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, 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.
Where 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.
Ancient horse ring still on a wall
A 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.
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
Alfio Magnano, restaurant director, is a font of wine wisdom. And, as you know, Sicilian wines are spectacular.
Alfio Magnano knows Sicily’s wines.
Breakfast at I Banchi
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).
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
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. And for dessert nothing could top the cannolo, served here with a dollop of almond granita.
The 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.
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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