Greenwich Village finally has its own Sicilian snack shop and carryout. Inexpensively priced Pane Pasta is located right on bustling 8th Street just north of the NYU campus, an area once known for its shoes. But in the days before coronavirus, it was poised to become one of the city’s most formidable restaurant rows. Perfect for a sandwich, snack, or sweet, Pane Pasta will add to that repertoire, once the other places reopen.
Admittedly, Pane Pasta’s timing was bad. It opened March 11, right before the mid-March shutdown, and only reopened three weeks ago for carryout and delivery. You can still walk inside and examine the glass cases and look into the kitchen at the end of the narrow premises, outfitted with convection ovens and deep fryers. Those cases gleam with breakfast pastries, thick slabs of focaccia cut in rectangles, and desserts, as well as rice balls and other deep-fried snacks. On the wall is chalkboard listing the specialties of the house, which also include panini prepared to order.
Both owners hail from Sicily: Vincenzo Virzi from the capital of Palermo, while Pietro Chirco comes from Marsala, source of a famous fortified wine. The two met while working at Sapori D’Italia, a restaurant in Little Italy. Virzi’s family has owned and operated a bakery in Palermo for 70 years, and that institution partly provides inspiration for Pane Pasta (“bread dough”).
Nevertheless, the place most resembles the type of Palermo casual cafe called a focacceria, a bread-based snack shop. Joe’s of Avenue U, which popped up in the decade following World War II in Gravesend, is one of the city’s foremost examples. “They’re from Palermo, too,” Virzi gleefully told me as I chatted with him about the history of Sicilian food in New York City on a recent afternoon.
Pane Pasta sells its collection of focaccia by the thick slice. My favorite ($4) tops a layer of mozzarella with slices of potato seasoned with fresh rosemary, but there are also examples with arugula and prosciutto, and ham and mushrooms. The most distinctively Sicilian is sfincione, which heaps the slice with a sweet puree of caramelized onions and anchovies.
The panini ($5 to $7) are made on short tapered loaves and are pretty much what one would expect, stuffed with turkey, cheese, ham, or an assortment of grilled vegetables. Far and away my favorite is panelle e crocche, containing squished creamer potatoes and chickpea fritters called panelle, for a starchy extravaganza.
The pastas tend toward the southern Italian, engulfed in red sauce. The one to get is the Norma ($12), a fresh tagliatelle sauced with eggplant and ricotta. There are rudimentary salads, too.
But the real reason to step inside Pane Pasta is to ogle the Italian pastries. The hole-less doughnuts known as bombolini achieve a rich brown shade, sprinkled with granular sugar, and with a dab of chocolate or vanilla pastry cream decorating the domed top. Doughnut lovers take note. Though I haven’t tried them, also find slices of Italian cheesecake, cannoli, miniature cream puffs, and fruit tarts. Indeed, the Sicilians are known as Italy’s foremost pastry chefs.
Even once the virus subsides, it looks like there will be little room for tables in Pane Pasta. These sunny days, the place to take your food is nearby Washington Square Park. That is, if you can keep from eating your bombolone as you propel down 8th Street.