I Banchi di Ciccio, Ragusa Ibla, Sicily

October 24, 2015

There’s a new treasure in the ‘hood: I Banchi.

Its magnetic force pulls me in every single day, either for a frothy cappuccino, pasta lunch, hunk of parmigiana or half loaf of bread, take-out dinner pizza or scaccia (available by the slice), or for an evening glass of the local peppery black Nero d’Avola at a table outside. The genius behind this casual-affordable-lovable place is none other than 2-star Michelin chef Ciccio Sultano.

Ciccio Sultano of I BANCHI, copyright Jann Huizenga

Ciccio Sultano, the beating heart behind I Banchi

It’s open all day long–8:30 am-11:30 pm–shockingly long hours for Sicily! (closed Tuesday). Mornings are my favorite time to sally forth, when the duomo is the color of fresh brioche, doves flutter about, and the only thing shattering the silence are my boots on cobbles. Although I Banchi’s official opening hour is  8:30 am, their door is ajar by about 7:30 or so for coffee. Monica’s smile will brighten your day.

Monica at I BANCHI, copyright Jann HuizengaWhere else can you go in the village on an October morning with rain bursting overhead? And linger for an hour over a warm whole-wheat croissant (un cornetto integrale, per favore) while scanning the news on a no-hassle wifi connection? You’ll stumble in half asleep and wake up to the smells of baking breads, chocolate, cream, and espresso.  You’ll marvel at the stone walls honeyed with age and at the fact that these rooms were the once-upon-a-time stables of the adjacent baronial palazzo. Such a high life the cows must have lived here! Feeding from troughs hand-carved from the local black pece stone under spacious vaulted ceilings.

I BANCHI wall, copyright Jann Huizenga

Ancient horse ring still on a wall

I Banchi Ragusa, copyright Jann HuizengaA destination for regular folk and gastronomes with shallow pockets, I Banchi (the name refers to the old wooden school benches still found in some Sicilian schools) is many things at once: a cafe/wine bar/bistro/trattoria/pizzeria/bakery/salumeria/bookstore/wifi zone/hang-out place par excellence. Down to earth, welcoming, and warm.

Breakfast outside at I BANCHI, copyright Jann Huizenga

Londoners in Sicily

In nice weather sitting on the cobbled sidewalk under oleander trees is pleasant.

In charge of day-to-day operations is Chef Peppe Cannistrà, a local Ragusan. Yay, Chef! Keep up the good work.

Chef Peppe Cannistrà, copyright Jann Huizenga

Chef Peppe Cannistrà

Alfio Magnano, restaurant director, is a font of wine wisdom. And, as you know, Sicilian wines are spectacular.

Alfio, Director, I Banchi

Alfio Magnano knows Sicily’s wines.

Breakfast at I BANCHI, copyright Jann Huizenga

Breakfast at I Banchi

Breakfast at I BANCHI, copyright Jann Huizenga

Breakfast at I Banchi

When you step inside, you’re in the bakery, face-to face with mini cassata cakes, chocolate truffles, fruit-topped puff pastries, and other gems. But with my doctor’s voice in my ears, I often go for the stone-ground brown breads–breads almost impossible to find in Sicily because locals, after millenia of poverty, seem to be under the impression that soft white refined foods represent the apex of well-being. But I Banchi is nudging Sicilians back to their their healthier past, to fiber-rich ancient grains.

The breads are made from Castelvetrano flour, a stone-ground flour from Western Sicily that uses an ancient grain called tumminìa (supported by the Slow Food Presidium as it was becoming extinct).

Wheat Bread at I BANCHI, copyright Jann Huizenga

Bread from I BANCHI, copyright Jann Huizenga


This ancient Sicilian flour, once in danger of extinction, is stone-ground and protected by the Slow Food Foundation.

Giovanni, Bread Baker at I BANCHI, copyright Jann Huizenga

Giovanni, bread baker at I Banchi

Pasta Made from Ancient Sicilian Grains, Copyright Jann Huizenga

A selection of foods are available for purchase at I Banchi, including busiate produced from antique organic stone-ground grain in western Sicily by Filippo Drago. I love that Ciccio is supporting ancient grains and other old-time Sicilian products.

For more information on Filippo Drago’s work, see Elizabeth Minchelli’s blog.

For lunch I can recommend the unusual fish lasagna with broccoli puree. Fish Lasagna at I BANCHI, copyright Jann HuizengaAnd for dessert nothing could top the cannolo, served here with a dollop of almond granita.

Cannolo at I BANCHI, copyright Jann HuizengaThe approach at I Banchi is in keeping with the spirit of this ancient little village founded by the Greeks and rebuilt by exuberant Sicilians in the 1700s. No flashy Milan-style decor, no garish signage (instead it uses small stencils on its traditional shutters), unlike some other establishments that have popped up here recently. Sometimes I moan that World Heritage designation leads to ruination and nothing but magnet shops, but having I Banchi in the neighborhood gives me hope.

Buon appetito!


PS: When you go, have a peek into the adjacent courtyard where a scene from Divorce Italian Style was filmed. The wine cellar’s amazing too.




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41 comments to I Banchi di Ciccio, Ragusa Ibla, Sicily

  • Jann, it’s official–I Banchi now has a spot on my bucket list! Oh my goodness, to sit in a space that smells like chocolate cream, espresso, and bread! It’s like dying and going to heaven. I loved everything about this post–all the way from the photos to the description of the grains used in the bread!

