Friday, October 29, 2010

A Sicilian Double-Header

gelato on a brioche

We started at Joe's of Avenue U, in Gravesend, one of those old Brooklyn Italian neighborhoods that are now largely Asian and Russian neighborhoods. In fact, though they still serve traditional Sicilian specialties, I've heard that Joe's is actually owned by Russians.

We had a Sicilian starchfest: pasta con le sarde (bucatini with fresh sardines), rice balls, potato croquettes, seafood salad, and panelle (chickpea fritters). I used to eat this kind of food at La Focacceria in the East Village before proprietor Vinnie Bondi had the audacity to retire. Now Joe's is the best place I know of in the city for traditional Sicilian fare (though Ferdinando's, in Carroll Gardens has the better atmosphere, like an old Palermo joint).


After lunch we headed over to Bensonhurst, another old Brooklyn Italian neighborhood (Saturday Night Feversville) that is now largely Asian. Happily, Villabate, a Sicilian pasticceria/gelateria/cafe, is a survivor of the old guard.

Villabate has a wonderfully gaudy interior, with wonderfully gaudy cakes on display, miscellaneous tchotchkes and pictures of Jesus and his mishpoche. In addition to pastries, you can get nice Italian breads and snacks like sfingioni (pizzettes with bread crumbs, onions and anchovies).

But for me the draw is the amazing home-made gelato, among the best in New York. And this is one of the few places where you can get gelato on a brioche, which, believe it or not, is a popular breakfast in Sicily. When I was in Sicily I couldn't bring myself to have gelato first thing in the morning, but in Brooklyn gelato on a brioche makes a fine dessert. Interestingly, the Italians use the French spelling and pronunciation of brioche (Italian pronunciation would be something like brie-okay). These brioches are not shaped like the French ones, however, but rather like a hamburger bun, more appropriate for an ice cream sandwich. I find that the "lighter" flavors, like torrone, tiramisu, and especially cassata Siciliana (ricotta with dried fruit) work better on a brioche than any of the variants on chocolate. Gelato on a brioche is one of the world's great ice cream experiences, and you don't have to travel to Palermo to try it.


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