The Dish: Where to Eat Zeppole

The best local bakeries where you can sink your teeth into the famous Italian pastries made only for St. Joseph's Day.

In my New Jersey hometown, there’s no shortage of Italian bakeries. Every Sunday when I was growing up, my pot-bellied Irish grandfather would stroll through the front door carrying an assortment of pastries from one of the local shops. It was like clockwork, as routine as his church-going. My two siblings and I would rush grandpa Donohue, tear open the box as if it were Christmas morning and argue over who would eat what. Cannoli, biscotti, panforte — you name it. However, despite this weekly routine, there’s one Italian delicacy that never made its way to our house: the elusive zeppole.

When I say my family is Irish, I mean, they are Irish. My grandfather’s basement looks as if a St. Patrick’s Day parade exploded onto the walls. My cousins from Ireland fly in to our tiny hometown of Shrewsbury, New Jersey, to celebrate every March 17. I have the Donohue family crest tattooed on my leg. You get the picture. So, with all of the bells and whistles surrounding my family’s favorite holiday, it’s possible that us leprechauns never really gave the Italian equivalent, St. Joseph’s Day, a chance.

I embarked on a journey into Providence to try my first zeppole — a seasonal cream-filled (and occasionally cream-topped) pastry traditionally served around St. Joseph’s Day, which falls on March 19 every year. I hit up two of the city’s renowned bakeries to see what all the fuss is about. Here’s how it went down:

Stop 1: DeLuise Bakery, 1215 Chalkstone Ave., Providence, 401-351-5826, facebook.com/deluisebakery
My Order: Fried zeppola with boiled yellow cream filling

DeLuise Bakery immediately reminded me of one of the traditional, hole-in-the-wall bakeries I’d stumble across in New Jersey. No gimmicks, just fresh ingredients. Unaware of the variations, I asked for a zeppola, to which I was given a stare as to say, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

DeLuise offers both fried and baked versions of the pastry, with either boiled chocolate cream, boiled yellow cream or whipped cream as fillings. It serves baked zeppole year-round but you can only get fried batches around St. Joseph’s Day. I opted for the fried zeppola with yellow cream, hoping the woman behind the counter would praise my choice.

My first bite was pure gluttonous glory. I was immediately transported to the Jersey Shore (last New Jersey reference, I promise), with the fried pastry tasting like a combination of a boardwalk funnel cake and a hearty croissant. Roughly about the size of a softball, it took ten minutes to eat the whole thing. The duo of powdered sugar and dense yellow cream is a lot to tackle, but dangerously good. As far as the process is concerned, all of DeLuise’s ingredients are housemade from scratch, which is evident in every bite. When you go, I recommend sharing with a friend.

Stop 2: LaSalle Bakery, 993 Smith St., Providence, 401-831-9563; 685 Admiral St., Providence, 401-228-0081, lasallebakery.net
My Order: Cream-topped, baked zeppola with Bailey’s Irish cream filling

In honor of both St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day, LaSalle Bakery creates a crossover zeppola by replacing traditional cream filling with Bailey’s Irish cream. It even sticks a little shamrock in the pastry. It won me over.

The zeppole at LaSalle are slightly smaller in size in comparison to the mammoth portions at DeLuise. Light, airy and shaped like a doughnut, the Irish cream pastry took only about three minutes to finish. While the cream at DeLuise was custard-like, LaSalle’s filling closely resembles whipped cream, and the pastry shell was essentially a French cruller, minus the glaze. When you go, don’t plan on sharing.

All of the zeppole at LaSalle — yellow cream, chocolate mousse and Irish cream — are available for a limited time only, so head down to either location on Admiral Street or Smith Street before St. Joseph’s Day if you want a taste. Those who miss their chance will have to wait an entire year before LaSalle brings them back again.

Watch a video we produced a couple holiday seasons ago about the making of zeppole at LaSalle Bakery.

Looking for a bakery that’s closer to home? These Rhode Island bakeries also serve zeppole.

Vesta Bakery, 47 Railroad Ave., Westerly, 401-348-7055

Buono's Italian Bakery, 559 Hartford Ave., Providence, 401-421-4554

Scialo's County Bakery, 257 Atwells Ave., Providence, 877-421-0986

Felicia's Coffee, 5757 Post Rd., East Greenwich, 401-886-4141

Zaccagnini's Pastry Shoppe, 546 Smithfield Ave., Pawtucket, 401-723-2699; 3460 Mendon Rd., Cumberland, 401-658-1328

Pastryland Bakery, 19 Sanderson Rd., Smithfield, 401-949-0630

Solitro’s Bakery,1594 Cranston St., Cranston, 401-942-9840

Wright's Dairy Farm and Bakery, 200 Woonsocket Hill Rd., North Smithfield, 401-767-3014

A and J Bakery, 1458 Park Ave., Unit 5, Cranston, 401-228-8696

Original Italian Bakery, 915 Atwood Ave., Johnston, 401-919-5777

D. Palmieri’s, 624 Killingly St., Johnston, 401-621-9357

Calvitto’s Pizza and Bakery,1401 Park Ave., Cranston, 401-464-4200; 285 Park Ave., Cranston, 401-941-8863

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