That’s VINNY on The Left
with One of His Many FANS
La Foccaceria? Oh where have you gonna? Well, i know. After more than 90 years in business, it was time to close the doors. And a sad day it was for thousands, including me. I first moved into the East Village in November 1982 .. I was working in another famed old New York Italian institution in The East Village, in John’s (Since 1908) on East 12th Street right around the block from La Foccaceria .. La Foccaceria was a great little Sicilian Specialties restaurant on 1st Avenue between East 11th and East 12th Streets on the east side of First Avenue .. That was the first spot where they opened the doors in 1914 … I’m sorry to say, I never went to that one but to it’s (La Foccaceria) 2nd location a couple blocks south on 1st Avenue between East 7th Street and St. Marks Place (E. 8th Street) on the east side of the avenue. The new La Foccaceria, run by one Vinny Bondi was jsut one block from my apartment at the corner of Avenue A and St. Marks Place. In 1982 to the East Village was on an up-swing in popularity and improvement from a sort of sub-ghetto of The Lower East Side. the neighborhood which was strongly Eastern European; Ukranian and Polish, mixed with Hispanics, Italians, and people of Jewish persuasion. At this point in time many rental apartments were quite cheap and the neighborhood was attracting artists, so-called wannabe actors and musicians and young people who wanted to live in Manhattan. In the East Village they could find an apartment (though not the best physically) at reasonable rates for the time, I did. Through a friend I was able to procure a 2 bedroom apartment for a mere $400 a month. Quite a bargain. I shared the apartment with my good friend jay F. for the first year in that apartment. Once he moved out, I kept the apartment for myself.
Hey, I’m getting off the beaten track. Yes back in 82 the East Village was an exciting and changing neighborhood, perfect for me and other young people just starting out in this great city of ours.
I was only paying $400 rent and had money to spend eating out. i used to eat at a Ukrainian Diner Odessa on Avenue A and Leskos as well, 2 doors down from Odessa. there I could get plates of home-made Perogis, fresh Keilbasi and other solid for for cheap. In the East Village there were a few old-school Italian holdovers like; John’s were I was working as a waiter & Bartender at the time, Lanza’s (now over 100 Years old), De Roberta’s Italian Pastry (over 100 years old) Brunetta a great little Italian Restaruant I used to go to which was on the same block as the original La Foccaceria and there was the current La Foccaceria on 1st Ave near East 7th Street .. I went in to La Foccaceria one day, I met Vinny and I loved it from the start. Vinny’s father and mother had started the place way back in 1914 … Vinny, I never asked his age, but he must have been in his late 60’s at the time (1983). La Foccaceria served an array of wonderful dishes; all the usual pastas like; Lasagna, Spaghetti & Meatballs, Spaghetti Vongole (Clam Sauce), and Sicilaian Maccheroni like; Pasta con Sardi and Lasagna Coccati, broken pieces of lasagna pasta baked with sausage,peas, tomato, and mozzarella. Vinny had great soups like Pasta Fagoli and the best Lentil & Escarole Soup around. He sold sandwiches like Chicken Parmigiano, Meatball Parm, Sausage & Peppers, and his most famous dish of all, the famed Vastedda Sandwich of Palermo. A Vastedda (Vastedde) Sandwich as we’ve said is a very famous sandwich that is a specialty in Palermo, is made with Beef Spleen (or Veal) with Ricotta and Cacciocavallo Cheese on a small Sesame Seeded Bun. It is quite wonderful and was a specialty of the house at Vinny’s La Foccaceria. I just loved it, and at $1.60 per, even in 1982 it was one of New York’s great prepared food bargains. The average price of a sandwich back then was about $5.00, so at $1.60 per? Wow! I had tried most of the dishes at La Foccaceria in my first year eating there, but there was one that I loved by far most of all. Yes, the Vastedde. Most times I would have a Vastedde and a bowl of Vinny’s wonderful Lentil & escarole Soup, the best I have ever had. If it was Thursday or Saturday, the days that Vinny made Arancini (Sicilian Rice Balls) and Sfingione (True Sicilian Pizza), I might get a piece of Sfingione and Lentil & Escarole Soup, or Sfingione, a Vastedde, and Soup. Yeah!
Boy did I love Vinny’s. There was nothing like those Vastedde and Vinny making them. Vinny had a special stattion at a counter up front of the place where he cut the cooked Beef Spleen, fry it in lard, cut the bun, cut some Cacciocavallo, he’d lay the spleen on the bun, add some Ricotta, and sprinkle the cut Cacciocavallo Cheese over the top. Yumm! And I’d have a little chat with Vinny as he made my Vastedde right before my eyes. When i ordered it, all I had to say to Vinny, was, “One with everything.” That meant everything; the spleen, Ricotta and Cacciocavallo. Some people would order them minus the spleen. Why? Amateurs.
Sadly, Vinny closed his Foccaceria a few years ago. it was a sad day for me, no more Vinny, no more La Foccaceria, no more Vastedde.
Ode to La Foccaceria
Ode to My Pal Vinny
Ode to My Beloved Vasteddi
I Will Miss You All So
The FAMED VASTEDDA
“I ate these at Vinny’s twice a week. La Focacceria was just 1 block from my apartment in the East Village. Sadly Vinny closed about 8 years ago. Now I have to go all the way to Ferdinando’s in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn to get one. Either there are all the way to Palermo to Antica Focacceria S. Francesco, which I don’t mind at all, but I sure do miss going to La Focacceria on 1st Avenue, seeing my old buddy Vinny, eating a Vasteddi, an Arancini or some Sfincione which Vinny made on Thursdays and Saturday. The BEst Vasteddi in New York.
This is real SICILIAN PIZZA. Vinny made it on Thursdays and Saturdays and all the guys that used to live in the neighborhood but bought homes in Brooklyn, Saten Island or where ever, they’d come in to La Focacceria every Saturday for a VASTEDDA and some SFINCIONE and ARANCINI. It was quite a place.
Like any good Focacceria, Vinny made great ARANCINI too. You can find incrediable tastying ARANCIN (Rice Balls) where ever you go in SICILY, stuffed with meat or cheese, they’re as tasty as can be, and at just about $1.50 a piece, a nice inexpensive treat and the perfect thing to eat between meals, or even a meal in themselves, two will do the trick.
GRANDMA BELLINO’S COOKBOOK
RECIPES FROM MY SICILIAN NONNA
Ferdninado’s In Brooklyn.
You Can Still get a good Vastedda There …
Sadly, the only place left in New York
Read About VINNY’S La FOCCACERIA
in Daniel Bellin o’s “La TAVOLA” ITALIAN-AMERICAN NEW YORK …..