The Best Places for Staten Island History, Italian Food, and More, According to “Joe Mozz”
This borough is a fascinating postcard of yesteryear, filled with rich Italian culture. Here, one of its legendary Italian chefs shares his top picks of where to go and what to see.
After immigrating from Palermo, Sicily, in 1971 at the age of eight, Giuseppe “Joe Mozz” Badalamenti and his family settled in what has the highest proportion of Italian Americans of any U.S. county, Staten Island. Since then, he’s made his mark across all five of NYC’s boroughs, building roots with what’s a veritable mozzarella kingdom, Joe Mozz, Inc.
As much as the entrepreneur is a quintessential New Yorker with his spirited storytelling and self-made path, the truth is, Badalamenti is more of an entertainer than a man-about-town. So when people visit, he fuels them with a Joe-crafted meal at home. “Most of my friends and family prefer my cooking. In the winter, we dine by the fireplace in my dining room, and in the summer, it’s alfresco in my yard,” he says, adding they often make pizza and sip glasses of homemade wine and limoncello.
With such comforts, it’s hard to venture further than his front door. But, when he’s not manning the kitchen, making deliveries, or selling provisions at Joe Mozz, Inc., you can catch him luxuriating outdoors or ensconced in a theater chair. Here are some of the cheesemaker’s favorite things to do in Staten Island.
Catch a Show at St. George Theatre
St. George Theatre, a historic landmark in the St. George District built in 1929, “is so ornate, and the Theatre is still being restored to its original beauty,” notes Badalamenti. The 2,800-seat venue is a blend of Spanish and Italian baroque styles and has undergone decades of delicate repair. Over the years, many acts—from Tony Bennett and Gladys Knight to comedians like Chris Rock and Jay Leno—have entertained the community and provided Badalamenti respite from his cheese hustle. “The theater and fine dining are an escape from our crazy lives,” he adds. “It’s the reward for our hard work and dedication to our craft.”
Visit The Conference House
For Sunday tranquility, The Conference House in Tottenville offers outdoor activities and an exploration of U.S. history. The stone manor was constructed by English immigrant Captain Christopher Billopp in or around 1680 and hosted the peace conference in 1776. When Badalamenti goes, he packs a sunset picnic, his angling gear, or sometimes both, and indulges at the park. “When I was a boy in Sicily, I would go [fishing] with my brother-in-law, who was a professional fisherman. I have so many fond memories, and Conference House just takes me back and calms me for the upcoming week.” He recommends filling a basket with fresh mozzarella (of course), primo sale (sheep’s milk cheese), and homemade caponata.
Grab an ice cream at Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices
On sweltering summer days, Badalamenti joins the throngs at Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices, which has scooped frosty treats for 90 years. “It’s a classic Staten Island summer treat with lines that go from open to close daily.”
Catch a baseball game
And for nostalgia at its finest, he frequents the Staten Island FerryHawks’ stadium for a ballgame. With a recent overhaul to the eateries, it’s a blend of good food, history, and a view. “Baseball on the water overlooking Manhattan? It doesn’t get any better,” says Badalamenti.