  • John V

    Am I reading the price sign correctly on that loaf of bread? Point four five Euros? So, like sixty cents American? Can’t be! Maybe 45 euros?

    I’m paying $4-5 for an excellent loaf from a local bakery, or maybe $6-7 for a Zingerman’s sourdough. Obviously I am on the wrong continent!

    • Jann

      John, bread is inexpensive in Sicily. The price you’re seeing is per etto (100 grams). You can buy half a loaf, a whole loaf or even ask for a specific number of slices and they weigh everything. I looked at my receipts for the breads I’ve bought and it looks like PER LOAF, the dark breads average 1.5 euros. Seems unbelievable, especially since they’re so dense and one loaf can last me 1 week!!

  • Stunning photos.
    Fabulous place.
    Gorgeous people.
    I dig the whole grains and the history here!
    & I adore “You,” Jann! xxx

  • Anitre

    Oooh! Ho fame! I can’t wait to check this place out. You can also find paneficios in Zaferana that bake with Tuminnio. Thank you for the history of the grain. Brava, Jann!

  • Jann, that sounds just wonderful. The ‘prodotti integrali’ are most unusual for Italy- looks like Ragusa is leading the way. I want to be there right now.

  • Don Modaro

    Great post Jann, (tutto posta), but where is the link to “Have a peek into the adjacent courtyard where a scene from Divorce Italian Style was filmed”

    • Jann

      Hi Don–sorry I didn’t make that very clear, but I meant when you get to I Banchi you should have a peek in person. (They’d be hard for me to photograph properly.)

  • My kind of place. The fish lasagna is intriguing and the cannolo is making my mouth water. Enjoy your day, Jann.

  • Stephen

    Thank you for your post, Jann. It was so evocative, I could almost taste the food. I will definitely make at least one visit on my next trip. I Banchi looks like the most wonderful place

  • John Crimi

    Absolutely beautiful work! The cannoli with almond granita looks wonderful. As lovely as the photos are, your commentary gives
    the real flavor of Sicly. Can’t wait to venture there again.

  • Melanie

    Hi Jann, having just come back from too short a stay in Ragusa and coming across I Banchi by chance when I took a wrong turn, I loved this post! I felt quite emotional reading it as there were so many things I loved about Sicily that I Banchi represents – its café life, the welcoming people, their pride in the culinary traditions – which I could not articulate fully to others yet you capture it so well in this post! I also found the food in I Banchi delicious (especially the scaccia!) and the staff really welcoming and friendly. I need to go back now to try all their other food!

    • Jann

      Melanie, thank you for your charming comments. So glad you made it to Ibla and found I Banchi–by chance, no less! Fantastico!!

  • John Schinina

    Ciao Jann, This place is as good as your photos, thanks for sharing it with us,

  • Chloe

    How lucky to be close to such good food. Believe me, it is becoming more and more difficult to find good food in France and I suggest to our friends that they look for restaurants that specialize in regional cooking. They are also hard to find. I guess that we will just have to come to Sicily for a wonderful meal. We do like Nero d’Avola and it is almost always on our table. At least when we are in California.

    • Jann

      Chloe say it isn’t true about the difficulty of finding good food in France! France holds a special place in my heart… Thanks for stopping by.

  • Robert

    So nice to see the reclamation of food heritage. I belong to Arba Sicula, an organization dedicated to the preservation of the Sicilian dialect, poetry, prose, and culture. Thanks for your great service and for sharing with us, Jann!

  • Larry May

    I can hardly wait until 2016 and my next visit. 🙂

  • What a great post. I wish I could run right over and order a cornetto and a cappuccino!

  • Dennis Young

    Can’t wait to try it next time I’m in Ragusa. Bravo to Chef Sultano for his Slow Food awareness.

  • What a delightful spot to satisfy cravings throughout the day. Not always easy to find a place that’s so approachable and yet of the highest quality. At least not in Rome. I was in the Aeolian Islands last week, and sadly had only one truly memorable meal. And it was an arancino. 🙂

    • Jann

      Wow, Rick, you just made me feel very lucky! That a place like this would be hard to find even in Rome!! I think you’re right, from what I know of Rome. Did you go to Salina in the Aeolian Islands? In the village of Lingua near Santa Marina, there’s a sweet informal place called Da Alfredo with amazing granite & pane cunzato. Thanks so much for your comment. You really got me to thinking…

  • I love that Slow Foods rescued the grain. It is an amazing movement. Your pictures always make me want to pack up and move to this place immediately.

    • Jann

      Hi Nan–thanks for stopping by virtually (sorry you’re not here in person)! Slow Foods Presidium seems like the culinary equivalent of WWF. Such a cool organization.

  • jan walcott

    Oh if only this had been in your lovely town when we were there last year!!! Definitely have to come back!!!

  • Sam

    Wow! This place makes Starbucks seem pretty shabby. It sounds like the ultimate destination for cafe fans. There should be a rating system that only applies to European cafes.

    • Jann

      It’s a delightful coffee bar in the morning and then as the day goes on, it becomes many other things! Good to hear from you, Sam.

  • Nancy Hersch

    This place looks wonderful. And the food looks delicious. Happy to hear that they’re doing things like in the good old days.

    • Jann

      Yes, Nancy, it seems that islanders have rejected many parts of their heritage since WWII, so to see them embrace their culinary roots is great.

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