I’m ashamed to say that in seven years living in South Brooklyn, I hadn’t paid a visit to Ferdinando’s Focacceria (151 Union Street) until last week. I’d passed it many times, noting its old school awning and exterior and wondering what scrumptious servings lay within. I live in a neighborhood that has a lot of fly-by-night restaurants and bars, but Ferdinando’s has been in operation since 1904, so I took for granted that it would always be there. But lately I’ve realized, from reading a lot of blogs about the disappearing remnants of New York City’s yesteryears, that to take for granted any landmark in this town is a fool’s errand. One day you’re thinking, “I have to remember to go there”; the next, you read that it’s closed its doors and been replaced by a Chase Bank or a Chipotle.
Hopefully that won’t happen to Ferdinando’s, which appears to be serving plenty of customers. My older brother Kent visited last week, and he is always complaining about the dearth of real Italian food in Green Bay – go figure. (Despite our WASP-y surname, we’re both 1/4 Calabrese, and Kent looks like he could have grown up in Carroll Gardens or Bensonhurst.) I figured it was a great opportunity to try this venerable Sicilian joint, finally.
Ferdinando’s is one of those eateries whose atmosphere other, newer restaurants attempt to imitate, but never capture. Black and white photos of Palermo (circa 1900) adorn the walls, the Virgin Mary looks over the back garden, and the waiters actually know what’s on the menu and how to describe it.
What was on the menu, for us anyway, was the panelle, a breaded chick pea fritter (kind of like a pancake) served with melted ricotta cheese and marinara sauce. This was an amazingly simple yet delicious appetizer, and something neither of us had tried before. We followed it up by splitting the meat ball parm on a roll, enough to fill us both up on a 95 degree day. (You can get meatballs on a hero, but I seriously can’t imagine one person finishing it in one sitting.) We washed that down with a couple of beers, and then sat and digested for a good thirty minutes. We had arrived early and the place was now starting to fill up for the lunch hour, but the staff never bothered us about the check until we asked.
(Another specialty of note is the arancino, a breaded and fried rice ball filled with meat, cheese, and peas, which my other brother raves about. I plan on tackling that on my next visit.)
For some decadent photographs of Ferdinando’s offerings, and a clarification of the termfocacceria, check out the wine and cheese blog Do Bianchi, which I’ve just begun to peruse.
Ferdinando’s is open Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Take the F train to Carroll Street, and walk west on Union Street, just past the BQE. It’s on the right.