Details: New York City is known for more than just a few delicious foods. From the expensive menus of the five star restaurants, to the barely-scraping-by hot dog street venders, if you come to New York and go hungry you have no one to blame but yourself. Little Italy is a lower Manhattan neighborhood in NYC that is known for its large population of Italians. Today this little gem of New York is chock full of Italian stores and bistros. What does this have to do with our post? Well, very little really. But then again, so much. On May 19, 1971 a 15 year old Cesario Iacovelli leaves Naples to head for the American dream waiting for him across the great blue seas. Ten days later, the journey comes to an end as Cesario smells the freedom of the New York City Harbor. He arrives through a thick sheet of fog, and his family realizes they have finally made it. On his own since the age of 17, Cesario was born to cook. As with most authentic Italian-Americans, there is a heritage of fine dining pumping in his veins. He makes food the way it was intended to be eaten: fresh daily and from scratch. By some bizarre twist of fate, Cesario winded up not opening a restaurant in New York but by getting a small pizza parlor in our sleepy little home of Greenfield, IN. As luck would have it, N.Y. Little Italy Pizza Café is approximately two miles from our house, and we thank the food gods for this amazing bit of fortune. As it says on his website, “Cesario is my name and pizza is my game.” And my friends, we all want to play.
N.Y. Little Italy Café is not for the faint of heart. This is unlike anything else you will find in Indiana. It’s authentic, hand tossed pizza. And not that generic, frozen dough crap they serve you at nationwide chains. No, we’re talking the kind of place where you come in, place your order, and then wait half an hour while they prepare your entire order from scratch. The dough is tossed right in front of you. The toppings are piled on. When you walk out carrying your pizza, your biceps are going to get an extra sized workout. Is it expensive? For the average American, they would probably complain that, yes, it is. They might prefer the speedy convenience of a flat cheese pizza priced at $5.99. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s the American style of pizza. And don’t take it the wrong way. Pizza is one of the best foods America has stolen and made better. But we’ll will gladly pay a ridiculous sum for authentically prepared Italian pizza.
And they don’t just do pizza either. Their menu is large and expansive. They do pizza three ways: thin crust, deep dish, and stuffed. They do breadsticks, both plain and pepperoni stuffed. They do salads: garden, chef, and Greek. They do Strombolis, calzones, spinach rolls, and subs. They do pasta and even cold deli sandwiches. They do made-in-house cheesecake (N.Y. style, naturally) and tiramisu. Cannolis? You bet. Coffee soda? That too. It’s like having a direct line to New York City right there in the palm of your hand. The prices are high. Our first visit to this lovely establishment ran us over $50. But we got a pizza, breadsticks, cheesecake, and a coffee soda (among a few other necessities). Really, the price is worth the quality you get as this is a prime example of “you get what you pay for.” And what you get, honestly, is some of the best Italian style pizza in the Midwest. Located in the historic downtown Greenfield on State Road 9, just near the courthouse, N.Y. Little Italy Café is a wonder to behold. Greenfield is home to many chain pizza parlors, and none of them compare to Cesario’s little slice of home.
She Said: Time and time again, I’ve looked over at the N.Y. Little Italy Pizza Café while on my way through town. The red, white and green storefront is small and inviting, yet for some reason it took me four years to make my way through their front doors. The establishment is owned and run by Cesario Iacovelli, who I got to meet in person during my family’s first trip into Little Italy. Behind the counter in his flour dusted apron, he welcomes us in as he pulled a freshly baked pie from the oven. We studied the menu while stealing glances at the breadsticks and calzones on display behind the glass. We decided on a deluxe Sicilian, pepperoni stuffed breadsticks with cheese dipping sauce, a ricotta and mozzarella stuffed calzone, and two slices of New York cheesecake. Iacovelli rang us up and his chef gave our son a big smile as he began to toss and shape the dough for our deep dish pie.
As we waited somewhat impatiently, the smells of the freshly baking food making our stomachs rumble, we browsed the rest of the menu. All of the baked products are made from scratch each day on site, a bragging rite that not many places have anymore. As I was jealously eying a couple who chowed down on a thin crust half pepperoni and half deluxe pizza, Iacovelli called us to the register to ring me up and get us fed. He opened the box to show me one of the best looking pizzas I’ve truly ever seen and proceeded to go down every purchased item and charge to make sure it was rang correctly. I let my husband carry the box because it was honestly also the heaviest pizza I’ve ever encountered.
