The BEST VASTEDDI EVER !!!
Sadly, They are No More
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
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.
The following is from The New York Times, 1996
When the authors reviewed LA FOCACCERIA, a bright little restaurant, it was already 50 years old, having opened in 1914. It has moved from its old address, 195 First Avenue, but judging from the old review, not much else has changed.
One of its unusual specialties is still the vasteddi ($1.50), described in the book as ”a bizarre Sicilian sandwich.” It is made of slices of calf’s spleen, layered with ricotta cheese and shavings of Parmesan and served on a little bun. The authors describe it as ”mild and quite tasty,” which holds true.
The words al dente may never have been uttered here, and wine is poured from big jugs into carafes. The regulars look as if they have been coming here for years, and food is plentiful and cheap.
A bowl of white bean, pasta and pumpkin soup ($2.95) is earthy and filling. Fusilli is overcooked, but comes in a tomato sauce with slivers of pork subtly flavored with garlic ($6.50). Veal stew ($7.95), tender chunks of veal with potatoes and beans in a simple gravy, is excellent.