Ode to Vinny’s La Focacceria e la Vastedda

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That’s VINNY on The Left

with One of His Many FANS

La Foccaceria? Oh where have you gone? Well, I do know actually. 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 Vinny’s father 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 just one block from my apartment at the corner of Avenue A and St. Marks Place. In 1982 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. When Mr. Bondi opened the doors almost 100 years before when the neighborhood was largely made up of Sicilian immigrants which included one Charles “Luck” Luciano whose parents moved to East 10th Street when Luciano was just 9 years old. In the early 80s when i first moved into East Village it was a low-rent neighborhood with apartments that were relatively cheap for the city, thus 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 Lesko’s as well, two doors down from Odessa. There I could get plates of home-made Perogis, fresh Keilbasi and other solid food 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 restaurant 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 Saint Marks Place .. I went in to La Foccaceria one  day, I met Vinny and I loved it from the very 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 Sicilian 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 Fagioli 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 most sandwiches  back then was about $5.00 around town, so  a Vasteddeat $1.60 per? Wow, what a Bargain?

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! 

I often ate at Vinny’s on Thursdays and Saturdays, as they were the two days in the week when Vinny made Sfingione, which is real Sicilian Pizza, that comes from Palermo. This type of pizza is made in a pan and is thick just like what is know as Sicilian Pizza all over America, and has tomato and Mozzarella Cheese baked on top. Sfingione on the other had doesn’t have tomato or mozzarella, but minced Anchovies that are suteed with onions and breadcrumbs. This breadcrumb mixture covers the dough and then is backed in the oven, and “Voila,” you’ve got the true Sicilian Pizza known to Sicilians and Sicilian-Americans alike as Sfingione. 

Very made a great version of Sfingione, and I’d get a piece of it every week for the 11 years before I moved over to the west side in Greenwich Village. Saturdays was a very special day at La Focacceria as that the day that all the old guys who grew up in this neighborhood, but later bought homes outside of Manhattan, Saturday was the day many of these guys would take a ride into the hood to get a Vastedde, see Vinny and habg out with old friends, one coming from Staten Island, one from Brooklyn, one from Jersey, etc., etc., and they’d all meat up at Vinny’s for a nice lunch together and remember their old times in this old Sicilian Neighborhood.

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

 

Daniel Bellino-Zwicke

NOTE : In Palermo where the Vastedda Sandwich comes from, it is mostly known as Pane Milza (Muesa), which translates to “Bread and Spleen.” The spleen is first simmer to cook in gently boiling water until cooked through. The spleen is cooled down and refrigerated to cook later. When someone orders a sandwich, Vinny would take the large piece of Spleen, cut thin slices of it and fry them in lard that was in a pan at the counter of the focacceria. Vinny would then place the cooked spleen on a sesame seed bun that was split in half. He’d place a dollop of fresh Ricotta on top of the spleen, then grated Caciocavalo Cheese over the ricotta, and then top with the top piece of bread and place the Vastedde Sandwich on a plate and hand it to the lucky recipient, like me, just like they make it in Palermo.

NOTE II : You may have noticed different spellings for the same sandwich, Vastedde and Vastedda are both singular, while Vasteddi is the plural for more than 1 Vastedda.

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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.

NO MORE VASTEDDI in New York

No more Vasteddi in New York? Well, yes and No. There are w places that still make Vasteddi Sandwiches in New York, the problem being, they are not good. No, I always loved Vinny’s and knew his sandwiches were damn good, but after going to Ferdinando’s today, I miss Vinny’s La Focacceria all the more. For even though it’s a hike for me to get to Ferdinando’s from my apartment in Greenwich Village, I’m not going to go very often, but I’d go once or twice a year to get my Vasteddi Fix at Ferdinando’s on Union Street in Brooklyn, but no more. The Vastedda I had today was, I’m sorry to say, was not very good at all. It was in fact quite disappointing. It doesn’t seem as though the spleen was cooked in lard as it should be, but merely, I think heated up in a microwave oven. They heated the Ricotta up to where it was melting, and aweful. The Ricotta is not supposed to be heated, but put on cold. Making it hot ruins the affect of the way the sandwich should be made, like they make it in Palermo and the way my buddy Vinny made it at his Sicilian Specialty restaurant La Focacceria on 1st AVenue in New York’s East Village. They heat the ricotta at Ferdinando’s and ruin it, and on top of that they do not put Caciocavallo Cheese on, which the sandwich is supposed to have. They say it cost too much. And their sandwich is $8 now, I think they could put on a half ounce of Caciocavallo. They put on too much hot ricotta and no Caciocavallo. Why not put on just a little Ricotta, and keep it cold, and grate on a little Caciocavallo. The sandwich was awful, and it would taste better if they put on guess what, yes Cacicavallo Cheese. Why make it if you’re not going to make it right? I don’t get it. 

