Our Trip to Southeast Sicily
My family and I took a week's long vacation to Southeastern Sicily, flying into Catania and staying in a hotel outside of Siracusa. I have been to Italy before, and I know that it is generally hard to find a bad meal, but I have to say that we were very pleased this trip. Please note that we traveled with our two teenaged boys, so white tablecloth restaurants were not what we were seeking. Our first day we ate lunch at our hotel, Borgo Pantano. I am not sure if this place is even open to the public, but the food was pretty fantastic. One thing that was a little bit off putting is that generally in Europe they don't use window screens, so there were some insects flying around.The food was so good at this hotel we learned to ignore it. A big deal in this part of the world is sword fish, and we had it on spaghetti, as well as in a more American grilled steak form.
For dinner our first night, we went to a place recommended by Arthur Schwartz, Castello Fiorentino, which is on a hard to find little alley called Via del Crocifisso. This was mainly frequented by locals, and my family all had pizzas, which looked like the thing to get. They had about 40 different kinds of pizzas, all of which were the standard pizza vera size of about 15 inches. They were all fabulous.
The next day we went to a beach in Noto, called Lido Il Solleone, which means the Heat Wave beach. Generally public beaches are pretty sketchy in Italy, so it is wiser to cough up a few Euros to park, rent chaise lounges, and an umbrella. Lido Il Solleone was just a little shack, but they had the best crostini I have ever had. Mine were tuna fish with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. Quite amazing for a beach shack.
We went out to dinner in the city of Noto. We went to a small restaurant called Giufa, which the waiter told me means "buffoon" or "village idiot." The pasta dishes and antipasti were amazing, especially the eggplant in various forms, whether as raviolo alla norma or in a caponata. We also purchased wine from an enoteca in the city of Avola. They sell wine there in plastic two liter jugs for a pittance. I bought three liters of wine for five euros, and it was quite tasty Nero D'Avola for the red and insolia for the white. This helped to make up for the ridiculous cost of air fare and car rental.
We also visited the town of Modica. We loved all the chocolate and pastry shops. I am doing this from memory, but I will post the names of some of the ones we tried later. For dinner we ate at a pizzeria called La Perla, which was very nice. We had artisinal beers which were made local which were very good. Also great arancini mignon (finger sized rice balls) as appetizers. There are lots of places to buy local gourmet items too.
Another place we visited was Ragusa, however, we went on a Sunday night, so we had a hard time finding a place that was open. We were tired after a long day of the beach and a lot of driving, so we walked around almost panicking that we would not find a restaurant open at nine at night. We finally found a very hip pizzeria called City Pizza which played cool jazz, had very modern lighting, and had another unbelievable assortment of appetizers, including a naked pizza that was called faccia. I asked if that was the same as foccaccia, but was told no. It is amazing how good a simple recipe like pizza crust, oil, salt and oregano can be. They also had craft beers from local makers.
Back in Siracusa - Ortigia, we ate dinner at 1921. This had a really nice atmosphere with cool graphics on the wall and a nice wine list, mainly made of Sicilian wines. The entrees were mainly seafood. While walking around Ortigia, which can be a little touristy, we stopped for gelato in two different places. One was right by the Piazza Duomo. The man behind the counter was the most friendly food server I have ever seen. He loved his job. I had pistachio gelato. Sorry, I can't remember the name of the places where we bought gelato, but it was a few steps east of the piazza duomo. I was surprised to see how common horsemeat was--even being sold in paninerie.
We drove up to see Mt. Etna, and I was becoming a little drowsy, so I stopped at a caffe in Bronte. I bought an espresso topped with crema di pistachio, a frothy sweet kind of pesto. it was coffee nirvana!
I'll try to go through my receipts and come up with some more specific names, but at any rate, the entire area is a culinary playground.
re: jen kalb
One foodie place I stopped in was Le Antiche Siracuse, which is located in the heart of Ortigia's shopping district. This was a little pricy, but they had things there I doubt you could find elsewhere easily. For example, I love Planeta wine. I bought a can of Planeta olive oil which I can't wait to try. They also sold pistachio and other nut based pestos.
In Modica, the store where we found some really amazing food items was called Casa Don Puglisi on Corsa So. Umberto I. 262. They had all kinds of artisanal chocolates, pastas, sauces, oils, wines, brandies, etc. Very nice people. Don Puglisi operates several businesses in Modica, including a bar and a trattoria.
In the area around the north side of Etna, just outside the town of Linguaglossa, we stopped at a place called Etna Nocciola, which means hazelnut. They have a website, I was happy to have found out after getting home, because I was sorry I didn't stuff my suitcases with more delicasies, like pistachio cream. etnanocciole.org is their website.
The panini place we stopped in Ortigia, which was really just a little fast food stand, but the owners were very proud of their cooking, was "Il Panino di Archimede" on Via Amalfitania 10.
One regret I had was we didn't go to Ragusa until our last night, and it was very late by the time we got there. I never found the Ragusana cheese, which I understand is quite good. Next journey, I guess.
OK, really sorry to post this so haphazardly, but the place we ate at in Ragusa was City L'Altra Ragusa, located at Parco G. Paolo II, Ragusa. The naked pizza was called facci i veccia. Even with the help of several Italian English dictionaries, I haven't been able to translate that. Veccia means vetch, the plant. Here's their facebook page, but it doesn't say much:
I deliberately avoided Taormina , which we went to about twenty years ago, which was too chic for my tastes. Southeast Sicily had much friendlier people, and lower prices in restaurants. There's so much to see in Sicily. We only covered the tiniest little area in a week. I could go back there dozens of times and not get tired.