Here in Phoenix, great Italian pastries are scarce. If you look, you can find passable cannoli, solid sfogliatelle. But fantastic? The kind of light, flaky, orange-perfumed sweet eaten in the morning that periodically thunders back into mind for the rest of the day? Good luck.
This January, The Maggiore Group hopes to change that.
That's when The Sicilian Baker will open next to the first location of The Sicilian Butcher on Tatum Boulevard and Greenway Road. The bakery will produce Sicilian-style sweets (pastry and desserts). It will be overseen by Joey Maggiore, chef and chief catalyst of his family’s rapidly snowballing hospitality conglomerate, The Maggiore Group. The Maggiores have roots in Sicily and return often.
Generally, there isn’t much of a dessert culture in Italy. Baked sweets, the kind that dazzle with yeast or cream, are typically eaten in the morning. This doesn't mean that the tradition of sweets on the peninsula and its many islands is short of excellent. Sicily's ancient pastry game is widely celebrated.
At The Sicilian Baker, the Maggiore clan will prepare cannoli, sfinci (fluffy, sugared doughnuts), cassata, and more. Joey's cousin, a pastry chef from Sicily, will help curate the opening menu.
The presence of cassata is a promising sign. Cassata is a marzipan-shelled cake from Sicily. It is studded with candied fruit and filled with a sweetened ricotta cream. If the world's has produced a better cake than cassata, I haven't tasted it yet.
When The Sicilian Butcher opened last year, cassata was on the menu.
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It was a modern riff, a surprisingly enjoyable version that incorporated dusky cherries. The Sicilian Baker will produce sweets in a similarly modern vein. News of this together with the unborn bakery’s plans to expand to 15 locations may sound a warning bell or two. So may this restaurant group’s recent history.
A few of The Maggiore Group’s restaurants cater to style at the expense of substance. At The Sicilian Butcher, you can witness culinary choices that could arguably be described as gimmicky: large-batch cocktail-making seemingly meant to hijack headlines and social media feeds, antipasto boards so long they seem to tear holes into other dimensions. This would all be fine if they cooked the pastas better.
Similarly, a “cannoli bar” at The Sicilian Baker will let you design cannoli of customizable sizes, ranging from micro to footlong, with toppings and fillings you can chameleon to your preferences. Sure, the concept isn’t traditional. Sure, Instagram likely figured largely into its calculus. Sure, you’re not going to channel Palermo when you're in north Phoenix crunching into a strawberry cannoli with a circus of toppings.
But if they can make a great Italian pastry, it’ll all be gravy.