Although Indiana has had an Italian connection from the very beginning – Enrico Tonti accompanied the explorer LaSalle in 1679 and Francesco Vigo assisted George Rogers Clark in exploring Indiana, it was only after 1880 that Italian immigrants were attracted to the state in any numbers. Indianapolis’ first Italians came from the Lombardy, Liguria, Tuscany and Basilicata regions. The Sicilians who developed the city’s fruit and vegetable trade came later, followed by barbers from Calabria and the Friulani experts in terrazzo-mosaic tile work. Early immigrants became grocers, shoemakers, tailors and barbers.
In 1882, Frank Mascari, a fisherman from Termini Imerese in Sicily, visited Indianapolis to investigate business possibilities. He opened a profitable fruit store on Virginia Avenue just south of Washington Street and before long his three brothers, his brother-in-law, their wives, their children and friends followed him. By 1910, 33 of the 54 fruit and vegetable dealers in the city were Italian. They were well represented among City Market stand holders and behind the wagons and push carts parked around the Marion County Courthouse. Reputedly responsible for introducing the banana here, several were nicknamed “the banana king.”
Residents of Italian ancestry have contributed significantly to Indianapolis’s economy, culture and professional and religious life. Later, primarily after World War II, many Italian Americans moved into Indianapolis, excelling in business and professional fields, including law, medicine and education.
The Holy Rosary Neighborhood has been known as “Little Italy” because of the numbers of Italians who settled there. The neighborhood was historically known as the Holy Rosary-Danish Church Neighborhood. After the Civil War, the neighborhood was settled by German, Irish, Scottish, Danish, and Welsh immigrants. It is the story of the Italians, however, that shaped the neighborhood. In the 1890’s, southern Italians began arriving in Indianapolis and, specifically, in what is now the Holy Rosary area.
Before 1909, Italian Catholics attended services at St. Mary German Church. Because many of the Italian immigrants did not speak English, they desired to have an Italian parish of their own. Indianapolis’ Bishop Francis Silas Chatard authorized the newly-arrived Father Marino Priori to organize a parish for Italians on the southeast side of the city. Two years later in 1911, ground was broken for the Holy Rosary Catholic Church on Stevens Street. Due to financial difficulties, the basement was roofed and used for services from 1912 to 1925. Finally, in 1925 at a cost of around $50,000, the construction of the edifice was completed and Pope Pius XI sent his blessing from the Vatican.
The Italians in the Holy Rosary Neighborhood were a tightly-knit group who believed strongly in traditional family ties. It was not unusual for a family with many children to live in a house with their parents and grandparents. Even if new couples did not live in the same households as their parents, they often lived across the street or down the block. The neighborhood is still home to many Italians whose fathers, mothers, children, cousins and friends are direct descendants of the Italians whose names are set forth in the original 1909 Holy Rosary Catholic Church charter.
As a means of raising funds, Holy Rosary conducted the traditional lawn fetes and bazaars, but after 1934 the parish attracted larger summer crowds by erecting stands and rides in the street and offering entertainment. Highly successful, other parishes imitated Holy Rosary. In 1984, parishioners revived the Italian Street Festival. This two-night event features Italian foods and amusements, attracts as many as 25,000 people and has produced a half-million dollar income over the last ten years.
Hundreds of mom-and-pop-owned stores once dotted the neighborhoods of Indianapolis. Before zoning laws restricted businesses in residential neighborhoods, small stores such as groceries, hardware stores, shoe repair shops and restaurants were sprinkled among the houses and their proprietors often lived in quarters behind or attached to the the shop.
One such store was the J. Bova Conti Grocery, which served Indianapolis’s Italian community on the near south side from the 1920’s through the 1950’s. According to Indianapolis Italians by James J. Divita (Arcadia Publishing, 2006), Josephine Mascari and her son Tommaso were experiencing hardship in operating their grocery business on Virginia Avenue. John Bova Conti moved in to run the store and ended up marrying the widow. In 1920 they rented a small, wood-frame grocery with an adjacent residence. Signs on the store and visible goods included, Wonder and Yum Yum bread, fruit, macaroni, olives, cheese, Coca-Cola and East End Dairy products. The store’s business ledger for 1924 through 1927 (housed at the Indiana Historical Society) indicates that many products were imported from Italy and distributed to other stores around the state. According to Divita, “After visiting relatives in Indianapolis, customers from smaller towns would stop at Bova Conti’s to buy 20 pounds of dry pasta for the month. Among his attractive prices were one gallon Berio olive oil, $3; one bottle Florio Marsala, $2.25; five pounds Sicilian caciocavallo, $3.75; and one case Brioschi, 75 cents.”
