By Caroline Benveniste
Faicco’s on Bleecker is definitely worth a visit for, among other things, their divine sopressata which Eater critic Robert Sietsema says is “every bit as good as anything you can get in Italy, perhaps better.” The Faicco story begins in Italy and is a complicated one that goes back 115 years, involves different locations, and has a large cast of characters, most of whom are named Edward or Joseph. Eduardo Faicco grew up in Sorrento in Southern Italy, and like everyone from that area, raised livestock and learned butchering skills. In 1896 he moved to New York, and in 1900 opened the first Faicco’s on Elizabeth Street. Later the store moved to 152 Thompson near Houston. In 1943, Joseph, one of Eduardo’s sons, opened a larger store in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. The Manhattan store moved to its current location in the late 40’s or early 50’s when the family purchased the building. In a New York Times article on Faicco’s by Craig Claiborne from April 1975, the author mentions that he first heard of the store around 1955 from James Beard.
Joseph Faicco, who had opened the Brooklyn store, had two sons who stayed in the business, Joseph and Edward. Joseph took over the Bleecker Street store, and Edward stayed in Brooklyn and later was joined by his children Eddie, Lewis and Matthew. When Joseph retired from the Bleecker Street store in 1996, Eddie, his nephew, took over.
In 1996, the store sold mostly meat and groceries. Today, that is no longer the case. Eddie changed the name of the store from “Faicco’s Pork Store” to “Faicco’s Italian Specialties” in 1999 and later added a selection of prepared foods made in the small kitchen at the back of the store, mostly from family recipes (the same tomato sauce recipe has been used for the last 30 years). These include lasagna, baked ziti, eggplant parmesan, and rice balls. Faicco’s has even gotten into the catering business in the last two years.
During the last 20 years, the number of employees has increased from 6 to 10, and the pace has become more frenetic, particularly during the bustling lunch hour. But the staff is extremely helpful and friendly, with many of them long-time employees. Social media has helped the business because people post pictures of the food and that encourages others to come. The sausage and broccoli rabe sandwich is insanely popular. The chicken parm is delicious and extremely large (three or four chicken cutlets, tomato sauce and homemade mozzarella). Do not attempt to eat it alone! Food bloggers and Yelpers endlessly analyze and praise the Italian hero.
But if you prefer to prepare your own food, there are lots of ingredients available. There is a solid wall of groceries, mostly Italian, breads (some homemade) and cheeses. There is meat, and the sausages, fresh and cured, are a stand-out. They are made at the Brooklyn location where Eddie’s brothers still work, his father having passed away in 2002. But no longer do the salamis hang down over the counter as shown in the old pictures on display – now there is a temperature-controlled curing room on the second floor.
Eddie started working after school in the Brooklyn store when he was 12 or 13, and now has a 14 year old daughter Jillian who comes and helps out on weekends. Hopefully she will be the fifth generation of Faicco’s at the store and will, like her father, nimbly recognize and adapt to food trends while respecting the heart of the business that Eduardo started in 1900.
Minestrone and Sausage
1 ½ cups dried cannellini beans*
2 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 leek, sliced
1 onion, coarsely diced
2 tablespoons olive oil*
7 cups vegetable stock
2 cups chopped or pureed tomatoes*
3 parmesan rinds
Salt, pepper to taste
Sachet d’épices (can contain any combination of fresh thyme, oregano, sage, parsley, basil, rosemary, bay leaf and peppercorns, tied up in a cheesecloth)
5 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ bunch kale, leaves removed from stalk and thinly sliced
1 cup pasta (ditalini or similar)
1 round parsley and cheese sausage*
(*starred items may be found at Faicco’s)
Soak beans overnight. Drain, add water and cook until almost tender, 45 minutes to an hour. In a large pot, sauté carrots, celery, leek and onion in oil until slightly softened. Add stock, tomatoes, parmesan rinds and sachet d’épices. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for ½ hour. Add cooked beans and potatoes, cook for a further ½ hour. Cook pasta separately until it is al dente. Add kale to the soup and cook 5 minutes or until the kale has wilted but is still bright green. Add cooked pasta, heat through. Remove parmesan rinds and sachet d’épices, adjust seasonings, and serve with grated parmesan and grilled or pan fried sausage on the side.