New York's Italian immigrants came from hard lives. They were often the poor, maligned, and disadvantaged peasants of the poor southern quarters of Italy. On ships they came from Napoli and Campania, from Calabria and Puglia, and especially from Sicily. Over the years, the particular regional qualities of these regions have been lost and reformed into a Southern-Italian-American "red sauce" variety of Italian. But at Ferdinando's in Brooklyn, down by the active docks of the Brooklyn waterfront, Sicilian food is alive and well.
Ferdinando's is my favorite example of the kind of Italian that used to dominate New York. It's hearty, unpretentious, casual, and cooked for family. The dishes are big and saucy. The wine is cheap and unfussy. And most of all, it seems as if time has stood still.
But beyond the red sauce classics, look for the specific Sicilian dishes on the specials side of the menu. Enjoy the classic dishes of Sicily like pasta con sarde (sardine pasta), arancini (fried rice balls), and the North African influences in the caponata (eggplant salad) and panelle (fried, mashed chickpeas). The truly adventurous can get the vestadda sandwich, an old dockworker's favorite of calve's spleen and ricotta. And don't forget desert! They serve the best homemade cannoli in New York!