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
NOTE : In Palermo where the Vastedde 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 Vastedde.
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, 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.
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.
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 …..
Antica Focacceria San Francesco
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).
Making a VASTEDDE
aka Pane Muesa
Inside S. Francesco
Read This !
Focacceria San Franceso and the Street Food of Palermo, Sicily #StreetFood
Focacceria S. Franceso
Antica Focacceria San Francesco