entree classics, in addition to sandwich versions of some of their signature dishes: try their pepper and eggs sandwich or their meatball sandwich for lunch, or their chicken, veal or eggplant parmigiana sandwich for dinner.
Next, 1973 brought us Emily’s Pork Store on Graham Avenue. Located in East Williamsburg, Emily’s is owned by second-generation butcher-sandwich man Gennaro “Jerry” Aliperti and has been described as among Brooklyn’s best kept secrets. That’s because customers not only enjoy high-quality specialty cheeses and meats, ranging from prosciutto, roast pork and house-made salami, to provolone and in-house mozzarella, but they also get immersion into a true neighborhood meeting place. Many of Aliperti’s house-prepared meats, like their soppressata, are also available around the city in pizza pies and other edible creations.
All of the fresh bread selections at Emily’s are made locally, too, at Aliperti’s cousin’s spot, Napoli Bakery, which opened in 1981 a short walk away over on Metropolitan Avenue. Owners Michelle and Nunzio use a decades-old brick oven to bake their popular sourdough, focaccia, round bread, broccoli and cheese bread, and Neapolitana bread, among other specialties such as lard bread.
Finally, no list of old-school Italian spots in Williamsburg would be complete without mentioning the Fortunato Brothers bakery on Metropolitan Avenue. Open since 1976, the Williamsburg institution was founded by three brothers to bring a taste of home to their new home. The same family recipes for cannolis, cakes, various Italian cookies, fruit tarts, cream puffs and marzipan are still used today, bringing in new generations of customers alongside the devoted regulars.