A Slice Of Tradition On A Corner Of Franklin Avenue
Column By SUSAN CAMPBELL
December 26, 2007
It's 5:45 Christmas Eve morning, and Franklin Avenue is still dark.
But around Mozzicato DePasquale Bakery & Pastry Shop, a car arrives, then a van, then another car.
The drivers emerge, exchange looks, then smiles, and they begin to form a line.
And so it has been for years. The bakery won't open until 7, and it's cold outside. But common wisdom says the line of customers — which will stretch back 40 people by opening time — gets even longer later in the day.
So this is how a tradition gets started. Someone decided that a Christmas without ricotta pie (or hazelnut rolls or almond tortes) would be no Christmas at all, and you find yourself driving to Mozzicato's while it's still dark and standing in line in the cold an hour before the lights go on.
All for ricotta pie. Or cannoli. Or a tray of cookies. For years, John Freda's father stood here, but he's getting older, and no way was Freda, who's in the Coast Guard, going to let his father stand in the cold.
And so the torch is passed, a tradition continues, and Freda is left laughing at himself.
Mozzicato's feels like family the whole year, but even more so at Christmas. No matter where their travels and travails take them through the year, regulars return every Christmas, on a pilgrimage to get their Italian pastries and to check up on one another.
"We're usually behind him," says Ron Farina, pointing back to Charlie Stepnowski, who explains he's usually first or second in line.
"This will teach me to get out of bed," he says.
It is a surprisingly orderly group. Freda just drove up from his home in Maryland the day before; traffic and bad weather extended the trip to eight hours. In front of him is Robert Trelli, lately of Ohio, but soon to return to his hometown of Bristol. He's in town to visit family, and once he gets his cannoli, he will immediately drive back to Ohio. The Midwest has a lot to offer, but it doesn't have Mozzicato's.
In between them is George Agnelli. On his way in, he stopped at his family's East Hartford jewelry store to see to a couple of customers who were already in line there to buy the popular Pandora charm bracelets.
Those little charms sell like, well, Mozzicato's cannoli.
Who's to say that will appeal to the public, he says.
The mood is a little giddy. The sky begins to turn gray, then violet, in the east. At 6:30, Gino Mozzicato pulls up and lets himself in a side door.
The line flutters and then sags back into itself. Hope springs again as lights flicker on behind Gisella Mozzicato's festive candy-cane window display.
"What I wouldn't give for a set of earmuffs," a woman says, back in line. And a man wearing earmuffs turns and says, "What do you have to trade?"
He's kidding. Plus they know each other and have been teasing about cutting in line.
But there's no need. The doors open promptly at 7, and customers take numbered tickets on their way in and mill around chatting. (One veteran said the bakery didn't have tickets one year, and "it was pandemonium.")
Trelli gets his cannoli, plus a few extra to eat on the road. Logan Meseroll, 10, leans into his grandmother, Dee Farina. "I'm tired," he says, but he was already awake when the family got ready to go.
He's now third generation, says grandfather Ron Farina, who's been a proud regular for at least 30 years. They're joined by Farina's son, Steven Farina, father of four — soon to be six once the twins come in June. Hey, your pregnant wife says she wants ricotta pie, you go get her a ricotta pie.
As he orders, Ron Farina schools his grandson on the finer points of Italian cookies.
"You order a cookie, you got to order an almond biscotti," he says, pointing to a tray behind the gleaming glass. Logan nods, clutching cannoli in a bag.
"And you want to eat that early," says his grandfather, "before it gets soggy. Eat it for breakfast."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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