Story by Jeff and Stephnaie Sylva
You’ve probably heard of a pub crawl, a beer crawl, or a food crawl. But have you ever heard of a cannoli crawl? We recently enjoyed this walking food tour in New York City that gave us a wealth of information – and a deeper appreciation of – this tasty, world-renowned pastry.
Allison Scola is the creator and guide of the Cannoli Crawl as well as the owner and curator of Experience Sicily. We met Allison at Pasticceria Rocco on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. It didn’t take very long for Allison to demonstrate just how enthusiastic she is about cannoli and all things Sicilian.
For the love of cannoli
It was Allison’s love of cannoli, developed in her childhood during visits to her grandmother’s in Brooklyn, which led her to create her boutique tourism business Experience Sicily and the Cannoli Crawl. Read about Allison’s “discovery” of Sicily and her Sicilian relatives on her website.
The Crawl, which lasts approximately 5 hours, had five stops as we made our way from the West Village to SoHo and eventually to Mulberry Street in the heart of Little Italy. While pointing out a number of Italian and Sicilian landmarks along our tour, Allison shared a lot of historical and cultural details about Italians’ experiences in NYC.
It’s a good thing that Allison warns her customers to come hungry, because there is plenty of food to enjoy on the Crawl. In addition to three scrumptious cannoli (each one with its own distinctive texture and taste), the tour included two coffee drinks and a variety of Sicilian-inspired dishes.
Tastes of Sicily
As with all of the stops on the Cannoli Crawl, Allison shared many facts about Italy, Sicily, and of course, cannoli and other Sicilian-inspired foods. Her first presentation, accompanied by head pastry chef, John (Rocco senior’s nephew), was full of interesting facts and history about the pastry shop, Sicily, and of course, cannoli. But the best part was tasting the cannoli and sipping one of Rocco’s delicious specialty coffees. John wasn’t about to reveal all his secrets to a delicious cannolo, but he did admit that it’s cinnamon oil that gives his cannoli that New York City/Brooklyn flavor.
We learned that “cannoli” is the plural and “cannolo” is singular. We also learned that cannoli were first created in Sicily, specifically the Palermo and Messina regions. The dessert was created for the Carnivale celebrations. Cannoli also came to symbolize fertility! Cannoli first started becoming popular in the United States around the turn of the last century. As Italians, particularly Sicilians, immigrated to America to find work, cannoli started showing up on menus in Italian-owned bakeries and restaurants. Ultimately, they caught on and became standard Italian-American fare.
Palermo street food
After our stop at Pasticceria Rocco, we visited Pane Pasta on W 8th Street for tastes of three different Palermo-style Arancina (commonly known as rice balls). Arancina first started as a street food in Sicily but has become one of the gastronomic symbols of Sicily. Our third stop was at Famous Ben’s Pizza of SoHo for a slice of their Sfincione. This Palermo-style focaccia pizza is made with sautéed onion ground into a sauce with bread crumbs and olive oil. It was unlike any pizza we have ever had.
Next up was Piccola Cucina Estiatorio on Thompson St. for caponata (mixed cooked vegetables) with grilled tuna and cannoli #2, made in the traditional Sicilian style with ricotta cheese. Piccola Cucina Estiatorio is Trip Advisor’s #4 rated restaurant of over 9,000 restaurants in NYC. Pretty impressive! Our last stop for cannoli #3 was at Caffé Palermo on Mulberry Street, home of The Cannoli King, Baby John DeLutro. Caffe Palermo and Baby John have been serving visitors their exquisite cannoli and creative Italian pastries for close to 50 years. Their reputation for authenticity has earned them numerous “Best Cannoli in NYC” awards and has attracted a laundry list of celebrities.
After experiencing Allison’s Cannoli Crawl and her infectious enthusiasm, you may develop an urge to explore Sicily itself. Consider one of her experiential small-group tours of Sicily. Experience Sicily offers a variety of unique itineraries personally led by Allison and supported by her Sicilian cousins and other native Sicilians who love their country and want to share it with visitors.
So which of the three cannoli was the best? We were impressed with all of them, but we think you should experience the Cannoli Crawl and decide for yourself.
So, if you love cannoli, or if you’ve never had cannoli – which we would find hard to believe – and are in the New York City area, besure to treat yourself to Allison Scola’s Cannoli Crawl. You’ll know why in The Godfather Clemenza tells Rocco, “Leave the gun – take the cannoli”.