We’re lucky we made it home without me tearing into that box or the breadsticks. The slices were nearly two inches high, cheeses and toppings piled high on thick dough; this is a knife and fork pizza for sure. Calling it delicious would be to do it an injustice; this is without a doubt the most fantastic pizza I’ve ever eaten in my life, or at the very least it ties for first place with Giordano’s from Chicago. Even the mushrooms, which I normally despise, were delicious and seemingly fresh picked that very morning. The breadsticks were crispy on the outside, warm and chewy in their pepperoni filled center. Their calzone was simply out of this world; it’s rare to get a calzone made with fresh and proper cheeses and this was one of the best I’ve had. The chocolate cheesecake was also to die for and the portion size was enough for me to save half for later and still get my chocolate fix.
There are too many things that impressed me about N.Y. Little Italy to name just one, so I’ll give you a few in no particular order. First, the authenticity is impressive and definitely should be top notch considering that the owner spent his first 15 years in Italy and his following years in New York. Some New York style pizzas fall short, but his definitely hits and then surpasses the mark. Second, the freshness of the food and the preparation is outstanding. Everything is made from scratch in the same building that cooks and serves it to you and you can definitely tell by first bite. The only other place I’ve seen dough being tossed out in the public view was ages ago at Cici’s pizza; it’s a practice that more pizzerias should take up, as it allows the customer a sneak peek into the preparation and plants the seed in their minds that they are about to receive the freshest food available. Third, was Cesario Iacovelli himself. There are many restaurant owners out there who separate themselves from the daily business, preferring to stay in the background and count their profit. Iacovelli is on the front lines and you can tell it’s not because he wants to save cost, but because he loves what he does. He gave us free drinks while we waited and took great care to ensure we were 100% happy with our order before we walked out of his doors.
As far as cost goes, the deluxe 12 slice pizza set us back $24, which is high for a pizza, but you’re paying for quality as well as quantity. Like I said, this pizza was generously topped and quite heavy, worth every penny we paid. Unless you’re adding dozens upon dozens of extra toppings to your pizza or Stromboli’s, the deluxe 12 slice Sicilian is the most expensive thing on that menu; everything else is priced comparable to your typical pizza joint. Stepping into this restaurant is like stepping out of Indiana and back into New York. It’s a treasure not quite hidden but maybe overlooked in downtown Greenfield and I wish we had discovered it sooner!
He Said: I’ve never been to New York City. But I’ve been to NY Little Italy Café and let me tell you: it’s good as hell. My wife was born in New York. I’m sure she misses it dearly. And to see her reaction to the food was really worth any price we could have paid. I am a huge pizza buff. I will eat pizza everyday of the week if left to my own devices. That being said, I have a wide palette and hearty stomach with which to judge any cheesy pie that comes my way. I’ve had thousands of slices in my lifetime from all sorts of places. From the small town dives, to the franchises with the silly commercials: I haven’t tried them all, but I’ve had my fair share. And I can say that there is a small place in my heart for NY Little Italy Café after just one visit. What a pizza! Big, thick, meaty slices; the toppings piled on; the cheese frothy and rich; the sauce made from scratch and delicious. You can buy it as a whole pie or just get it by the slice. Either way, it’s gonna be oh so good.
The heavy (and I mean it, the damn thing must have weighed 15 pounds) pizza was adorned with a generous amount of toppings, evenly distributed. The richness of the flavors was like a firework of explosion on my tastebuds. The quality of food made my stomach smile because you can actually taste the love and care that went into making every delicious bite. The pepperoni stuffed breadsticks were top notch and better than any I can ever recall eating. And that’s saying a lot because I also love breadsticks. I only tried a small bite of the calzone. That’s typically not my style of pizzeria food. But the bite I had was mouthwatering and enticed me enough to possibly order one in the future. The cheesecake beats any, hands down. Suck on that, Cheesecake Factory. The coffee soda was not for me. But we really just wanted to try it. I’m more of a steaming hot coffee drinker, myself.
Cesario Iacovelli is a man of few spoken words. But his familiarity is in his eyes. He has a grandfatherly glow that smiles out at you from those flour stained cheeks. He serves his heart to you in a cardboard box. And if his relatives from his homeland could lay eyes upon him they would not only be proud, but they would be grateful. They would give thanks that a tradition of excellence has been passed down to Cesario. That he is an Italian-American who takes immense pride in his Italian heritage. He doesn’t slack off or take the easy way out. He doesn’t serve you frozen, preprocessed food. He isn’t churning out pizza after pizza on an assembly line with a bunch of acne riddled teenagers. He is a man with a gift for excellent food. He is a man of pride and principle. A man who believes that delicious food takes time, takes care, and takes a passion for cooking. I will return to N.Y. Little Italy Café again and again because there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. In a lazy, fast food nation, Cesario stands out as a restaurant owner with pride. And we are very proud to call him our neighbor.
Website: N.Y. Little Italy Café
Full Menu: Click HERE