Photo: Grub Street
As you may have noticed, it is nearing the end of the year, which means we are nearing the end of The Year I Ate New York. In 2023, my colleague E. Alex Jung will helm this newsletter and I will get to continue my streak of dream jobs as I stay on to become the Underground Gourmet columnist for Grub Street and New York.
That means we have arrived at something like a final tally on the number of restaurants, bars, ice-cream parlors, pop-up markets, slice joints, food trucks, and yogurt shops I visited: 457. Does it bother me that I didn’t quiteget to 500? Maybe a little, but it didn’t feel right to force it.
Instead, I wanted to spend that time thinking about a place that could serve as a fitting send-off for this completely wild project. I thought maybe ritzy continental luxury would work, so I made a reservation at Verōnika on a Friday night, where I had premium veal schnitzel and rushed service, which is not the final taste I want to leave in anyone’s inbox.
The next day, when I walked into Settepani Bakery in Williamsburg, it felt like a good place to end things. The family-run business specializes in panettone — a bread that I associate more closely with Christmas than I do any roast or nog. The lofty loaves scented with citrus and butter typically arrive in decorative boxes that make these a natural choice for gifting while protecting the pastry from damage in transit, since most panettone in the U.S. comes from Italy. I was excited to try it fresh for the very first time.
Photo: Tammie Teclemariam
Based on the stacks of cardboard boxes prepared for Goldbelly shipments being assembled in the bakery’s entrance, I’m a little late to the Settepani game. “We make at least 60 a day,” said an employee who was in the process of wrapping a tray of six chocolate-iced panettoni that had just appeared from the back looking like an order of gargantuan cupcakes. Making panettone, for the uninitiated, is hard work. After baking, the panettone is cooled upside down to retain its muffinlike form and wispy structure. This is done by skewering the bottom of the bread and hanging it on a rack, which takes up a lot of space since each panettone is about eight inches in diameter. After all that, the yeasted bread should stay fresh for about a month, according to the woman who assisted me.
It was very clear that this person was the daughter of the baker and owner, Nino Settepani (the big giveaway: She kept calling him “dad”), as they both hurried to manage the crowd of people that appeared suddenly — including a group of four Italians, whom Nino greeted and offered a round of espressos.
I’d originally thought I would get a classic panettone but knew I had to get one of the chocolate offerings the moment I saw them. They also make Nutella and pistachio panettoni, both of which were sold out at the moment I arrived, though I was assured they would return soon — unlike a chocolate-pomegranate one that had just finished its run for the season. I got a stollen, unable to resist after I saw the sugarcoated logs displayed next to the bakery’s Christmas tree. Nino noticed. “Stollen is my favorite,” he said from behind the counter. I told him I was surprised to find the German bread among the struffoli platters and rainbow cookies. “It’s ironic that you have to come to an Italian bakery to find it,” he replied, “but I just love it.”
The chocolate, in cross-section.
Photo: Tammie Teclemariam
The family also has an Italian restaurant in Harlem, which I visited with some friends the next day for brunch. According to its website, it’s run by Nino’s wife, Leah Abraham, an Ethiopian Eritrean immigrant who is no doubt responsible for the teff gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce that’s listed on the dinner menu. I didn’t see her when I was there, though it appeared that her son, whose college-football jersey and portrait were framed and displayed on the wall next to our table, was in charge that day. The restaurant serves a selection of pastries from the bakery as well as panettone, which can be ordered in the form of French toast, though we decided to split the cannoli pancakes … plus carbonara, arancini, meatballs, and a pizza.
I’m still working on the remains of the panettone after sharing as much as possible over the weekend, but the briochelike texture and sweet aroma made fans out of skeptics who only thought they knew panettone. Even I was surprised by how much I liked the chocolate version and was thankful that I wouldn’t have to rush back to get another before the season is over. Settepani sells them all year long.