A Tour of Small-Town Sicily

Walking around the city is a visual feast — from the piazza to the Fountain of Diana in the center of the island — but the real feast is, well, actually feasting. I lucked out and snagged the last free table at Sicilia in Tavola, a small restaurant with a warm, cozy atmosphere and fresh, handmade pasta. My helpful server told me that spaghettoni alla siracusana (10 euros) was “typical Syracuse” — thick spaghetti noodles served with anchovies, garlic, parsley and bread crumbs. It was simple, well-prepared, and very powerful (those anchovies!). An obligatory Aperol spritz cost me an additional 5 euros.

The star of my Syracuse eating tour, though, lay behind an unassuming orange awning in the Ortigia street market on the north end of the island. Several people I’d spoken to, including Gabriella from my hotel, recommended Caseificio Borderi and its huge, generous sandwiches. I walked in and ordered one of their signature submarine-style creations that featured, among other things, thinly sliced beef, fresh mozzarella, peppers, tomatoes, olives, capers and oranges for a bit of acidity and sweetness. It was the size of a small football and cost just 5 euros — and could easily have made for two filling, delicious meals. One of the friendly owners, Nazarena, said I would be welcome to come back and make cheese with her husband.

My adventures didn’t stop in Syracuse. I used the city as a jumping off point to explore other cities in the region, including a day trip to Noto, a small city that was just a 3.80-euro train ride (about 30 minutes) from Syracuse. I’d decided to travel to Noto in part because of its beauty, including its stately cathedral and beautiful Church of San Domenico, both of which I visited. But I was really there because of Corrado Assenza, an acclaimed gelato, cake and pastry magician who was recently profiled on Netflix’s “Chef’s Table: Pastry.

I walked from the train station into the center of town, making a beeline toward the two cafes and gelaterias I’d read about online: Caffè Costanzo and Mr. Assenza’s Caffè Sicilia. They both had, I was lead to believe from my online research, comparably excellent gelato. While Caffè Costanzo was quite respectable (I paid 3.50 for two flavors stuffed into a brioche bun), I found Caffè Sicilia superior.

For my cone (2.50 euros), I had one scoop of chocolate and one of almond with cinnamon — each intensely flavorful and impeccably smooth. I also sampled torrone (nougat) and ricotta, the latter of which perfectly balanced sweetness and tangy sharpness. But the gelato wasn’t the only star at Caffè Sicilia. A cassatina (4 euros), which resembled a small cake, was wrapped in a colorful marzipan casing and about as perfect a version as I could have hoped for. A cannolo (3 euros) stuffed with ethereal sheep’s milk ricotta was wrapped in a light, flaky shell that wasn’t remotely greasy or heavy. I took my treats to go, though plenty of people were eating in the small, quiet dining room.

One of the elements that distinguishes Caffè Sicilia is its use of local produce, an area where Sicily really shines. I went out past the Porta Reale di Noto on the eastern end of the city, a large structure resembling L’Arc de Triomphe, and bought a bag of Sicilian bitter almonds (3.50 euros) and some dried Sicilian tomatoes (2 euros) from some roadside vendors.