I wanted to ccy when Vinny closed down his place, which made the most outstanding Vasteddi Sandwiches (Pane Muesa in Palermo). I’ve had Pane Muesa (Vasteddi Sandwiches) many times in Palermo where the sandwich originates from, and trust me Vinny made his Sicilian Sandwiches (Vasteddi) just as good as the best in Palermo, Sicily, and even better than many who didn’t meet the highest standard of the Palermitana Beef Spleen Sandwich (Pane Muesa aka Vastedda) Art, Vinny’s were always made to perfection. ANd I’m so sorry to say that the Vasteddi at Ferdinando’s don’t even come close. They just are not that good. I went to Ferdinando’s and had the Vastedda Sandwich there a few times, and now I realize that I was never that thrilled with them, but I didn’t think that they were not that good. Today I realized this sad fact. I hate to have to say it, because I like the place, and I think that Ferdinando’s is awesome. It’s a cool old place that is over 100 years old, operating in the same spot, serving Sicilian Specialties Since 1904. It’s just a shame the Vastedda is not really that good. I would have to guess that not that many people order or want, as they probably sold a lot more in the past. But I realize that I never went crazy over the taste the way I did with the ones my old pal Vinnay made at La  Focacceria, “The Best Vasteddi I’ve Ever Had,” and I’ve had many. I used to get two every week at Vinny’s for 10 years when I lived in the East Village, just one block from Vinny’s La Focacceria. Vinny knew how to make them perfectly. His Dad taught him. It was Vinny’s dad who opened the Focacceria decades ago. Vinny’s dad knew how to make the best Vasteddi Sandwiches imaginable, just like they made in Sicily. He made them to perfect perfection and taught his son Vinny how to do the same. You poached the Spleen, then let it cool down and rest for a couple days, When you get an order for a Vastedda Sandwich (Pane Milza), you heat up some Lard, slice the already cooked Spleen, then lightly fry it in the lard. You slice a Sesame Seed Roll (this is the Vastedda) in half, put on the sauted spleen, add some (Cold) ricotta cheese, top the Ricotta with shredded Caciocavallo Cheese, place the top of the roll onto the sandwich and serve. If only Ferdinando’s could do it like Vinny. 

A few years ago (about 8), which was about two years after Vinny sadly closed down La Focacceria, I had heard about Joe’s on Avenue U, and that they made a Vastedda Sandwich, so I wanted to go. This was the day that I joined The Sicilian Food WIne & Travel Group on Meetup and met my friend Carolina and Vincent Titone, the leader of the club. I was excited about joining the Sicilian-American Club, meeting some like minded people who loved Sicilian Food and Culture and to be going to Joe’s of Avenue U and trying the Vastedda. I couldn’t wait. Unfortunately I was quite disappointed. The Vastedda wa not good. 

So now, that Vinny’s closed, which crushed me. I discover that the Vastedda at Joe’s is not good, and today I come to the realization that Ferdinando’s Vastedda Sandwich lackluster as well. What is a Sicilian to do. Cry? Yes, I could cry.

How I learn for the days of Vinny’s tasty Vasteddi and Sfincione (real Sicilian Pizza). Just another one of life’s cruel cold tricks, “There’s No Good Vastedda in New York.” Now I can only have one every few years, and will hardly get to eat a tasty Vastedda like I did at La Focacceria two times a week for 10 glorious years. Now I have to travel more than 4,000 Miles to get one. Yes, I do feel like crying. No more Vasteddi. Not in New York anyway. Well not one that taste anywhere near as good as Vinny’s.

DBZ

Weds. August 3rd 2021

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.The above was Posted on EATER NY on July 14, 2005, on the Closing of Vinny’s La FOCACCERIA  “A Sad Sad Day”

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SFINCIONE

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, Staten 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.

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ARANCINI

Like any good Focacceria, Vinny made great ARANCINI too. You can find incredible tasty 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.

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ARANCINI RECIPE

GRANDMA BELLINO’S COOKBOOK

RECIPES FROM MY SICILIAN NONNA

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Ferdninado’s In Brooklyn.

You Can Still get a good Vastedda There …

Sadly, the only place left in New York

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Read About VINNY’S La FOCCACERIA

in Daniel Bellin o’s “La TAVOLA” ITALIAN-AMERICAN    NEW YORK …..

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Antica Focacceria San Francesco

PALERMO

The Antica Focacceria San Francesco is without question the most famous focacceria as well as the single most famous and popular place to eat in all of Palermo, and all of Sicily for that matter. This may very well be the place where Mr. Bondi (Vinny’s Father) modeled his place La Focacceria 1st Avenue after. We can’t really be sure, but it’s our guest bet. And for certain there must have been many different focaccerias all over Palermo when Mr. Bondi was a young man, that no longer exist, so he may have modeled his establishment in New York after one of those that no longer iexist, and yes, then-again, it may have been Focacceria San Francesco.

Anyway, the Focacceria San Francesco is without question my absolute favorite place to eat in Palermo, nothing comes close to this place, it’s absolutely and positively awesome. The ambiance is spectacular with its balcony, marble and granite counters, floor, and tabletops. And the food? The Food is Wonderful! The worlds best place to get Pane Milza (Beef Spleen Sandwich), Caponata and Arancini (Sicilian Rice Balls).

La Focacceria were made famous by Andrew Zimmer on Bizarre Foods, and even more famous by Anthony Bourdain on “No Reservations, but I started going there way before those two guys. 

Yes the food is wonderful, and just as wonderful are the prices, which are cheap to say the least. And the fact that they make a wonderful plate of their Greatest Hits, which includes Caponata, Aracini (Rice Balls) Panelle (Chickpea Fritters), and of course the famous sandwich Pane Milza (Muesa).

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Making a VASTEDDE

aka Pane Muesa

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My VASTEDDE

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Inside S. Francesco

FOCACCERIA

PALERMO

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Read This !

Focacceria San Franceso and the Street Food of Palermo, Sicily #StreetFood

#PalermoStreetFood

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My CANNOLO

Focacceria S. Franceso

2017

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Antica Focacceria San Francesco

PALERMO

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2 thoughts on “Ode to Vinny’s La Focacceria e la Vastedda

  1. Donna says:

    When at Fernandos in Bklyn have a Manhattan Special on tap 😋 the only place in the world you can get that. May as well have a Panella Special too! Manga!

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