I’m not quite sure why it’s taken me more than a decade of living in Queens to try Rizzo’s Fine Pizza. After all, if I hear of an amazing Chinese dumpling, I can scarcely wait a day to try it. Perhaps it is as my dear departed friend food writer Josh Ozersky once said: “Joey has forsaken his Italian heritage to eat Chinese food in ethnic hell holes.”
Upon entering the 58-year-old Astoria institution last Saturday night I noticed Ozersky was one of many food writers whose accolades lined the walls. When I got to the counter I paused for a moment—as if there was any possible order for a first-timer other than the shop’s famous thin-crust Sicilian. (more…)
A vastedda sans ricotta at Ferdinando’s Focacceria.
I’ve been hearing about the 110-year-old Ferdinando’s Focacceria for at least 20 years. Last week I finally made it to the Carroll Gardens temple of Sicilian soul food. There I met Francesco Buffa who convinced me to order a vastedda the old-fashioned way, that is to say without the dollop of ricotta, which he insisted is not how way the calf spleen sandwich is served back home. “You really get the flavor of the meat,” he said. (more…)
Offal—tongue, tripe, heart, even face, among other so-called off cuts—happens to be one of my favorite things to eat. As with most of my stranger culinary predilections, I blame it on my old man who always made sure to include plenty of hearts whenever he cooked up a batch of chicken soup. Thus I present a list of some of my favorite nasty bits.
Husband and wife offal slices at Golden Mall.
1. Fu qi fei pian, Cheng Du Tian Fu
The story goes that fu qi fei pian, or husband and wife offal slices, are so named because the couple who created this classic dish back in Chengdu, Sichuan, had an especially harmonious union. While that tale may be apocryphal the union of meaty beef tongue; funky chewy ribbons of tripe; and translucent swatches of tendon bathed in chili oil and shot through with peanuts cilantro, and just enough Sichuan peppercorn to set your mouth atingle is especially delicious. My favorite place to dig into this fiery heap of beef offal is Cheng Du Tian Fu in Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall. Cheng Du Tian Fu, No. 31, Golden Shopping Mall, 41-28 Main St., Flushing(more…)
A couple of weeks ago while doing some research for a Brooklyn Chinatown/Italian Bensonhurst food tour I stopped by Gino’s Focacceria for a vastedda. I was saddened to see the shop was for rent. I asked a local merchant where I might I obtain the traditional Sicilian calf spleen sandwich. “Joe’s of Avenue U,” she said.
I forgot all about the offal and cheese sandwich until Friday after leading that food tour. After several hours of eating and talking I often like to decompress with even more eating. So I paid the Gravesend institution a visit for a vastedda. My namesake Sicilian diner still sits beneath the Avenue U stop on the F. The old-school sign has been changed, but the magnificent steam table filled with stuffed artichokes and other Sicilian specialties looks exactly the same. And they still have vastedda ($6.99). (more…)
At first I thought the small battalion of golden crusted treats were empanadas, but then I remembered I was in an Italian bakery. Then again this Italian bakery, Russo’s, also sells Irish soda bread. I soon found out that cassatine ($2.20) are Sicilian and delicious. The puffy crecent shaped pastry had a lovely fried dough crust filled with ricotta cream. It was denser, but less sweet than a certain more familiar tubular Italian pastry and quite lovely with a cup of coffee. As I was leaving I discovered that the gal seated at a table taking five is from father’s hometown, Castellamare del Golfo. Ma che fortuna!
Russo Bakery, 61-04 Grand Ave., Maspeth, 718-894-4919
Getting to the heart of the matter, Sicilian style.
I’ve been told more than once that I have forsaken my Italian heritage to devote myself to Asian cuisine. Usually I take this in stride, especially since my Sicilian-American father inspired my love of Asian food. Sometime though I need to feel that red sauce flowing in my veins. I head over to Mama’s of Corona for a meatball parmigiana sandwich. If that doesn’t get my Italian heart beating then I know I need serious treatment, a pilgrimage to that shrine of Sicilian soul food, Joe’s of Avenue U, located in deepest Brooklyn.
Via the F from from Queens it’s an hour-plus trek. Visible from the subway platform Joe’s specializes in all manner of Sicilian grandma food like cacocciuli stufati ($7.99.) I cut my teeth on my mother’s gigantic globe artichokes stuffed with a mixture of garlicky breadcrumbs. More unusual is the occasional special of cacocciuli frittu ($6), or fried artichoke hearts. It’s something I haven’t seen outside of Joe’s. I could go for some right now and perhaps a vastedda ($6.99), a calf spleen sandwich topped with a dollop of ricotta. I think feel a pilgrimage coming on.
Joe of Avenue U, 287 Avenue U, Gravesend, 718-449-9285