I admit that when I moved in the US, the only true Italian desserts I knew was the famous tiramisu. I do not recall having seen an Italian pastry shop, except in Marseille, South of France, when my parents used to go to this bakery to buy some Italian bread. For sure I traveled to Italy few times, but still, I can only remember the tiramisu or the gelato of course. Other desserts were unknown to me. Then I came to New York. My first cannoli was a disaster: not good at all and making me ignore this delicious pastry for many years, until Giorgio's in Hoboken.
So, on top of the usual excitement to discover a new place, I was excited to see what treasures Villabate-Alba had. This pastry shop and bakery is located in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, close to the Italian restaurant Il Colloseo that I posted last week. Believe it or not, but we went to these places the same day, hoping to optimize our time, sacrificing our diet...There, we got to meet with Anthony Alaimo, the son of Angelo Alaimo, who, with his other son Emanuele, started a bakery more than 30 years ago, naming it Villabate that is also the name of the town in Sicily they come from. Close by was a pastry shop called Alba. When the owner retired, he sold his shop to Angelo and that is how Villabate-Alba was born, merging the bakery and pastry shop altogether, making it the oldest in Brooklyn.
Villabate-Alba is not your small pastry shop and you may think, looking at the photo above, that it was quiet. It was not: I took this photo between two waves of customers. Yes, at some point it was packed and I cannot blame people who go there considering what this place has to offer.
When you enter, on the left, you cannot miss the gelato that they continue to offer, even if the temperature has dropped. I was glad to see that they have nocciola / Hazelnut that is my favorite flavor with praline, bringing me back few years ago, when Jodi and I were in Venice and Rome and had gelato everyday (keeps you hydrated!).
Then is the counter where you can have a nice coffee with some pastries, or even breakfast.
When you go around the store, you see an incredible number of cakes, some looking amazing! Anthony told us that they also custom made cakes and showed us some of them that looked like edible works of art. They probably should get a show on TV (I guess this idea was already taken...).
The fruits below made with marzipan.
So we went at the counter where Anthony made us try few specialties. The first one was a Cassatella:
It is a white wine ravioli filled with ricotta (I should mention that their ricotta is imported from Sicily).
The shell was crispy and nicely sweet and the inside so smooth, it was divine.
In fact, it was perfect with an espresso.
Then we got to try some pignoli and some rainbow cookies.
The pignoli were fantastic: soft inside, not too sweet, it is perfect if you love almonds as the cookie is made with it.
The rainbow cookies, also made with almonds, were delicious because you definitely could tell that they were made with fresh ingredients and the strawberry really came through.
And then, when we thought it was time to go (to our next stop in Brooklyn...), Anthony brought us this:
It was very nice and generous of him and we could not refuse... So, we had to get a tasting.
The outside was definitely crispy with multiple thin layers; however, I did not like the inside that was made with sweet ricotta cheese and semolina: it was too heavy and dry for me.
Red velvet cake:
It was filled with cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar. That was a nice Italian version of the red velvet cake (that was perfectly moist by the way)
Cardone: cookie crust infused with ricotta cheese, dipped in liquid sugar, fondant and then dipped in almonds.
That was one of my favorites. It was crunchy, thanks to the almonds and the cookie, delicately sweet thanks to the fondant, but smooth, thanks to the ricotta.
Baba au rhum:
So, this is not an Italian pastry: more Polish. It is made of a light cake imbibed with rum. This one was good although slightly overcooked, but not dry at all (and I remind you that it was rum...).
It was a delicious twisted roll with ricotta inside and topped with cinnamon sugar. I loved it: light and, again, not too sweet, it had this wonderful ricotta cream inside that paired well with the roll that was a bit airy. Second favorite!
Of course, the cannoli, filled with ricotta:
They were of a nice size. The shell was fresh and crispy and the filling divine, with a nice cinnamon touch.
This definitely looked like the French mille feuilles, but with a vanilla cream rather than a crème pâtissière. Sometimes, the icing is replaced by a thin layer of confectioner sugar, but, at Villabate-Alba, the icing looked and tasted similar to the one I am familiar with. I admit that I ate more of the top than the bottom part though...
Zuppa Inglese horn:
The shell was similar to the sfogliatelle, crispy with lots of thin layers, and the inside had a very light cream that was delicious.
Foret noire slice:
First of all, this cake looked amazing. It was light and had several layers, alternating cream (strawberry or coffee for instance) and a very good and soft sponge cake.
I am not sure what the next one is called, so I name it the Mandarin thrill:
It was a light cake with a quite good filling that had a nice mandarin taste.
It is a smaller version of the Sicilian Cassata, made with marzipan and filled with ricotta. This was my all time favorite and I had to battle with Jodi who, usually, does not like almonds...Strong recommendation!
The last cake was made with rainbow cookies and had a light strawberry mousse in the middle.
I liked the rainbow cookie, but did not like the cream.
All these cookies were great and I just wished that they had a store in my neighborhood. Or maybe it is a blessing that I do not have one, because I would be there everyday, few times a day, all the time (hopefully I do not sound too creepy...). For a delicious and authentic Italian experience, Villabate-Alba is definitely recommended.
Enjoy (I surely did)!
Please note that the meal was complimentary. However, the opinions expressed in my blog are 100% my own!
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And Remember: I Just Want To Eat!