Caffé Roma: Update

A St Joseph's Cake, from Caffé Roma in Little Italy, New York City.Last week, I promised you something different for this week’s Saturday Supplement. After weeks of reports from The London Coffee Festival, with the odd interlude for the Coffee Stops Awards and Caffé Culture Show, today’s Saturday Supplement is one for those of you with a sweet tooth. It’s also something of a new venture for the Coffee Spot, to go with recent posts on Tea Houses & Chocolate Shops.

Last year, I wrote about Caffé Roma, an old favourite of mine in the heart of New York City’s Little Italy. An old-fashioned Italian café, Caffé Roma is renowned for its excellent cakes, one of which is the St Joseph’s Cake. These are only made at weekends during February and March. Using a deep-fried dough, they can be had plain or filled with either cannoli or vanilla patisserie cream.

After publishing my original piece on Caffé Roma, I entered into e-mail correspondence with Vincent Jnr, whose father owns Caffé Roma. Knowing that I was back in New York, Vincent invited me over to say hello and, when I arrived, offered me the chance to have a tour of the bakery where the St Joseph’s Cakes are made. How could I refuse?

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Next door to Caffe Roma on Broome Street is the unheralded 'Caffe Roma Bakery Dept.'
  • I came here to find out how St Joseph's Cakes are made. Here: proto-St Joseph Cake!
  • One the mixture is ready, it is pipped onto a baking tray, like a large Viennese Whirl.
  • Having eaten St Joseph's Cakes before, I had no idea this is how they were made...
  • A tray of piped St Joseph's Cakes, waiting to be cooked.
  • Once they're ready, the St Joseph's Cakes are deep-fried like doughnuts.
  • I'd assumed that this would be a quick process, but they're fried for 14 minutes.
  • When they're a lovely golden colour, out they come.
  • They're left to cool briefly...
  • ... then moved onto baking trays for further cooling.
  • Well, that's one tray filled.
  • Just as well. Here comes another batch!
  • The St Joseph's Cakes are then left on racks to completely cool before filling.
  • And here they are on sale in Caffe Roma, filled with patisserie cream.
  • However, it's not all St Joseph's Cakes. Everything in Caffe Roma is baked here.
  • Some of the Italian biscuits being cooked in one of the huge ovens.
  • The bakers also do one-off commissions, such as this cake.
  • Soon it was time to go... As I was leaving, I was given this interesting box...
  • What's inside? St Joseph's Cakes, of course!
Next door to Caffe Roma on Broome Street is the unheralded 'Caffe Roma Bakery Dept.'1 I came here to find out how St Joseph's Cakes are made. Here: proto-St Joseph Cake!2 One the mixture is ready, it is pipped onto a baking tray, like a large Viennese Whirl.3 Having eaten St Joseph's Cakes before, I had no idea this is how they were made...4 A tray of piped St Joseph's Cakes, waiting to be cooked.5 Once they're ready, the St Joseph's Cakes are deep-fried like doughnuts.6 I'd assumed that this would be a quick process, but they're fried for 14 minutes.7 When they're a lovely golden colour, out they come.8 They're left to cool briefly...9 ... then moved onto baking trays for further cooling.10 Well, that's one tray filled.11 Just as well. Here comes another batch!12 The St Joseph's Cakes are then left on racks to completely cool before filling.13 And here they are on sale in Caffe Roma, filled with patisserie cream.14 However, it's not all St Joseph's Cakes. Everything in Caffe Roma is baked here.15 Some of the Italian biscuits being cooked in one of the huge ovens.16 The bakers also do one-off commissions, such as this cake.17 Soon it was time to go... As I was leaving, I was given this interesting box...18 What's inside? St Joseph's Cakes, of course!19
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First, some history. Caffé Roma is rightly proud of its heritage, having been a family-owned business since its founding in 1891. Vincent Jnr’s grandfather took over the business, then called Caffé Ronca in 1952. Caffé Ronca had been opened on the same corner of Broome Street by his great-uncle, Pasquale Ronca, not long after he arrived in America from Italy.

Vincent Jnr’s family is a typical Italian-American family, with his grandfathers born in America and his grandmothers born in Italy. As well as Vincent Jnr himself, both his father and sister work fulltime in the business, which they have every intention of passing on to the next generation.

All the cakes in Caffé Roma (and trust me, that’s a lot of cakes) are baked on the premises. What I hadn’t realised is that the actual bakery is next door, occupying a similar space to the Caffé itself. Standing out on Broome Street, the contrast between the two, the ornate, window-fronted Caffé Roma to the right, and the non-descript bakery on its left, couldn’t be starker. Unsurprisingly, I’d walked past many times without realising it was there!

Stepping inside, I found a hive of activity, not that surprising given how many cakes are baked there each day. I was quickly shown some of the other output and some of the equipment. This included several large ovens at the back, along with some industrial-sized cake mixers which Vincent Jnr believes date back to the 1950s. Then it was onto the St Joseph’s Cakes.

Making them is akin to a production line, with multiple batches in various stages of readiness, from raw dough through to finished product. First, the dough is piped out into large spirals, then deep fried for 14 minutes before being transferred onto trays for cooling. No sooner has one batch gone in the fryer than another is being piped out. The racks of cakes are left to cool before being finished, which usually means filling with patisserie cream, dusting with icing sugar and having a cherry put on top.

It was fascinating to watch, but all too soon it was time to go. As I left, I was handed an intriguing box, not that I needed to ask what was inside: four St Joseph’s Cakes! Fortunately I wasn’t required to eat them all by myself since I was going to visit my friends and their daughter in New Jersey (I say fortunately since I was still recovering from my upset stomach; while I managed one, four would have finished me off!).

Thanks to Vincent Jnr and the staff at Caffé Roma for their hospitality. I look forward to visiting again next year for another St Joseph’s Cake! Or two…

Don’t forget the original Caffé Roma Coffee Spot, which includes the complete write-up and a gallery of the café itself.

385 BROOME STREET • NEW YORK CITY • NY 10013 • USA
+1 212 226 8413
Monday 09:00 – 18:00 Seating Tables
Tuesday 09:00 – 18:00 Food Cake!
Wednesday 09:00 – 18:00 Service Table
Thursday 08:00 – 22:00 Cards Cash Only
Friday 08:00 – 00:00 Wifi Free (with code)
Saturday 08:00 – 00:00 Power No
Sunday 08:00 – 23:00 Mobile N/A
Chain No Visits Original: 8th, 9th, 10th March 2013
Update: 15th March 2014

Liked this? Then don’t forget to check out the Coffee Spot Guide to New York City for more great Coffee Spots.


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