There’s probably a local saying that goes along the lines “when you’re in Sicily, eat like a Sicilian”. And if there’s a place that channels the authentic spirit of Palermitan cuisine in one go, that’s Antica Foccaceria San Francesco in the charming piazza San Francesco.
Since its opening in the 1830s, this always-packed place has been considered a culinary institution amongst locals and tourists alike. According to urban stories, it’s been loved by some of the most famous faces of the Sicilian cultural scene, as well as more controversial figures like mobster Lucky Luciano. But those times are gone, and this establishment has made its “adiopizzo” loud and clear since 2008 by refusing to pay protection money to the local mafia.
What we’re left with is a popular restaurant where Sicilian heritage is celebrated through non-pretentious and comforting dishes. Let’s admit it, Italian cuisine per se has become synonymous with comfort food. And it seems that it’s reaching its pinnacle in the Southern parts, in Palermo.
Their menu encompasses classic Palermitan dishes, as well as street food favourites inspired by the raved Ballarò market (a stone's throw away from the restaurant) like schiticchi (the Sicilian version of tapas), panelle (chickpea fritters), sfincione (rustic Palermitan pizza with fluffier dough and tomato paste), and - for the more adventurous - pane ca’ meusa (a spleen sandwich stripped to basics with caciocavallo cheese and a squeeze of lemon).
Their heartier dishes seem to somehow transcend time and space, living you both curious and overwhelmed by a certain familiarity. As we are avid fish eaters, we particularly liked their polpette di sarde - swordfish meatballs in tomato sauce, involtini di melanzane (aubergine rolls with caciocavallo cheese and pine nuts puree), and sardi a’ beccaficu (sardines roulades that resemble, as the name suggests, small bird tails). The quality of their pasta con le sarde tossed in saffron and fennel is also hard to come by.
A lunch or dinner at this popular restaurant takes you on a journey of Sicilian experienced through the tummy. The challenge is finding the room to sample all of their dishes.