They say that “stressed” is “desserts” spelled backwards. This familiar quote can be spotted in gift shops across America.
I take the phrase to mean that a good way to practice self-care is to consume plenty of desserts. At least, that’s my interpretation, and I’m sticking to it.
Indeed, I find that a dose of sugarcoated sunshine sometimes can be good for what ails us. Giampiero Faraone concurs. For months, he studied our region and came to the conclusion that the area was lacking an authentic Italian bakery.
Faraone is no stranger to the food business, having operated pizza shops for 30 years. The Sicilian-born businessman speaks with an air of authority, sometimes shouting when he’s trying to make a point. He explains later that it’s just enthusiasm and passion bubbling to the surface.
Faraone chose to open his bakery in a newly erected small strip mall in Hampden Township.
“I wanted to find just the right spot to open,” said Faraone, adding that the heavy traffic on the Carlisle Pike helped seal the deal.
His partner, Sheri Tolomeo, explained that the new business has been a year and a half in the making.
“Everything has been implemented to resemble a café in Sicily,” she said.
Faraone’s mother and sister live in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, and everything is imported from Italy—the ovens, the display cases, the lava tables and the coffee machine.
“All our ingredients come from Italy, too—from the coffee and our extracts to the imported, organic ricotta cheese that comes from grass-fed sheep,” Tolomeo. “It’s more natural and creamier.”
Faraone said that everything is made in-house daily. About 200 rotating sweets include items like sponge cakes soaked in rum called babas, cannelloni, fruit and cheese-filled pastries, seven-layer mousse cakes and the impressive-looking sfogliatella, often referred to in English as “lobster tail.” The shell-shaped, filled Italian pastry has been a hit with the customers, according to Tolomeo.
Imported gelato is another sweet item that is attracting customers now that the weather is warming.
“The gelato from Italy is way better,” said Faraone, recommending the pistachio.
Customers who expect a cloyingly sweet, green-colored product like ice cream sold in the supermarket are pleasantly surprised when presented instead with a creamy frozen dessert tasting like a concentrated flavor of the pistachio nut.
In addition to sweet treats, La Bella Sicilia offers savory items like Sicilian-style pizza known as sfincione, arancini stuffed with ingredients like ricotta and spinach, and focaccia with items like prosciutto and mozzarella.
Those who want to skip the hassle of making dinner can choose from dishes made fresh daily, like lasagna with meat sauce, Parmesan and bechamel, pasta with garlic and Parmesan, and agnolotti with bread crumbs, mozzarella and meat sauce.
May Rodriquez said that she could tell right away that La Bella Sicilia was special.
“It’s a little different than regular bakeries around here,” said the Mechanicsburg resident. “Everything looked so good, and the staff explained everything so well. I ended up with about 15 different things and ate it all in two days.”
Lemoyne resident Susan Gluck said that everything was fresh and authentically Italian.
“They use the best ingredients,” said Gluck, who ended up with a pistachio cake with a chocolate dome. “There was custard on the inside, and on the bottom was pistachio cream and a pistachio crust. Everything was so delicate.”
To ensure that his chefs hew to authenticity, Faraone is planning to arrange for them to return to Italy about every six months.
“That’s what we are going to do to make sure everything is up to date with the standards in Italy,” he said.
To not mention COVID-19 would be to ignore the elephant in the room. Tolomeo said that the timing couldn’t have been worse for rolling out a business.
“Four days after we opened, they started shutting people down,” she said.
The silver lining was that their bakery was deemed essential since they serve food to the public.
Customers have been wearing masks and observing distancing rules. The bigger challenge for Faraone and Tolomeo is the long, 12-to-14-hour days due to a lack of help.
“Few people want to work at the moment,” she said.
So, the two continue to soldier on, knowing that, one day, life will return to normal. Suffice it to say, “normal” can’t come soon enough.
La Bella Sicilia Bakery & Gelateria is located at 5510 Carlisle Pike, Mechanicsburg (Hampden Township). For more information, visit their Facebook page.