When our trip to Sicily started to materialize, I realized that we were going to be in the proximity of Noto, and I knew I just had to have breakfast at the famous Caffè Sicilia. I asked my travel mates if they’d be willing to go, and they said yes! We ventured there early one perfect Sicilian morning.
Curious about what it’s like to have breakfast at Caffè Sicilia? Read on for all the details!
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Breakfast at Caffè Sicilia in Noto, Sicily
As you might already know, or have gathered, I love food. I’ve always liked cooking, but over the past few years, I’ve started to get really into it, trying new things, having huge dinner parties, and experimenting with my own recipes (here’s one for asparagus risotto, and here’s another for Amatriciana). Few things make me happier than making food for friends and family, most especially sweets for my sweetheart, who is an expert dessert-eater.
I remember days and trips according to what I ate. When an amazing culinary experience coincides with travel (I’m lucky it so often does), it is the ultimate fusion of my two passions, and generally causes me to be the happiest I am on the road. Breakfast at Caffè Sicilia had me brimming with excitement.
Caffè Sicilia on Chef’s Table
I first heard about Caffè Sicilia on an episode of Chef’s Table (season 4, episode 2). I LOVE CHEF’S TABLE. It’s so beautiful and fascinating. I love the music, the stories, the shots of the chefs’ amazing creations, and the windows it provides onto different cultures.
The episode on Corrado Assenza and Caffè Sicilia is particularly captivating. If you’ve seen it, you know that he’s the fourth-generation owner and head pasticciere. If you haven’t seen the episode, please go watch it now so that we can be friends.
Impressions of Caffè Sicilia
The café was opened in 1892. Its unassuming entrance in Noto’s city center could easily be missed.
Caffè Sicilia is small. As you can see, the outdoor dining area has about eight or ten tables. The front room is where the food is displayed and the coffee bar is, and the back room is a dining area with another handful of tables in it.
Getting a table at Caffè Sicilia
Two lines formed in the front room, one for people who wanted to take away pastries, and another for people who wanted to sit. We joined the line for seats.
It was crowded in the small space, but I was surprised at how well the system worked. Waiters buzzed around, bringing past trays of coffee, delicious looking little cakes, bowls of granita, and scoops and scoops of gelato. None of them got frustrated or huffy as they asked us to move or shift slightly when they needed to get through. They were smiling.
Sweets are a large part of Sicily’s culinary culture. It is, after all, the birthplace of cannoli. In the rest of Italy, the most common breakfast is a cappuccino and a pastry, but the Sicilian heat doesn’t lend itself to a hot beverage in the morning. Instead, Sicilians often enjoy a granita, which is flavored crushed ice.
On Chef’s Table, Chef Assenza declares that there are two types of people in the world – those who have almond granita for breakfast, and those that have lemon granita for breakfast. “E non cambiano!” he says, smiling. “They don’t change!” I’m lemon. Caffè Sicilia offers several types of granita, including the traditional lemon and almond ones, flavors like coffee and various berries, and the inventive but oh-so-Italian combination of strawberry and tomato.
Another common Sicilian breakfast is a brioche, a kind of sweet roll, filled with a few scoops of gelato. These are also available at Caffè Sicilia.
Chef Corrado Assenza
Chef Assenza has made it his life’s work to bring Sicily to his guests’ plates. Local fruits, nuts, and cheeses are the stars of all the dishes. Inspired so deeply by his home, he states on Chef’s Table that he wants to protect it, but also to share it with the world, in order to show us all what Sicily has to offer.
He is deeply respectful of agriculture, and of the earth and its bounty. He is a trained bee-keeper. He works with and advocates for local farmers, even going so far as to organize direct sales between himself, other restaurateurs, and the growers of mandorle romane – Roman almonds, a rare variety typical to Noto – in order to prevent their extinction.
This passion shines out of every cake and cookie in the café. Cases full of traditional Sicilian sweets, including cannoli, cassatine, and a sweet of Caffè Sicilia’s own creation called terra nostra, or our land (two layers of pistachio and almond sorbet) line the interior of the café. They are as attractive as they are delicious.
The gelato at Caffè Sicilia
The gelato case is unassuming, yet you can tell its contents are the real deal. It ticks all the boxes of what good gelato is. In case you’re wondering, gelato should be:
- Flat. If it’s big and piled high, it often means that that the gelato contains a lot of additives.
- Colored naturally. If the lemon is neon yellow instead of white, or the pistachio is bright green, move along. It’s been dyed!
- Dull, rather than shiny. Shine can signal either a lot of sugar, or that the gelato is old.
After about 20 minutes of drooling in the café, a table for four freed up outside and we happily sat down. We decided to go for the classics – granite, brioche with gelato, and cannoli.
Our breakfast at Caffè Sicilia – coffee, gelato, granita, and a cannolo!
The lemon granita I had was sweet, tangy, and quenching. I also had two scoops of gelato, which were spectacular. I went for chocolate, because I always do, and ricotta, which I was desperate to try after seeing it made on Chef’s Table.
It was decadently creamy, with bits of chopped up pistachio, which punctuated the creaminess perfectly with the tiniest bit of crunch.
My friends were kind enough to share bites of their breakfast with me, too. The cannolo was divine, with its sweet and creamy ricotta filling and its fried, crunchy shell. The granita al caffè was perfect for the Sicilian summer – it carried the quintessential flavor of morning, minus the heat. We also sampled a granita al gelso, or mulberry. Its deep, purplish-red color and earthy, tart flavor were a treat for the senses.
Why you should go to Caffè Sicilia on your visit to Noto
After paying and wandering around Noto for a bit, I realized why I loved eating breakfast at Caffè Sicilia so much. I had seen it featured on a massively popular TV show, so it has the potential to become commercialized and overly crowded, with decreasing quality and increasing prices, but it hasn’t, and I firmly believe that it won’t.
Because Corrado Assenza’s dedication to Sicily is, to me, the most beautiful essence of Italy’s culinary tradition. Use the best, locally available, seasonal ingredients. Create simple, delicious recipes from them. Serve them at reasonable prices.
So often, we equate “good food” with fancy, exclusive restaurants, truffle on everything (seriously, guys, give it a rest), and annoyingly elaborate dishes. Local, high quality ingredients and products are often prohibitively expensive in the US, and therefore inaccessible to many.
We’ve got it so wrong. The best food, as Corrado Assenza knows and reminds us, comes from your own backyard, is prepared with love and dedication, and is accessible to everyone.
I’ll treasure my breakfast at Caffè Sicilia because it was delicious. I’ll treasure it because it helped me to understand Sicily better. And I’ll treasure it because it reminded me that the best foods should be natural, simple, and shared.
More on Noto
Noto is also home to some beautiful baroque churches and quaint little side streets. Want to know more? Check out the pictures below, and this article from Condé Nast.
More on Sicily
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