Downtown Jersey City’s Italian Past

Dear Editor:

I am fortunate to have been raised in the Downtown Section of Jersey City during the 60’s and 70’s. Even though Downtown had a “tainted” reputation at that time, it was the center of Italian heritage in Jersey City. There were other parts of Jersey City with significant Italian populations. However, Downtown was special; it was “The Italian Village.”

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The Italian community of Downtown Jersey City mainly belonged to the Holy Rosary Parish; its church is on Sixth Street. Holy Rosary church hosted parades, most notably for La Festa di San Giovanni Battista (June 24), La Madonna del Carmine (July 16), and La Festa di San Rocco (August 16). The Holy Rosary Italian Feast coincided with “La Festa di San Rocco.” At that time, the Holy Rosary feast was truly Italian, and the “zeppole” were outstanding.

There were three established, well known Italian restaurants within walking distance from each other: Ducky’s, Tripoli, and Erks. There was nothing better than a pizza and mussels from Ducky’s on a Friday night. The pizza was scrumptious. The mussels, in a spicy marinara sauce, were great, and I eagerly looked forward to dipping the bread into that sauce. There is a bit of a mystery with Ducky’s restaurant; its original owner had “disappeared” without a trace. Some suspect. . . .Well, we’ll just keep it at that.

The “Triangle,” on Newark Avenue and Coles Street, featured clams on a half shell, a real favorite during the summer months.

Downtown featured two Italian pastry Shops, Difeo’s on Brunswick Street and La Magra’s on the corner of Third Street and Newark Avenue. “Sfogliatelle,” “pasticciotti,” “bomboloni,” and “cannoli” were just a few of the delicious “pasticcini” that were offered at these bakeries. There was no place better than Pecoraro’s Bakery on Newark Avenue for freshly baked Italian bread. I enjoyed buying freshly baked bread from Pecoraro’s, and then taking it to Fiore’s Italian deli (corner of Newark and Monmouth Street) for a “panini” (Italian sandwich). Naturally, my sandwiches always included Fiore’s freshly made mozzarella cheese.

Ah, but that was then! The Brunswick Street Italian Market is gone. The Italian Feast in August isn’t all that Italian anymore. Today’s version of Pecoraro’s is but a mere shadow of what it used to be. Today, there are few remnants left of The Italian village. But, if you look hard enough, then you just might find a link back to Downtown’s past – To Downtown’s Italian past.

John Di Genio

Bayonne
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