If you want to know how the ladies at Civitello’s Italian Pastry Shoppe create their to-die-for cannoli and pignoli cookies, don’t even think about sneaking a look into their kitchen. “There are too many secrets in there,” co-owner Roie Angerami firmly stated.
Roie runs the shop with her sister, Angela Angerami, and the two use the same recipes their grandfather Raffaelo Civitello did when he opened the shop 90 years ago.
Everything from their Italian ice to the bread for their eggplant Parmesan sandwiches is made from scratch. “We have a mixer and we have an oven. Everything else is done fully by our hands,” Roie said. “They’re old-school recipes. They’re not the new, modern Italian cooking.”
Whatever they do back there in the kitchen, the patrons seem to like it. At lunchtime hungry customers pack the green vinyl booths that line the left-hand wall of the shop, and the small, square tables in front of the pastry cases. “We don’t have enough seats here, and we’re always refusing people,” Roie said.
Because of that, the sisters have decided to enlarge their outdoor seating area. Concrete has been poured, large, circular stone planters have been constructed and a waterfall is in the works. Where once only 15 patrons could sit, the sisters now hope to seat 50, beginning in April.
Roie and Angela churn out Italian specialties five days a week, with occasional help from cousins, friends and a third sister, Bea Angerami.
The sisters have been working on and off in the shop since they were small. “My grandparents lived upstairs, so that’s where we would go and eat sometimes,” Roie said.
Once Roie grew up, she became a hairstylist, but when help was needed at Civitello’s she went back to work there part time. Four or five years ago, she dropped hairstyling altogether and Civitello’s became her full-time job.
Angela became a full-time Civitello’s employee the day after she graduated from high school in 1978. “I didn’t want to.
They forced me. I thought I was going to college to be an X-ray tech,” she said. Her mother asked her to help out just until they could find someone else to work in the shop.
“I never left,” Angela said. She was once offered a job at Montgomery Ward, but turned it down. “I said, ‘I can’t come. I have to stick with family,’ ” she recounted.
Dressed in black, flour-covered aprons, both sisters said they now love their chosen profession, even though it’s a lot of work.
“The next generation could never do it because I notice every generation we get lazier. What my grandparents did, I could never do. My grandfather worked here and, in the Depression, he would go work out in the city to make money to pay the bills here. He worked like 20 hours a day,” Roie said.
Pizza comes out at 11:30 a.m. at Civitello’s. The thin, crispy crust is topped with tangy tomato sauce, Parmesan cheese and chunks of roasted garlic. Patrons line up at the counter for it, and it’s often gone before lunchtime’s over. “Our pizza’s a big deal,” Roie said.
Although the pizza’s popular, eggplant Parmesan, available only on Wednesdays and Fridays, is the top-selling lunch item. “We always sell out and we’re thinking of adding one more day,” Roie said.
Sfogliatelle — a flaky pastry with a thick, custard filling — and cannoli are the customer favorites from the pastry case.
“We started an eclair probably about six or seven years ago maybe. That’s a big hit. It’s not Italian, but we put Italian cream in it,” Roie said with a laugh.
In the summer, the homemade Italian ice flies out the door. Lemon’s the traditional favorite, but the sisters also whip up other ices, including watermelon and grapefruit.
“Our cookies, of course, are what keep us,” Roie noted. The sisters take orders for trays for weddings, funerals, birthdays and holidays.
Most menu items have remained constant since the shop opened, but the sisters are slowly adding new features in an effort to keep up with the times.
“I think people’s taste buds have changed, and so we want to bring other things, like the chocolate chips and the cupcakes and more of the American, but I do make them in Italian style sometimes,” Roie said. Her grandfather, she noted, always made cupcakes from rum-soaked spongecake.
“We’ve had cupcakes for 90 years but we never called them cupcakes. We call it a butterfly. Some people call them angel pastry,” she said.
Once the outdoor seating area opens, Civitello’s menu will expand to include more hot foods.
“I think I want to do the soup, sandwich, salad thing,” Roie said. “I don’t want to get fancy, but I want my quality to stay premium.”