A Flowery (and Floury) Afternoon in Wooster Square
New Haven may be an urban area, but it’s no concrete jungle. In addition to the Green, a tree-lined park and recreation area located right in the middle of downtown New Haven, the city is home to a number of parks, rivers, mountains, nature trails, and gardens. Opportunities to appreciate nature are not far.
I took advantage of one of these opportunities near the end of April, when I took a leisurely stroll to the Wooster Square neighborhood to admire the cherry blossoms. I have tried to make this trip – which must be carefully timed to coincide with the all-too-brief period when the cherry trees are in full bloom – every year that I’ve lived in New Haven. The tradition began during my first year of law school when, around the second week of April, all students received an out-of-the-blue email from Rob Harrison, one of the legal writing instructors at Yale Law School, informing us that Wooster Square was awash in an explosion of cherry blossoms and urging us to take some time to experience their beauty. Rob’s email contained detailed descriptions of where to go to see the best blossoms.
While it’s difficult to predict exactly when the peak bloom time will be in a given year, generally the cherry trees are at their best in early to mid-April. If that’s not precise enough for you, you’re in luck because two Wooster Square residents maintain ablog where they provide daily updates on the state of the blossoms. According to their blog, this year’s peak occurred on April 21, 2013. I happened to choose April 20 to view the blossoms – not too shabby for someone who was just guessing as to when would be the best time to go!
To enjoy this amazing sight, just walk southeast and then east down Chapel Street until you hit the cherry-tree-lined Wooster Square Park. Don’t be surprised if you’re not the only one who has decided to make this trek – the cherry blossoms bring plenty of families, picnickers, budding photographers (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun!), and runners to the area.
At some point, walk up Academy Street, turn right onto Greene Street, and then left onto Hughes Place.
At Hughes Place, you’ll find the most amazing canopy of pink and white blossoms. Take your time and stroll through the tunnel, look up into a sky of petals, and make sure to snap some pictures to send to your friends and family who aren’t lucky enough to live in New Haven!
Sometimes (but sadly, not always) the peak bloom time coincides with the annual Wooster Square Cherry Blossom Festival, a now 40-year-old celebration that draws a crowd of over 6,000 and features concerts, local food vendors and artists, arts and crafts for adults and children, games and face painting, and a pet-friendly area. This year, the festival and the peak were about a week apart . . . but you can never have enough reasons to visit Wooster Square (um, Pepe’s pizza anyone?), and of course there’s always next year!
You’ll surely have worked up an appetite taking in the breathtaking beauty of the Wooster Square cherry blossoms (or is that just me and my obsession with food?), so make the most of the fact that you’re in New Haven’s Little Italy and grab an afternoon treat atLucibello’s Italian Pastry Shop.
From Hughes Place, you’re only a couple of blocks away from Lucibello’s (which also happens to be just a 10-minute walk from the Law School!), where you’ll find an array of delectable handmade Italian cookies and pastries.
At Lucibello’s, the display cases are filled with all manner of powdered sugar-dusted, cream- and custard-filled goodies. Everything from traditional cannoli to eclairs and napoleons to sfogliatelle (flaky, clam-shaped pastries filled with ricotta cheese).
In the dessert world, cannoli happen to be a favorite of mine (as will attest the pint of Limited Edition Ben & Jerry’s Cannoli ice cream currently sitting in my freezer), so ordering a cannolo was a no-brainer. I also chose a bocconotto (sometimes called a “bogonut”) – a small pie-like pastry filled with custard. Both were placed in – what else? – a white pastry box tied with that iconic red-and-white string.
Lucibello’s is well known for their cannoli. Mine had a thin and super crispy shell (not the least bit soggy, as is the problem with many cannoli) that was buttery, flaky, and had a hint of cinnamon.
My only complaint was that the shell was a tad overcooked for my taste, but it still had great flavor, particularly when paired with Lucibello’s amazing ricotta filling, which – to borrow a phrase from Emeril – would make the bumper of a car taste good. This was definitely one of the best cannoli fillings I’ve ever had: creamy, smooth, luxurious, and dotted with just the right amount of evenly interspersed chocolate chips. What I liked most about the filling was that it wasn’t overly sweet – it actually had a slight savoriness to it, so that I could actually tell it was ricotta. The savoriness was balanced by the smattering of chocolate chips and dusting of powdered sugar.
Next up: the bocconotto.
First of all, the portion was gigantic – way too big for me to finish after just having polished off a cannolo. The bocconotto combines a crumbly and tender shell (slightly lemony in flavor) that’s almost a cross between cake and pie crust with a dense vanilla custard. If you prefer looser custard fillings that more closely resemble the inside of a Boston Cream donut or a Hostess vanilla pudding pie, then Lucibello’s bocconotti may not be for you. This particular custard is thick and firm, with more of a paste consistency, making for an extremely satiating dessert. I was surprised by how refreshing it was to eat this pastry, due most likely to the pleasant coldness of the custard.
And thus concluded my lovely spring afternoon in Wooster Square. All I can say now is, bring on the summer!