Go there now! Ferdinando’s Focacceria is a Carroll Gardens mainstay

Go there now! Ferdinando’s Focacceria is a Carroll Gardens mainstay
Photo by Stefano Giovanni

The one constant in life is change. This is true everywhere, but the phenomenon of continuous flux is on steroids in Brooklyn, where a beloved Prohibition-era bar can be bulldozed to make way for a massive, Thunderdome-esque sports arena, where a 155-year-old hospital faces destruction, probably to allow luxury condos to rise, and where video rental stores are rapidly going the way of the dodo. Documenting the closures of countless neighborhood institutions during the past 34 years has made us firm believers in the wisdom of legendary truant Ferris Bueller, who famously said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

In that spirit, The Brooklyn Paper is proud to introduce “Go There Now,” a running feature highlighting the borough’s best joints, dives, hidden gems, holes-in-the-wall, and standbys that you should patronize today because they could be gone tomorrow. We do not have a crystal ball, but if a place is so Old Brooklyn that stopping in feels like stepping back in time, odds are that you should go there now, while you still can.

And if your favorite haunt stays open another century? Then give yourself a pat on the back, because you helped make it happen. But do not forget who first reminded you to stop and savor the egg creams.

Ferdinando’s Focacceria in Carroll Gardens is the focus of this week’s “Go There Now.”

Beloved buns: Ferdinando’s owner Frank Buffa and his son show off their famous panelle and vastedda sandwiches.
Photo by Stefano Giovanni

From the food to the decor, this old-fashioned eatery on Union Street is a quintessential slice of Sicily.

Francesco Buffa, chef and owner of Ferdinando’s, took over the classic eatery from his father-in-law more than 40 years ago and family photos spanning a century share wall space with pictures of Italy and statues of the Virgin Mary. Buffa credits the fact that nothing has changed since the restaurant opened in 1904 for its success.

“It’s the same recipes, the same location, and the same type of the food — even the place still looks the same,” said the 64-year-old Palermo native in a thick Italian accent. “If something don’t break, we don’t replace it.”

Ferdinando’s offers time-honored Sicilian favorites like the panelle special ($6), a sandwich of deep-fried chickpea flour fritters topped with a hearty scoop of fresh ricotta and shredded pecorino Romano cheese, all served on a soft, homemade focaccia bun.

Something Special: David Buffa’s cup runneth over with Manhattan Special at Ferdinando’s, the only Brooklyn restaurant with the coffee drink on tap.
Photo by Stefano Giovanni

Other classic dishes include the vastedda ($6), a succulent cow-spleen sandwich with ricotta and grated cheese on Ferdinando’s trademark bun, and the popular pasta con sarde ($18), covered with sardines, wild fennel, pignoli nuts, and raisins.

Both sandwiches date back to the original menu, though Buffa admits he tweaked it a little, adding dishes he learned from his chef father like the pasta con sarde. The result of generations of stewardship is, Buffa says, an establishment unlike any in this country.

“This is the only place in the United States — not even New York — that has this type of food,” said Buffa. “It’s old school; it’s traditional; it’s a landmark.”

Ferdinando’s also boasts the distinction of being the only Brooklyn restaurant with Manhattan Special on tap.

Between bread: Ferdinando’s classic panelle sandwiches, left, made with chickpea fritters, and the vastedda, with cow spleen, both topped by generous helpings of shredded cheese.
Photo by Stefano Giovanni

“Nobody does this,” said Buffa, who started offering fresh cups of the classic espresso coffee soda about 25 years ago.

And we may be telling you to go there now, but Buffa says that he has no intention of closing any time soon. In fact, his 25-year-old son David has been working at the restaurant for the past two years and has plans to take it over one day, Buffa says.

Ferndinando’s Focacceria [151 Union St. between Columbia and Hicks streets in Carroll Gardens, (718) 855–1545, www.ferdinandosfocacceria.com]. Mon–Thurs 11 am–8pm, Fri–Sat, 11 am–10 pm.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.
Like sardines in a bowl: Ferdinando’s Focacceria’s pasta con sarde is a staple.
Photo by Stefano Giovanni