Between 1896 and 1921, nearly four million Italians emigrated to America seeking a fresh start for themselves and their families. Many settled here in the Valley, especially near the Poughkeepsie waterfront in what’s currently referred to as the Mount Carmel district, or Little Italy.
The neighborhood — which was predominantly Irish at the time — saw an influx of Italians arriving in 1910; that same year, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel church was built as an Italian house of worship, and a community grew around it.
Ten years later, Italians made up the majority of residents, and many of their businesses thrived, including barbershops, a bank, and groceries selling Italian imports.
Along with the rest of the nation, the area fell on hard times during the Great Depression, but the Mt. Carmel community sprang back and began to grow and diversify in the 1940s.
Presently, the area — which is located around Verrazano Boulevard, Mill Street, and Mt. Carmel Place — is culturally mixed, but much of the Italian heritage remains. The church is still there (although it was moved from its original location on Mt. Carmel Place to Mill Street in the 1960s); each June, it hosts the hugely popular St. Anthony’s Street Festival, a celebratory event with food and live entertainment. The Italian Center, which opened on Mill Street in 1928, helps maintain community spirit by offering a Friday night buffet dinner for a small fee.
From the family-run Caffè Aurora, which has doled out authentic Italian treats for more than half a century, to the three-year-old Cafe Bocca — a bit of the Old World can still be seen, heard, and tasted in Poughkeepsie’s Little Italy.
(Join the Mt. Carmel eateries for “A Taste of Little Italy” on October 10. The fête evokes the Italian spirit with live music, dancing, a meatball competition, and, of course, cannoli-eating contests. Buon appetito!)
» Meet the Little Italy eateries: Cafe Bocca
14 Mt. Carmel Pl. 845-483-7300
Chef/owner Erik Morabito opened Cafe Bocca in 2007, in a building constructed 110 years earlier. Sardi’s Italian Grocery and Deli called the location home for about 70 years; Morabito remembers his own family shopping at the store for grated cheese, olive oil, and other goods imported from Italy.
The cafe serves soups, salads, panini, desserts, and espresso. It also offers a selection of local honey, syrups, and seasonings for sale. Morabito hopes to add beer and wine to the menu in the near future.
L’atmosfera (the atmosphere): The space is small yet sophisticated. Olive-colored walls and exposed brick with inset spaces holding tealights bring warmth; vintage ceilings contrast with modern art; and cool jazz fills the room.
Le persone (the people): It’s a great place to meet that old friend you haven’t seen in a while. Tables are usually filled with business-lunchers in the afternoon.
Le merci (the goods): Panini are made with bread baked daily; the tender turkey with avocado is a standout. Salads come without a wilted green in the bunch, tossed and topped with ripe cucumbers and tomatoes Morabito grows himself.
Gustare questo (taste this): Follow a meal with a red-plum sorbetto and a creamy cappuccino — that’s amore.
» Meet the Little Italy eateries: La Deliziosa Italian Pastry Shoppe
10 Mt. Carmel Pl. 845-471-3636
Now in its 36th year, this bakery is known as the “home of the original cannoli chip,” according to owner/Executive Pastry Chef Frank Cordaro. The chip-and-dip combo (diamond-shaped cannoli shells served with one pound of cannoli cream) has been a local staple for about a decade.
L’atmosfera: Something about this pastry shop evokes a sense of nostalgia. The front windows are lined with whimsical faux wedding cakes — the kind that young girls stare at dreamily. The pastries are packaged in a classic white box tied with striped string pulled from overhead.
Le persone: It’s an in-and-out kind of place. You’ll find everyone from brides-to-be choosing that special cake, to regulars stopping in for their usual order, to weekenders up from the city who heard about a good place to get a real cannoli.
Le merci: Cannoli and Napoleans are popular. For something a little more decadent, try the black forest tart (chocolate mousse outside, chocolate filling, cherry on top) or the mousse tart (light and fluffy, yet satisfyingly filling).
Gustare questo: Sfogliatelle (at left), available weekends or by special order, is a flaky pastry that resembles a seashell and is filled with ricotta, semolina, and candied fruit. When you bite into it, the outer layers crackle in your mouth before the soft, sweet filling takes over.
» Meet the Little Italy eateries: Caffè Aurora Pastry Shop
145 Mill St. 845-454-1900
This Poughkeepsie pasticceria opened on Main Street in 1941, but owner Paolo Strippoli — an Italian immigrant who came to New York six years earlier — moved the bakery to its current location on Mill Street in 1963. A family-run business, the caffè is still a popular spot nearly 70 years after its inception.
L’atmosfera: Everything about this pastry shop is authentic, from the smells and tastes of the crumbly cookies and pastries to the old-fashioned frozen treats bar. The round tables placed inside and out encourage guests to sit and stay awhile.
Le persone: Don’t be surprised to find friends conversing in Italian at the outdoor bistro tables, or catching up inside over quaresimali (biscotti with hazelnuts, almonds, cinnamon, and cloves).
Le merci: The biscotti, amaretti, pignoli cookies (at right), and other traditional treats taste like they’re straight out of mamma’s kitchen. Satisfy chocolate cravings with a roulade — a ganache-covered cake roll filled with chocolate mousse and a bit of raspberry.
Gustare questo: Try the Baba Cream. A take on traditional baba au rhum, this yeast-raised brioche is filled with vanilla custard and drenched in rum punch.
» Meet the Little Italy eateries: Milanese Italian Restaurant
115 Main St. 845-853-7163
Italian immigrant Santino Milanese opened this Main Street restaurant in 1971. Still a family-run business, the eatery serves traditional dishes (like zuppa di pesce, shown) at budget-friendly prices.
L’atmosfera: The dining room is intimate — dimly lit with taper candle centerpieces and wine-colored curtains and décor. Romantic for couples, relaxing for families.
Le persone: You might be seated near a couple sharing a bottle of red, or a family celebrating a daughter’s first job. Many of the clientele are regulars who stop by for any occasion.
Le merci: For a quick bite, try the pizzotti — a personal pizza packed with flavor. If you want something more traditional for family night, start off with the baked stuffed clams appetizer and then move on to the homemade lasagna, full of creamy cheese and just the right amount of meat.
Gustare questo: Warm up on a chilly day with a bowl of minestrone. Chock-full of veggies, the soup balances sweet and salty flavors; it’s large enough to satisfy as either a small lunch or — for heartier appetites — as an appetizer.