A few blocks from Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, on the fashionable Via Barletta, there’s a small, 24-hour pastry shop, with a name I’ve long-since forgotten. Walking fast and looking ahead, you’ll certainly miss it. (Come to think of it, it’s very similar in appearance to the original Jitterz in Wauwatosa, you know, the one that was downstairs. Yes, I am going back some years on that one.) Descending the stairs into this small bakery was to walk right into the frenetic charm/madness of Rome.
This place is small and, at peak hours, packed to the point of overflowing. Looking down from the top of the stairs, less seasoned tourists would no doubt pass it up for a more serene eating experience. The “wait your turn” M.O. of a courteous American will get you nowhere. You simply have to channel your inner, brazen Italian, and shoulder your way to the front to place your order. There were no numbers, no lines, just a mob scene. The counters themselves, which also served as display cases for their tantalizing treats, were very tall, so you’d have to shout your order over the top to the workers on the other side. Better have your cash ready, ’cause they don’t like to wait for you. It’s rapid fire: order, hand the money over the counter, grab your things and go. There’s no way I would have attempted this in my first few weeks in Rome. It probably would have taken me thirty minutes to get in and out. But by my second year in the Eternal City, I was a regular. With little shame, I would out-Roman the Romans, force my way to the front, and be in and out of there in no time with a bag full of exceptional pastries. When in Rome, you’ve gotta play the game. Beyond the food, going there was just a great experience of the culture of Rome. I loved it. Since leaving, I miss it a lot.
It wasn’t until I came upon Canfora Bakery, on East Oklahoma Avenue, that I felt transported back to that tiny Roman treasure. The upside: while it can still be a bit packed and frenetic during peak hours, it is far more orderly than my Roman hideout. You actually take a number here and wait your turn, unthinkable in Rome. That said, Canfora Bakery still has that quaint, distinctive, fun Italian feel to it. You can tell it’s a family-run place. You’ll probably hear some colorful Italian being spoken between some of the older workers behind the counter. The intense aroma of the little shop’s delicacies hits you when you enter. Canfora offers an impressive array of homemade pastries, breads, cakes, and salads, and that’s just to give you an introduction. On Sunday mornings, their delicious ham and rolls are among of the top choices of the regulars who swing by. They offer the standard American pastries, as well as the more traditional, homemade Italian staples. I’m having one of their honey and chocolate Florentine Laces with my coffee right now. It’s perfect. Try their lemon and strawberry tiramisu.
So, we cannot hold it against Canfora Bakery that there’s not a baroque masterpiece designed by the trio of Bramante, Michelangelo and Bernini just a few blocks away. (How nice would that be!) But we can at least savor the same old world flavors of the Eternal City in the exceptional food that this great bakery prepares every day.