Alessandro Buono has always loved the delicate sweets of his native Sicily but was never quite an adept baker. Nevertheless, the now heavily tattooed and pierced 22-year-old and his family late last year opened Sciuri Pasticceria e Rosticceria Siciliana just off South Beach's Fifth Street.
It's a compact stark-white space filled with Italian chitchat, the aroma of espresso, and glass cases jammed with Technicolor sweets. Buono's favorite is the cassata ($6) — a supple, juice-soaked sponge cake layered with ricotta cheese and framed by marzipan.
"This is the classic of what you find in Sicily," Buono says.
He was born in Agrigento, a hilltop town on the island's southwestern shore best known for its ancient ruins. But Buono knew it by taste. He grew up eating the flaky, citrusy ricotta-filled pastries called sfogliatelle, colorful cassata, puffy zeppoles, and bright-green pistachio cake. When he was 9, his family relocated to Milan, but the taste of Sicilian sweets never left him. He found after-school jobs in the city's cafés, where he'd sometimes work for free, hoping one day to open his own. At 19, he left to study at a pastry school in Naples but knew he didn't have a precise enough hand to create the kind of goods he wanted to sell, so he brought in Alessandro Arcoraci, a 32-year-old from Messina.
"We needed a Sicilian to make Sicilian pastries," Buono explains. "It's like driving a car. You know how to drive, but it's hard to explain to someone — you have to feel it."
Now more than a month after opening, Sciuri (which means "flower" in the Sicilian dialect and is the name of a famous song) is filled with a rotating selection of sweets from Sicily and other parts of Italy. There is baba ($2), the rum-soaked bites of cake reminiscent of Buono's time in Naples. There are frangipani ($6) filled with almond cream and topped with chopped almond. There are savory Sicilian-style bites too. Buono offers what he calls Sicilian versions of arancini. The grapefruit-size fried spheres ($4.50) are filled with saffron risotto or spinach and mozzarella.
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Beyond the glass cases, Sciuri is a kind of glimmer of hope for Miami Beach. So much of the culinary attention has been pulled away from the Beach, mostly because of the Beach itself and its never-ending parade of celebrity chefs temporarily installed in overpriced hotel restaurants. The list is almost longer than the regiment of celeb chefs that jets into town each year for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Dale Talde's eponymous restaurant shuttered abruptly this week.
Yet Sciuri is one of a number of places showing that the Beach shouldn't be written off. Just around the corner is the Puglian-styled bakery, Buon Pane Italiano. Farther north is the other Sicilian bakery, Dolci di Sicilia. Michael Pirolo's Macchialina Taverna Rustica continues to excel with its incredible handmade pasta and ever-changing menu. Perhaps there is hope left for Miami Beach, though it's not where you might expect to find it.
Sciuri Pasticceria e Rosticceria Siciliana. 541 Jefferson Ave., Miami Beach; 786-216-7056. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.