Keeping the Italian Alive in Brooklyn

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Italians are as synonymous with Brooklyn as the Dodgers or the phrase “Fugetaboutit.” Historically, neighborhoods, such as Bensonhurst, Carroll Gardens, Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge, have been Italian enclaves. But as different immigrants groups come and go in the borough, the Italians are no longer as large as a part of Brooklyn as they once were.

Census numbers show the dwindling numbers. In 1980, 307,044 (13.8 percent) of people in Brooklyn had Italian ancestry. By 2010, it was 168,420 (6.3 percent).

Though the Italian population is decreasing, its cultural imprint remains. Here are two businesses that are keeping the Italian alive in Brooklyn.


Serving Sicilian One Panelle at a Time

Ferdinando’s Focacceria, in Carroll Gardens, is a family business that has included three generations of the Buffa family. Today, Frank Buffa oversees the restaurant, and his sons, Christian and David, help manage it. The restaurant is popular with everyone from locals to celebrities who come to taste its Sicilian specialties. The most famous and popular item on the menu is the panelle special. Panelles are chickpea fritters, and they are put on a sandwich with ricotta and Pecorino Romano cheese. Here, Christian shows how to make them.


Parlate Italiano, Bambini?

Alberta Gulotta started Little Language Playhouse about eight years ago. It’s the only language school in Brooklyn to exclusively teach Italian to children. Classes start as young as 6-months-old and go up to 12-years-old. Located in Dyker Heights, around where Gulotta grew up with her Italian parents, she knew the school would do well in the neighborhood. Still, she says, for an Italian-American area, there should be more parents who sign their children up for her classes. She wishes more people of Italian decent would pass the language through the generations. Here’s a look at a class of five- to seven-year olds.

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