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.
He was right. With just a topping of caciacavallo cheese the funky flavor of the spleen, for better or worse, stood out. I liked it, but I was glad to have a mug of ice cold Manhattan Special to sip between bites. It was also super cool to find the old school espresso soda being served from a fountain. Some folks prefer their vastedda prepared even plainer with just a squeeze of lemon, he told me.
With my trip back in time complete, I took two trains to head to another storied Italian enclave, Bensonhurst. There I paid a visit to Villabate Alba, a classic Sicilian pastry shop complete with a gelato counter and espresso. I was all set on getting a scoop, when I saw a guy eating what looked to be the mother of all ice cream sandwiches, a submarine sandwich of frozen confection.
This Sicilian ice cream sandwich—brioche con gelato—is how they do it back home, the counterman explained. “Get chocolate and nocciola,” he said when he saw me trying to decide what flavor to have crammed into the split-top sweet roll. So I did. Chocolate and hazelnut inside the pillowy brioche topped with whipped cream. It was the most decadent ice cream sandwich I’ve ever eaten. This Sicilian sandwich two-step made me wish I lived in Brooklyn, well almost.
Ferdinando’s Focacceria, 151 Union St., Carroll Gardens, (718) 855-1545
Villabate Alba, 70-01 18th Ave., Bensonhurst, (718) 331-8430