A lifetime ago before I came to Queens, I lived in Brooklyn, in a neighborhood that realtors hopefully called Park Slope vicinity. It was a short ride from there to Bensonhurst where I would indulge my Sicilian heritage with vastedda—the ricotta and calf spleen sandwiches—at Gino’s Focacceria and pastry at Villabate. Back then, Villabate and Alba were two separate shops. These days they’ve united to form confectionery powerhouse Villabate Alba.
Recently I found myself back in the County of Kings and decided to take a walk from Together, Brooklyn’s sole Burmese restaurant, to Bensonhurst to visit Villabate Alba.
“I’ll have that chocolate-covered cannoli,” I said to the young Chinese girl at the counter pointing to a little number with a broad swath of chocolate in the center flanked by white icing and capped with pistachio.
When I bit into it there was a disconnect, and a delicious one at that. Instead of a crunchy shell, the black and white exterior gave way to moist innards flavored with hazelnut. I paused in wonder and looked at the cross section, which contained a spiral roll of black and white cake.
Regaining my composure I approached the counter to find what I had just eaten. “That’s an Africano,” a different gal, more well versed in the shop’s offerings, informed me. Turns out it is a classic Sicilian pastry, albeit one not as well known as cannoli.
A week later, my pal B.A. Van Sise and I took a trip to explore our respective Italian roots. (He was born in Naples, whereas I am a pureblood red sauce Eyetalian of Sicilian and Calabrian heritage). After eating around the neighborhood, including an introduction to live razor clams, we repaired to Egidio Pastry Shop for dessert. I chose a dainty miniature cannoli, and B.A. picked a rather large looking twisted cylinder that was also packed with thick, sweet ricotta cream.
“Wow, that’s really dense” he said biting into the sugar-coated tube. When I bit into it, it called to mind a marriage of a donut and cannoli. If you order one please don’t call it a cannolnut, it’s known as a cartocci, which my pal helpfully informed me is the same word one would use for a roll of paper towels.
Villabate Alba 70-01 18th Avenue, Bensonhurst, 718-331-8430
Egidio Pastry, 622 E. 187th St., 718-295-6077