Italian food and culture is rooted everywhere in New York. Rocco Ristorante is one such traditional Italian joint, operating in the Greenwich Village since 1922 that not only has years of history still worn on their unchanged walls but was also a starter kitchen for the Mario Batali. An establishment of this age and character usually caters to die-hard regulars, neighborhood locals and a few well-researched tourists as a walk by doesn’t sell the uninitiated on the traditional style. Fortunately the family style decor and friendly service are still as much a priority as the quality southern Italian food typical 90 years ago today.
Legend has it Anthony “Tony Bender” Strollo operator of several illegal gambling parlors and nightclubs in Greenwich, ordered a hit here back in 1952. While dining in old restaurants such as this in New York, you can’t help wonder what illicit activities and patrons frequented their front and backrooms. Dean Martin and the Rat Pack crew may have graced Rocco’s doors, taken a card game in their backroom or indulged in a traditional meal at the very table you’re eating your Penne Arrabiata and Veal Piccata.
“Nel blu dipinto di blu” (“In the Blue Painted Blue”), popularly known as “Volare” (Italian for the infinitive form of the verb “to fly”) was originally sung by Domenico Modugno, and is the only non-English language song that has reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in America. Modugno became the first Grammy winner for the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1958 for this recording. Here’s Dean Martin’s version, probably sung in one of Tony’s clubs in the Village.