We both grew up in the suburbs of New York City during the 1960s and have fond memories of the breads turned out from the ovens of our local Italian bakeries. These brawny Italian loaves were destined to be split and layered with cold cuts or loaded with meatballs and Italian sausage for heroes, or sliced vertically every inch or so and spread with garlic butter, then wrapped in foil and baked for ’60s-style garlic bread. Sometimes we’d just eat hunks torn from the loaf and smeared with margarine (or, rarely, butter), leaving the table blanketed with crumbs from the shattering crust.
Decades later, the local bakeries are pretty much still there but the breads have lost their oomph, having become cottony analogues of their former selves. So we were thrilled to walk into Rose & Joe’s, under the elevated tracks in Astoria, to find a bakery that still makes the toasty, crusty, honest loaves of old. The regular seeded Italian breads, tight-crumbed semolina bread, and luxurious prosciutto bread are classics: not the exquisite, new-old levain breads of craft bakers, but just as good in their own way. These breads turn up at delis all around the city, but we like to come right to the source.
Don’t miss the pizza sold by the slice at the back counter. It’s Sicilian-style, baked in large rectangular pans and cut into smaller rectangles. Unlike the typically thick and doughy Sicilian pizza found in many New York pizzerias, the well-oiled crust on this pie is light, crisp, and airy, with a bubbly pockmarked underside, barely thicker than the crust of a Neapolitan pie. A variety of toppings are available, and we’ve enjoyed such variants as broccoli slices, but less is definitely more here.
The crust is the point (this is a bakery, after all), so stick with the unimproveable combination of crust, oil, tomato, oregano, and cheese. We’re wary of creating high expectations, because at first taste you may think, “It’s pretty good, but what’s the big deal?” By the end of your first slice, you’ll probably find yourself ordering a second. As you eat this tomato-and-cheese topped bread its simplicity grows on you. On our first visit, we ended up taking out a box of eight slices, which we promptly popped in the oven as soon as we arrived home. Those eight slices didn’t last long.
The bakery also makes a variety of cookies and pastries, and we enjoyed a pair of excellent, crisp-shelled cannoli. We recommend bringing home a box of those, too, for a wonderful, completely boxed dinner.2240 31st Street Astoria NY 11105 718-721-9422