Posted on: October 13 2006 | Posted in: New Orleans

"My dad was a hard working man."

Those words still resonate whenever I think about Angelo Brocato's Ice Cream parlor which has now reopened after being closed because of You Know What. Speaking was Angelo Brocato Jr. who along with his brother, Joseph, ran, at that time, the store that his father founded in 1905. The conversation took place shortly after the ice cream shop moved from its long time French Quarter home in 1979 to the Mid-City location it has occupied since.

Angelo, Jr. was a gaunt man with a slightly gravelly voice that added character to what he said. He recalled to me the early days of the parlor. At that time the Esplanade end of the Vieux Carre was a bustling Sicilian neighborhood. Immigrants had been settling there over the past decade including Angelo Brocato, a native of Cefalu who brought with him the experience he had from working with pastry chefs in Palermo. Brocato Jr. told me about the early days of working at his dad's French Quarter shop. As automobiles became more common, he and his kin would provide curb service.

The main clientele though was the local Italian population. One story that intrigued me was that of Diamond Jim Moran (whose true family name was also Brocato- see the October 2006 edition of New Orleans Magazine.) Diamond Jim was a legendary Italian restaurateur known for his sparkling jewelry. Each morning one of his sons would go to Brocato¹s carrying an empty pitcher. The container would get filled with Brocato's signature lemon ice. Then the son would buy a loaf of Italian bread-- crispy and warm right out of the oven. He scampered home where the Diamond Jim clan would have a breakfast of lemon ice spread on slices of the bread.

May, 2005: My first day ever in Sicily. Guytano, our guide is showing us the sights of a village named Termini Immerse. From an overlook we can see the port which is divided from the highway by a track. The train that rumbles on it connects Palermo to the west with Cefalu to the east. Near where we are is a gelato (ice cream) stand. Guytano explained that Sicilians, who after all live in an island in the Mediterranean Sea, have a fondness for ice cream. A common way of serving it is in a brioche-- with the scoops placed inside the bread. I thought about the Diamond Jim Moran story: Ice cream and bread is a Sicilian way.

We're in downtown Palermo the next day. To one corner of a restaurant is a display counter filled with baked items of many sizes, shapes, fillings and flavors. Sicilians like to bake too and they're pretty clever about it. The train from Cefalu brought young Angelo Brocato to Palermo where he learned to make confections. When hard times hit, the nearby port would be his gateway to New Orleans.

On the next day of our trip we were in Cefalu - a delightful medieval town with narrow passageways made busy with shops. One street leads down to the beach. The day is warm so a popular pastime is to buy a gelato from a nearby truck, sit on a bench and see the sea. Young Angelo Brocato probably did that too and maybe wondered abut the places beyond the Mediterranean.

Last year marked the 100th anniversary since Angelo Brocato opened his store. Shortly after the anniversary celebration, the business took a beating from Katrina. Now it is up and thriving. Through the years Brocato's (now in the hands of the next generation) has redefined some dishes such as the cannoli, which was originally a carnival pastry native of Palermo, and lemon ice. The store's renditions are even better than in the old country. I have been to Brocato's many time but now I see it differently. Where I once saw just an ice cream parlor, now I see the product of the Mediterranean sun and the train rumbling from Cefalu to Palermo. With hard work, and the will to rebound, the journey now extends into its second century.

Reprinted with permission of the author.