By the time the photographs, above, were taken in April 1946, the store’s namesake had been deceased for several years. Gus Mascari recalls that his grandparents operated the grocery from the late 1930’s through the late 1950’s. Another Mascari grandchild, Mrs. Terry Shannon, shares that the store had sawdust on the floor, pickles in large barrels and they sold Italian bread baked by Mrs. Mascari.
Iozzo’s Garden of Italy, originally established in 1930, is now the newest, oldest Italian restaurant in Indianapolis. Santora “Fred” Iozzo had a vision of creating the American Dream. Born in Calabria, Italy in 1888, Fred emigrated to the United States of America arriving at age 17. After working on the railroads in Boston and Ohio, Fred was naturalized in 1924 and settled in Indianapolis, Indiana. By 1926, Fred Iozzo had a small empire of 21 grocery stores located in the central Indianapolis area. But as the Great Depression did to so many proud businesses, his chain of stores closed. Later, when economic conditions improved, Fred relied on his background as a chef to build Naples Grill in 1930.
Naples Grill, at the time, was Indianapolis’ first full-service Italian restaurant and it quickly became popular, not only to Hoosiers but to those traveling through the Midwest. After a few years of success, the business moved to the corner of Illinois and Washington Streets, where Fred ran the restaurant with his sons Vincent and Dominic. The restaurant was renamed Iozzo’s Garden of Italy and it continued to be a commercial success. With three bars, a banquet room, two kitchens and a bandstand, it could service an incredible 850 customers at a time. Iozzo’s became a hot spot destination as one of the best restaurants in the Midwest.
On October 24, 1940, an unfortunate incident occurred inside the restaurant and temporarily derailed the hopes and dreams of the Iozzo family. That night, a group of sailors came into Iozzo’s and were sitting at the bar, flirting with Fred’s daughter, Margaret. Her brother, Dominic, decided the flirting had gone too far — and a brawl ensued. Fred, who heard the fight from the backroom, burst out and shot the sailor who was choking his son. When the sailor died, Fred was charged and convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He went to prison for 26 months. Fred Iozzo died in 1945, a few years after his release from prison.
After the closing of the restaurant, the Iozzo family continued to pass down their traditions and recipes. In July of 2009, Iozzo’s Garden of Italy re-opened. With traditional family recipes combined with new favorites, Iozzo’s has received awards and recognition from many publications, including “Best New Restaurant”, “Best Italian Restaurant in Indianapolis” and the restaurant has been featured on the cover of “Indianapolis Monthly” magazine.
In 1911 the first car race was held at the Indianapolis Speedway. An estimated 80,000 spectators attended the first 500 mile (800 km) race on Memorial Day when 40 cars competed. A classic race followed in 1912 when Ralph DePalma lost a five lap lead with five laps to go when his car broke down. As DePalma pushed his car around the circuit, Joe Dawson made up the deficit to win. Three of the next four winners were European, with DePalma being the exception as an American national, though originally Italian born. These races gave Indy a worldwide reputation and international drivers began to enter.
Ralph De Palma (December 18, 1882 – March 31, 1956) was an Italian-American race car driving champion who won the 1915 Indianapolis 500. His entry into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame estimates that he won about 2,000 races during his career. DePalma won the 1908, 1909, 1910 and 1911 American AAA national dirt track championships and is credited with winning 24 American Championship car races. DePalma estimated that he had earned $1.5 million by 1934 after racing for 27 years.
In 1958, a budding race-car driver named Mario Andretti first laid eyes on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His family, who had arrived from Italy three years earlier, had driven from their Pennsylvania home, so that Andretti could watch the Indianapolis 500. After the race, the 18-year-old made it to the infield to walk on the famed 2.5-mile track, which includes a narrow front straightaway lined with grandstands on both sides.
“It was very daunting,” recalled Andretti, now 69. “Just to look at all those grandstands, it was quite a sight, so unique.” At that moment, he said, “I wanted to find out what those other drivers were experiencing. It egged me on even more.” Andretti, of course, would go on to win the 500 in 1969 and become one of the most famous racers in history.
At the turn of the 20th century Clinton, Indiana, located approximately 15 miles north of Terre Haute, had a great influx of Italian immigrants to the area to work in the coal mines. Italian immigrants made up the majority of mine workers (both deep-shaft and strip coal mines) in Clinton. At one point the city had a population of over 15,000 people, of which, nearly one-third were Italian. The northwest area of Clinton became known as “Little Italy”, as the majority of its inhabitants had come directly from Italy. Unlike a lot of the Italian immigration that took place at that time, most of the Clinton Italians were from northern Italy. A listing of businesses in the Little Italy section of Clinton in the 1920’s shows (4) grocery stores, (2) meat markets, a bakery, a cheese shop, multiple tailors and clothing shops, shoe and variety stores all owned by Italian immigrants.
