I understand that many of the people who read are residents of the capital region of NY. Not everybody, but the vast majority. I take the opportunity to dine outside of the area wherever I can. This occasion was unfortunately focused around the passing of my grandmother, Filomena, who loved the types of food you are about to read about. So rather than come off as being critical of the food, I would like to present this to you as more of a showcase of a style of dining that the capital region really doesn’t have.
Joe’s of Avenue U, located on Avenue U (duh!) near MacDonald Ave. in Brooklyn, is a Focacceria Palermitana. When you walk in, you’re immediately overwhelmed by a steam table containing dozens of specialties as classically prepared in Palermo, Sicily. It’s not anything like an Olive Garden, and it’s not even anything like the “Italian” institutions you may be familiar with in Albany, Schenectady, or Troy.
Here’s a small glimpse at the menu:
You’ll notice that at the top in the center is a dish, Vastedda, that has no explanation. This is something that you can only get at such a place. If you’re familiar with Andrew Zimmern’s Bizzare Foods, in the Sicily episode, he eats this. It is a sandwich consisting of boiled cow’s spleen on a special type of hard roll topped with ricotta cheese. It’s something that I’m not quite adventurous enough to try, but people in my family love. Maybe one day, but not this time.
I tend to keep things more simple. I started the meal with a rice ball. You’ve actually seen me write about rice balls, or arancini, in the past. Some of you have even written to me and told me that you tried making them because of my post, and I love that!
At Joe’s, it’s the classic Sicilian style, filled with a mixture of chopped meat and peas in a red sauce.
If you eat there, they give you plenty of bread for the table. Bread is a very important thing to Italians and Italian-Americans in Brooklyn.
I ordered a chicken cutlet sandwich, because I try to keep things as simple as possible when I go to these types of places, just because I don’t want to unintentionally order anything too exotic.
But my favorite thing to order at the focacceria is the panelle.
Panelle are chickpea fritters. They somehow take chickpea flour, make it into a loaf, slice it, and deep fry it in a chickpea flour batter. Typically, they put this on some bread with ricotta and cheese, the ricotta and cheese being a common motif in this style cuisine, but I just like eating them on their own. I guess it’s almost a play off of falafel, but the texture of these is far more creamy and fine and there are far less spices, in fact, I think it may be just some salt and pepper.
For the road, Dad took home some cassatini, small ricotta cakes containing chocolate and topped with candied fruit, and some cannoli; he sent me back to Albany with some cannoli for me and Cassie. It is unbelievable that these held up for 7 hours in the car. I immediately tore into mine when I got home and it was just as crispy as if it was just filled, not like the pre-filled crap we have to buy around here.
I don’t wish that there were this kind of thing in the capital region, but it’s always nice to know that you can take a short ride and find something that is completely different than what you see every day.