Can't take the LI out of Long Islanders

Former Long Islanders living in Arizona tell what Former Long Islanders living in Arizona tell what they miss most about the Island. Photo Credit: iStock.com iStock.com

advertisement | advertise on newsday

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - When they talk about baseball, it's Mets or Yankees. When they want "authentic" pizza or "real" bagels, they seek out places that understand the importance of a perfect crust to a crusty New Yorker. Greetings from Arizona, where transplanted Long Islanders have made themselves at home in the Grand Canyon State.

The migration of LIers has taken them to the Sunbelt states, but they still crave things that are distinctly Long Island. Arizona provides a snapshot of what former Long Islanders miss most about their old hometowns.

It's not Florida -- still the top choice of New York transplants -- and by no stretch is it surrounded by water. So what drives Long Islanders to life amid cactus and cowboys? For these former LIers, whose Act 2 is playing out in the desert, work was key to their move. Arizona is home now, but because of family and fond memories made 2,500 miles away, their ties to the Island remain strong.

THE PEOPLE SHE KNEW AND LOVED

What Tammy Eger missed most about Long Island was her family and friends.

For years, Eger, a health-services administrator, made the tiring commute from Dix Hills to Manhattan. "It was 21/2 hours in each direction," she recalls. After a short-lived move to New Jersey for a shorter commute, she decided Arizona was where she wanted to be.

Eger, 51, had visited the state several times to play golf and loved the weather and lifestyle. She remembers dropping 25 resumes to Arizona companies in a mailbox near her Manhattan office in April 1996. By August, she had a job. Her commute to her north Phoenix office from her home in suburban Peoria is 30 minutes.

Not long after she moved here, her father and mother relocated to Arizona from Long Island. Several former classmates also made the move, creating a strong Long Island support group.

Still, she misses the "good Chinese food" she enjoyed at the now-closed Sun Ming restaurant in Huntington. When it comes to Italian pastries, Eger says there's nothing in Arizona to equal the rainbow and pignoli cookies she used to get at Alpine Pastry Shop in Smithtown.

And while Arizona has lots of sun, there is no surf. High on the list of things Eger misses is "going to Robert Moses to lie on the beach."

FRESH SEAFOOD, AND THE SEA ITSELF

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Mary Watt Lagnese and her husband, Jim, are quick to tell you Long Island winters are not that bad. But it took a nine-year stopover in Iowa for them to realize it.

Jim, who grew up in North Bellmore, and Mary, raised in Massapequa, moved to the Des Moines area for job-related reasons in 2002. But the long Midwest winters did not provide a warm welcome. "It's always bitter cold, and the wind is always blowing," says Jim, 51, a technical engineer.

When Mary, a financial-systems professional with Wells Fargo, had a chance to transfer to Arizona, the family jumped at the opportunity. Jim, Mary and their five children relocated last year.

After Iowa's dearth of New Yorkers (the Hawkeye State ranked 40th in transplanted New Yorkers in 2010-11), the Lagneses find some aspects of the Southwest to be similar to the South Shore. "Arizona is not all that different from Long Island, as far as cosmopolitan level and shopping." says Mary, 46.

But fresh-caught seafood is harder to find and seaside strolls are impossible. Mary fondly recalls dinners at the Snapper Inn in Oakdale and walking along the Jones Beach boardwalk. And while Arizonans rave about the ubiquitous In-N-Out burger chain, for Jim, burgers and fries will always mean one thing: the iconic All American Hamburger Drive-In in Massapequa.

JUDAIC BOOKSHOPS AND CRUSTY BAGELS

Rabbi Reuven Mann has found a way to have the best of both worlds. Mann, 68, was a rabbi and educator at Long Island synagogues for 30 years, most recently at Rinat Yisrael in Plainview.

He moved to Phoenix in 2010 to become rabbi at Young Israel of Phoenix, an orthodox synagogue. A big factor in his decision to relocate was to be closer to his three grandchildren and oldest son, who moved here in 2000. The rabbi, an avid jogger, also enjoys the mild winters. But, thanks to technology, Mann maintains a strong presence on Long Island.