According to The Daily Clintonian, Bollittino Edition, a large bronze statue, the Voice of the Immigrant (on North 9th St.), is located at what is known as, the Piazza Del Immigrante. As a lasting tribute to Clinton’s Italian heritage, the Airola family commissioned the statue from Italian sculptor, Carlo Avenati, and called it, The Voice of the Immigrant. But it’s not alone, the statue also shares the spot with a very unusual bullhead fountain and a tall granite fountain. These artifacts were made possible by the Airola family. As a coal mining town, with plenty of Italian immigrants, the granite fountain stands as a reminder of Clinton’s Italian roots.
The bullhead statue is unusual in that that particular style of bull is an image that is normally associated with Torino, Italy. As the story goes…hundreds of years ago, the town of Torino, Italy fought one war after another. The people just about lost hope and so decided to stampede their town with bulls. Lots and lots of bulls. The evil invaders were run down by the masses of bulls and the town then became known as Torino. Toro is Italian for, you guessed it, bull! The town of Torino does not sell their bullhead fountains. Instead, the Airola family, through a series of connections, were given permission from the Mayor of Torino to use a pattern of the fountain for a replica to be built in little Clinton, Indiana.
Clinton, Indiana’s Little Italy Festival
The festival has been held every Labor Day weekend since 1966. Part of every festival is the crowning of the Grape Princess and the Re & Regina. Another big part of the Little Italy Festival has always been learning about the Gondola. On June 27, 1967 Clinton’s gondola left its birthplace in Venice, Italy and shipped to the U.S. The Gondola made is debut at the 1967 Festival and is on display every year.
Italian Food Of Indianapolis
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer
- 2 cups bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic chopped very fine
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 24 cherrystone or littleneck clams, top shell removed
- 2 cups fish or chicken broth
- 2 lemons, cut into wedges
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Combine bread crumbs, oil, garlic, parsley, cheese and paprika in a medium bowl. Mix together well, mixture should be moist to the touch.
Place clams in bottom half of the shell in a baking pan and pack about 2 teaspoons of the bread crumb mixture into each clam.
Pour broth around clams, making sure not to cover the clams or wash away any bread crumb mixture.
Place in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until brown and crispy.
Transfer clams to serving plates and drizzle a little of the juice from the baking pan on top of each clam. Serve with lemon wedges.
Classic Caesar Salad
The croutons are best made no more than half an hour before assembling the salad.
Serves 4 to 6
For The Croutons
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 loaf rustic Italian bread (8 to 10 ounces), crusts removed, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For The Salad
- 2 garlic cloves
- 4 anchovy fillets
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 20 ounces romaine lettuce, outer leaves discarded, inner leaves washed and dried
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese or Romano cheese, or 2 1/2 ounces shaved with a vegetable peeler
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Combine the butter and olive oil in a large bowl. Add the cubes of bread and toss until coated. Sprinkle with salt, cayenne pepper and black pepper; toss until evenly coated. Spread the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until croutons are golden, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
Place the garlic, anchovy fillets,and salt in a wooden salad bowl. Using two dinner forks, mash the garlic and anchovies into a paste. Using one fork, whisk in the pepper, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and egg yolk. Whisk in the olive oil.
Chop the romaine leaves into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces. Add the croutons, romaine and cheese to the bowl; toss well. If you wish, grate extra cheese over the top. Serve immediately.
Cook’s Note: If you prefer not to use the raw yolk in this recipe, substitute 1 tablespoon store-bought mayonnaise. Raw eggs should not be used in food prepared for pregnant women, babies, young children or anyone whose health is compromised.
Spicy Chicken Rigatoni
The pasta cooks in the sauce.
Makes: 4 servings
- 1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 1 (26 ounce) container Pomi crushed tomatoes
- 2 cups packaged dried rigatoni
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 -2 1/2 ounce jar sliced mushrooms, drained
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken (about 8 ounces)
- Fresh basil leaves
In a large saucepan cook onion and garlic in hot oil until tender but not brown. Stir in undrained tomatoes, pasta, water, mushrooms, Italian seasoning and red pepper.
Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes or until pasta is tender but slightly firm, stirring occasionally.
Stir in chicken; heat through. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.
Osso Buco alla Milanese
Risotto Milanese is the classic accompaniment. Using veal shanks is traditional, but I have had success with this recipe using pork shanks, beef shanks or trukey thighs.
