New Haven’s desserts may be as beloved as its apizza

Italian Pastries

The national debate over which city or state’s pizza is the best often includes mentions of New Haven’s apizza. But there’s a quieter — and sweeter — debate taking place online over the city's Italian pastry shops.

In a Facebook group called “Wooster Square Cooks,” sharing favorite pastry shops — along with pizza places, recipes and food photos — is nothing out of the ordinary for its over 28,000 members. 

When it comes to pastry, the pastry shops of choice among its members stem from sentimentality. For member Anita Sabia Diglio, Lucibello’s Pastry Shop has been a family tradition for over 50 years. 

“My family has been buying pastries and cookies since before my wedding in 1965 [and we] tried others but [they were] never the same,” she said in an email, noting that she got her Italian cream wedding cake from the bakery. “Just on June 30, 2021, we had my husband 80th birthday cake from them…Over the years, all our special occasions have been from them.”

Fellow Wooster Square Cooks member Irene Perrotta DiCaprio said she’s shopped at Libby’s, DiSorbo’s Bakery in Hamden and sometimes visits Rocco’s Bakery on Ferry Street for its chocolate lemon pie or bread. Noting that all of them are good, DiCaprio said her pastry preference is with Lucibello’s. 

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Chocolate-dipped cookies at Lucibello's Italian Pastry Shop on Grand Avenue in New Haven, Conn. on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Nicole Funaro / Hearst Connecticut Media Group


“As someone who didn't grow up in the New Haven area (Bostonian — my family was from the Italian North End), my first experience with pastry shops here was our (rum) wedding cake from Lucibello's 46 years ago,” she said in an email. “My husband's family's history with them goes back to when my father-in-law was a boy.”

Living in East Haven for most of her life, Wooster Square Cooks member Cathy Sessa Mallory has also made the rounds to New Haven haunts like Rocco’s and Lucibello’s. But for her, local Petonito’s Bakery is the shop of choice. 

“Why travel to New Haven when you can get great Italian pastries and cakes in East Haven?” she said in an email. “Back in the day, East Haven was a part of New Haven anyway, so we are an extension of the Italian community.”

For DiCaprio, what keeps her going back to Lucibello’s is its similarity to shops in Italy. 

“Their sfogliatelle taste exactly like the ones we enjoyed at our favorite pastry shop in Sorrento,” she said. “We know — we conducted careful research as soon as we returned from Italy, buying and sampling pastries at three or four different shops here.”

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A traditional Italian cannoli (foreground) and sfogliatelle (background) from Libby's Italian Pastry Shop in New Haven, Conn. on Wednesday, July 14, 20201. Nicole Funaro / Hearst Connecticut Media Group


New Haven pastry spans generations

According to Colin M. Caplan, author of several books on New Haven history (including one on pizza) and owner of Taste of New Haven food tours, New Haven’s pastry scene has a similar mystique to that of its pizza landscape. 

“Given their age and continued family legacies, both Libby's and Lucibello's Italian pastry shops have cemented their place in Connecticut's food history because of their unparalleled quality, service and experience,” he said in an email. “Both shops were considered important enough 60 years ago that they were given a chance to move to new quarters when the strong arm of redevelopment came through Wooster and Chapel Streets.”


Located on Wooster Street, Libby’s Italian Pastry Shop was opened in 1922 by Liberato and Guiseppina Dell’Amura, and according to member of the founding family Marc D’Angelo, the shop was churning out sweet treats from its inception.

“Our family immigrated from Italy and had some relatives already here in the New Haven area is how we settled in New Haven/Wooster Street,” he said in an email. “We always made pastries and other desserts from the start.”

D’Angelo said its top-selling item remains its cannoli. 

“We make the traditional cannoli and also have flavored cannoli available that have toppings on them and are filled with different flavored ricotta (peanut butter, pistachio, cappuccino are a few examples),” he said. 

Next year, the shop will celebrate its 100-year anniversary, D’Angelo said, and he hopes to host a “big celebration” for the shop’s customers to commemorate the milestone. 


Just a few minutes away on the corner of Grand Avenue and Olive Street is Lucibello’s Italian Pastry Shop, which was established in 1929 by Frank Lucibello. Current owner Peter Faggio said his father, also named Frank, began working for Lucibello at age 10 at the store’s original location on Chapel Street. Years later in the 1950s, Frank Faggio purchased the business and its name from Lucibello, said Faggio, and the business was relocated in 1961 to its current Grand Avenue spot.

With traditional cannoli, pasticiotti, sfogliatelle and other Italian bakery items on the menu, Faggio said he attributes Lucibello’s longevity and appeal to its consistency.