Mann conducts classes via conference calls and Skype, and his "Tuesday Night Live" Torah lessons are streamed on the Internet. "I still have a big following from my New York students," Mann says.

While his teachings remain accessible to Long Islanders, some Long Island staples are not readily available to him in Arizona. There is no shortage of "New York-style" bagels in Arizona, but these soft, roll-like breads are New York in name only. So, when returning from a New York visit, Mann brings back and freezes a bagful of bagels.

"The only other thing I miss is the Jewish bookstores," Mann says. "I loved to go in and browse. There's nothing out here that matches anything in New York."

THIN-CRUST PIZZA

When Joe Ciolli told his guidance counselor at Mineola High School he wanted to go to Arizona State University, he didn't get much information. In 1987, not many fellow students were asking about Arizona schools.

Ciolli, 44, first visited Arizona as a 16-year-old and knew he would someday live here. After ASU, he returned to New York to help his father, Frank, manage the family's pizza business. Frank Ciolli owns the flagship Grimaldi's in Brooklyn and in the late 1990s was expanding. (The Grimaldi's in Garden City was owned by Joe's brother, Russell, who died in 2011. It is now run by Russell's wife, Jennifer.)

Joe Ciolli returned to Arizona to open his own Grimaldi's in 2003. For Arizonans raised on the doughy pan pizza prevalent in the state, Ciolli's New York-style pie with its thin, slightly charred crust tasted foreign. But word-of-mouth from former New Yorkers who know their pizza helped the business grow.

"A lot of the New Yorkers embraced it," Ciolli says. "New Yorkers all understood it, and they all came to us, and that was the beginning of our success."

Ciolli now owns 30 Grimaldi's, mainly in the Southwest. But he hasn't forgotten his roots. New York-themed photos and decorations hang on the walls of his restaurants. On his frequent trips back East, he often takes his two young sons to expose them to the diversity of New York.

"The different ethnic backgrounds, the different ways people grew up in New York compared to Arizona, I feel New Yorkers have an edge anywhere they go," he says.

AMAZING PASTRY AND THE AMAZINS

When the Mets come to Phoenix to play the Diamondbacks, Jeffrey Garelick and some New York buddies try to get to Chase Field to root, root, root for the visiting team.

Garelick, a dentist who still has a collection of Mets apparel and memorabilia from his beloved Shea Stadium, moved to Arizona in 1996. Spurring his move was one hard fact: He wanted to open a dental practice in a warm climate.

Poring over an American Dental Association list of fast-growing areas, he locked in on Chandler, Ariz., a suburb 25 miles southeast of downtown Phoenix. So Garelick, a native Long Islander who went to Berner High in Massapequa and Stony Brook University, packed his dental tools and headed west.

Like most Long Island transplants, Garelick, 51, laments the lack of New York-style delicacies. To satisfy what he calls "New York deprivation," he has ordered food items, including frankfurters, from Katz's Delicatessen on Manhattan's Lower East Side. When he grills the franks on his barbecue, he tells his friends, "This is what a hot dog is supposed to taste like."

Garelick is already planning his itinerary for his next visit to Long Island. "When I think of Long Island, I think of Cream Puff Bakery," he says.

Garelick intends to hit the North Babylon pastry shop (now named Dolce Bella Bakery) and "eat one of everything."

WHERE NEW YORKERS ARE GOING

These are the top 20 states where New Yorkers

relocated during 2011 and the number that emigrated.

1 Florida 59,288

2 New Jersey 40,815

3 Pennsylvania 29,436

4 Texas 26,155

5 California 25,629

6 Connecticut 20,015

7 Massachusetts 19,431

8 North Carolina 18,321

9 Georgia 14,454

10 Virginia 12,445

11 South Carolina 11,317

12 Maryland 9,222

13 Ohio 8,784

14 Illinois 6,412

15 Michigan 6,087

16 Tennessee 4,921

17 Washington 4,512

18 Hawaii 4,246

19 Colorado 3,998

20 Arizona 3,880

SOURCE: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU

You also may be interested in: