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.
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.