- All-purpose flour for dredging (about 1/2 cup)
- 4 meaty veal shanks, each 2 to 2 1/2 inches thick (3 to 3 1/2 pounds total)
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium yellow onion (about 6 ounces), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 medium carrot, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 celery stalk with leaves, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 small fennel bulb (about 12 ounces), trimmed, cored, and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 strips orange zest, removed with a vegetable peeler (each about 3 inches by 3/4-inch)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram or 1/2 teaspoon dried
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
- 1/2 cup veal or chicken stock, homemade, or store-bought
- 1 cup chopped peeled tomatoes, fresh or canned, with their juice
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Dredging the shanks: pour the flour into a shallow dish. Season the veal shanks on all sides with salt and pepper. One at a time, roll the shanks around in the flour coat and shake and pat the shank to remove any excuses flour. Discard the remaining flour.
3. Browning the shanks: put the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a wide Dutch oven or heavy braising pot (6 to 7 quart) and heat over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and the oil is shimmering, lower the shanks into the pot, flat side down; if the shanks won’t fit without touching one another, do this in batches. Brown the shanks, turning once with tongs, until both flat sides are well caramelized, about 5 minutes per side. If the butter-oil mixture starts to burn, lower the heat just a bit. Transfer the shanks to a large platter or tray and set aside.
4. The aromatics: pour off and discard the fat from the pot. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter to the pot and melt it over medium heat. When the butter has stopped foaming, add the onion, carrot, celery and fennel. Season with salt and pepper; stir and cook the vegetables until they begin to soften but do not brown, about 6 minutes. Stir in the garlic, orange zest, marjoram and bay leaf, and cook for another minute or two.
5. The braising liquid: add the wine, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Boil, stirring occasionally, to reduce the wine by about half, 5 minutes. Add the stock and tomatoes, with their juice and boil again to reduce the liquid to about 1 cup total, about 10 minutes.
6. The braise: Place the shanks in the pot so that they are sitting with the exposed bone facing up and pour over any juices that accumulated as they sat. Cover with parchment paper, pressing down so the parchment nearly touches the veal and the edges hang over the sides of the pot by about an inch. Cover tightly with the lid and place in the lower part of the oven to braise at a gentle simmer. Check the pot after the first 15 minutes and if the liquid is simmering too aggressively, lower the oven heat by 10 or 15 degrees. Continue braising, turning the shanks and spooning some pan juices over the top after the first 40 minutes, until the meat is completely tender and pulling away from the bone, about 2 hours.
7. The gremolata: While the shanks are braising, stir together the garlic, parsley and lemon zest in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a cool place (or the refrigerator, if your kitchen is very warm.)
8. The finish: When the veal is fork-tender and falling away from the bone, remove the lid and sprinkle over half of the gremolata. Return the veal to the oven, uncovered, for another 15 minutes to caramelize it some.
9. Using a slotted spatula or spoon, carefully lift the shanks from the braising liquid, doing your best to keep them intact. The shanks will be very tender and threatening to fall into pieces and the marrow will be wobbly inside the bones, Arrange the shanks on a serving platter or other large plate, without stacking and cover with foil to keep warm.
10. Finishing the sauce: Set the braising pot on top of the stove. if there is a visible layer of fat floating on the surface, use a large spoon to skim it off and discard it. Taste the sauce for concentration of flavor. If it tastes a bit weak or flat, bring it to a boil over high heat and boil to reduce the volume and intensify the flavor for 5 to 10 minutes.
11. Portioning the veal shanks: if the shanks are reasonably sized, serve one per person. If the shanks are gargantuan or you’re dealing with modest appetites, pull apart the larger shanks, separating them at their natural seams and serve smaller amounts.
12. Serving: Arrange the veal shanks on warm dinner plates accompanied by the risotto, if serving. Just before serving, sprinkle on the remaining gremolata and then spoon over a generous amount of sauce .
Ricotta Cheesecake with Fresh Berries
- 4 cups (2 pounds) Ricotta Cheese
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 large eggs
- Cooking spray
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
- 2 cups quartered strawberries
- 1 pint fresh raspberries
- 1 pint fresh blueberries
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Mint sprigs (optional)
Preheat oven to 350° F.
To prepare cheesecake:
Place first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; beat with a electric mixer at medium speed 2 minutes or until smooth. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
Pour batter into a 10-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray. Bake 1 hour or until cheesecake center barely moves when pan is touched.
Remove cheesecake from oven; run a knife around the outside edge of cheesecake. Cool slightly; remove outer ring from pan. Sprinkle cheesecake evenly with powdered sugar.
To prepare topping:
Combine berries, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and juice; toss gently to combine. Let stand 5 minutes. Serve berry mixture with cheesecake. Garnish with mint sprigs, if desired.
- Baltimore’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Western Pennsylvania’s “Little Italies” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Philadelphia’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Chicago’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Cleveland’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- New England’s “Little Italies” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Italian American Neighborhoods – Boston (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Ybor City – Florida’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- Little Italy – Manhattan (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- The “Little Italies” of Michigan (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- The Hill” St. Louis’ Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)