“Everything — for the most part — that was offered in 1929 is still offered today,” he said. “Obviously, there are new additions, whether that be a new filling or something, but I can honestly say all of our cookies are the same recipes and the same cookies, same with all of the pastries. We’ve never had to introduce any ‘American’ dessert…everything has been consistent.”

Even the birthday cakes follow the same Italian rum cake recipe from the beginnings of Lucibello’s, Faggio said.

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A display case behind the counter at Lucibello's Italian Pastry Shop in New Haven, Conn. displays model cakes and a wedding cake, along with a sign that reads "Pasticceria" or "pastry shop," in Italian. Nicole Funaro / Hearst Connecticut Media Group


“It brings [customers] back to their childhood, and then they bring their children,” he said. “And then people come back and have their wedding cake and come back for 50th anniversary cake or their children's wedding cakes.”


In East Haven, Petonito’s Pastry and Cupcake Shoppe opened its doors in 1954 under the original name of Petonito’s Pastry by Salvatore and Dolores Petonito, according to current owner Regina Criscuolo. 

Initially serving cannoli, sfogiliatelle and buccinotti, as well as Italian cakes and cookies, Criscuolo said in an email that her family took over the pastry shop two and a half years ago and maintained the store’s traditions while adding their own. 

“We have added a bridal suite for our couples to pick out their wedding cake,” she said. “We not only make all of the original pastries, cakes and cookies, but also have added a wide variety of cupcakes, donuts, muffins and more. We now offer donut walls, dessert tables, carnival nights with fried dough, funnel cakes and fried Oreos and do numerous charity events.” 

While the cannoli remains Petonito’s top-selling item (the shop now has “Cannoli of the Month” club), Criscuolo said the bakery has a seasonal favorite.

“Our zeppoles for Saint Joseph's Day are also a top seller during zeppole season,” she said. “We sold over 8,000 last year.”

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Assorted Italian cookies at Lucibello's Italian Pastry Shop on Grand Avenue in New Haven, Conn. on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Nicole Funaro / Hearst Connecticut Media Group


Is pastry as competitive as pizza?

According to Caplan, there is just as much loyalty to the Italian pastry shops in the New Haven area as there is to its pizza.

“Libby's and Lucibello's are the Pepe's and Sally's of pastries in New Haven — tried and true, serving loyal customers for 100 years and pastries so well crafted,” he said. “With respect to other pastry stops that have nearly as long a history like DiSorbo's [Bakery] in Hamden and Petonito's in East Haven, they too have a loyalty only matched by locals' passion for apizza.”

Caplan offered that having this loyalty turn into a more hotly-debated topic like pizza can’t be ruled out, especially “in this competitive world where reviews, lists and favorites become marketing tools.” Yet it’s something that might already be taking place online, Caplan said. 

“It's not uncommon to see intensely obsessed foodies getting their sugar fix and binging on cannoli runs at various pastry shops, voting on which one rules,” he said. “On hot summer days, the wise beeline to their true love pastry shop for some soothing Italian ice, knowing they will be coerced into scarfing down some sweet pastries as well.”

At Lucibello’s, Faggio said seeing the development in the area offers a way for the establishment to further engrain itself into the fabric of the city.

“The area, to me, is building back up with a lot of families and all of these apartment buildings,” he said. “It’s becoming more of that Grand Avenue feel like it used to be, and we like being a part of New Haven and being here and part of this whole section.”

While “small in comparison to ... Boston's North End and The Bronx,” Caplan noted that this growth in New Haven might expand the reputation of New Haven’s “Little Italy,” both regionally and beyond. 

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Rocco's Bakery is located on 432 Ferry Street in New Haven, Conn. Photographed on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Nicole Funaro / Hearst Connecticut Media Group


“Not only does New Haven have its historic pastry shops, pizzerias and restaurants, but it's dynamically growing with new Italian restaurants, pizzerias and shops.,” he said. “This rejuvenation is spilling back over to the old school joints and a symbiotic relationship is fueling the resurgence of our Little Italy.”

What makes New Haven stand out — and Libby’s and Lucibello’s, in particular — according to Caplan is that they draw upon their native Italian roots without straying far from tradition. 

“The main consideration for New Haven's Italian pastry shops is where the originating family hailed from: Libby's came from Castellammare di Stabia near Naples and Lucibello's came from Amalfi, just south of there,” he said. “Both are true to their traditions and have also adopted pan-Italian treats found in most Italian American pastry shops. For those moving to New Haven looking for a taste of home, they may find heartfelt recipes, flavors and personality at one of our old Italian pastry shops.

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