Mornings at Palmieri Café mean the patter of Italian radio, and there may be no better ritual than a macchiato and pasticciotto at Corrado Palmieri’s counter in the new Farmers Market shed. The pasticciotto is heavy. You feel its wonderful density as you pick it up—the thick, buttery dough is reverse-dimpled on top, like a madeleine, and inside is a gentle vanilla pastry cream. The flavors are sugar cookie meets vanilla pudding in this specialty native to Palmieri’s hometown of Galatina in Southern Italy, where they’ve been making it for over 250 years. If the pasticiotto is some kind of Proustian madeleine, the taste memories it taps are pure Italy.
Corrado himself reminds me of Roberto Begnini—the moment at the 71st Academy Awards in particular, when the Italian filmmaker floated and hopped across the audience to claim his award for best foreign-language film for Life Is Beautiful. Do you remember? Corrado seems to have the same unstoppable energy.
He makes all of his pastries in-house—the crackling, croissant-like cornetti; the flaky, powdered-sugar dusted cannoli. I love the juicy ground chicken calzone with tomatoes and green olives—tasty, briny, brash, delicious. Rosemary adds a lovely note. It’s not the usual calzone; the dough is puffy, lightly fried so it’s just golden. He honed his recipes during the year in which he returned to train under a pastry chef in Galatina, and he’s put in the time to find quality ingredients. (His grandmother, from whom to learned to make the pasticciotto, was also adept at making cakes, biscotti, and the pastas typical of Lecce, his region in Puglia—macaroni, orecchiette.)
The secret is out. On weekends, a little international crowd might draw tables together and talk outside. Cops stop by for coffee.
For the full Italian experience, take your espresso standing at the counter, where there are no stools to sit, but there’s no lack of conviviality.
(You can read more about how Corrado came to making pastry–as opposed to continuing in investment banking–in a feature I wrote for the upcoming August issue of D.)