Holy Cannoli

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A t 6 a.m. the day before Christmas, a line will form at the door of Lucibello’s Italian Pastry Shop, extending further and further down the block until the doors open at 8:30. By 11, the cannoli will be sold out, and by closing time at 3 p.m., there won’t be anything left.

That’s what owner Peter Faggio expects, anyway, after many years of experience. The week leading up to Christmas is the busiest time of year for his little pasticceria. When I visited on Friday, Faggio was harried, filling orders and preparing as best he could for the coming Christmas surge. No chocolate crema across his shirt, no flour or sugar in his hair—quite remarkable, since most of Lucibello’s non-cookie pastries pass through a blizzard of confection sugar, leaving treat-shaped sugar angels behind when lifted from their trays—he was surprisingly clean. Then again, he’s been doing this for a while.

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Faggio came into the pastry business in the Italian way: la famiglia. When his father, Frank Faggio, passed away 23 years ago, Peter took over, keeping Lucibello’s Italian rum cakes, biscotti and assorted cookies coming. According to the son, not much has changed since the father bought the shop from Frank Lucibello in 1958. The elder Faggio started working for Lucibello when he was 10 years old, learning everything he came to know about pastry-making from the shop’s namesake. Peter, in turn, learned everything he knows from his father. There’ve been “little changes here and there” the younger Faggio says, but it’s plausible that some of the pastries Lucibello’s makes today aren’t all that different from those you’d have found when it was established in 1924.

Of the seventeen or so types of pastries to choose from at Lucibello’s, the Cannolo, plural Cannoli, is the flagship. The shell resists your teeth for a moment, then cracks and crumbles inward, sending a gentle burst of sweet ricotta to the palate. Suspended in the creamy core, fighting for the attention of your taste buds, are chocolate chunks and bits of citron—one of the four “ancestral” citrus fruits, from which all others derive. The chocolate is the stronger flavor of the two, but you can savor the citrus, too, with a little concentration.

Recommended by Mary Jane, a retired employee of 48 years back to help with the holiday rush, is the Almond Tart: a pastry with almonds and apricots punched flat. It’s a bit like hamentashen—Jewish triangle cookies built like small fortresses, with tough dough guarding rich jelly centers—but unlike the usual variants of that single-flavored confection, the Almond Tart accommodates two potent tastes.

Also distinctive is the Sfogliatella, or, as some have nicknamed it, the “lobster tail.” Its layered ridges of dough separate during baking, giving it the look of leaves in a tight stack, or, if you squint, of the curved, plated tail of that familiar red crustacean. As with lobster, eating it takes a bit of work. Unlike the Cannoli or the Almond Tart, whose filling is fairly close to the surface, it takes a few bites to get to the center of Lucibello’s Sfogliatella, where a moist, cheese-based filling not half as sweet as the other two offers a pleasing change of pace.

For the pastry shop, a change of pace is still a couple of days away. After our brief interview ended—he could only spare about six minutes—Faggio zipped back to the kitchen, where chefs squeezed things out of piping bags and loaded them into the shop’s five-shelf, 20-pan-capacity oven, pumping out pastries to satisfy as many comers as possible over the days to come.

As fast as they’ve been working, it likely won’t be fast enough. By the end of today, Faggio estimates, Lucibello’s supply of cookies will have already run out. And by Thursday afternoon, Lucibello’s great Christmas sugar blizzard will have passed—leaving nothing on the trays but crumbs, a gentle powdering of sugar and the spaces where the pastries once lay.

Lucibello’s Italian Pastry Shop
935 Grand Ave, New Haven (map)
Mon, Wed-Sat 8:30am-6pm, Sun 8:30am-2pm
Holiday Hours: Christmas Eve 8:30am-3pm, closed Christmas Day
(203) 562-4083

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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Daniel is an aspiring novelist. He owns a Yale sweater he will never wear and takes his Faulkner with vermouth and his vermouth with an orange wedge. An avid traveler and retired hooligan, he was kicked out of the largest club in Africa for breakdancing, joined an Andalusian metal band and, while in Istanbul, learned to read the future in his coffee grinds. Despite the omens he finds at the bottom of his morning joe, Daniel continues to write.

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