When I told my seasoned Uncle Mike that I was moving to Williamsburg seven years ago, the first thing he said was, “Holy crap, you’re two blocks from Fortunato!” Though the neighborhood’s Italian population has dwindled some, there is still a strong presence in my neighborhood near Graham Avenue, including Carmine’s Pizzeria, Bamonte’s, and the annual Giglio Feast. This summer will make it 130 years of zeppoles, accordion music, and dancing a giant giglio and boat through the streets.
Fortunato Brothers Cafe & Pasticceria was founded in 1976, far before the hipster influx of the early aughts. Despite its storied history, the bakery is famous for its pastries, cookies, gelato, and coffee, and they reliably decorate the big windows facing the street for every holiday that comes along. Fortunato Brothers occupies one corner at Manhattan Avenue and Devoe Street (“It’s duh-VOO, ok?” – Uncle Mike), and have festive lights in the trees all year round. Those lights, the bright paintings in the windows, and the sweet smell of almond paste and sugar wafting into the air are enough to bring anyone inside.
Once inside, you’ll see the bakery counters with amazing varieties of butter cookies, pastries (large and mini), and marzipan sculpted and painted into fruits, shellfish, pizza, even a hamburger and fries. There are shelves of gift baskets to grab on the way to a gathering, and in the far corner is the coffee bar and gelato. The Italian-issimo flavors of straciatella (vanilla with chocolate shavings) and nocciola (hazelnut) are divine, but the fresh and fruity kiwi and lemon are also delightful: smooth, sweet, and bright.
You’ll find full-size desserts as well, like classic Italian and New York style cheesecakes (they are very different), strawberry shortcake, and tiramisu. C brought me a fabulous, sculptural cake for my birthday, a huge tiramisu lined with cream puffs and piping, then topped with chocolate work, geometrical sugar pieces, and of course, a birthday message scrawled in white icing. I wish I had a picture of it, but it tasted even better than it looked.
I recommend taking a seat (as long as it doesn’t belong to Rocco the cat), where you can get fast and friendly table service. The cappuccino is lovely, but their espresso is my usual. You can enjoy any of their treats or even a Moretti or Peroni beer.
Another tip: Their air-conditioning is top-notch in summertime, so if you need to cool off, some gelato in a cool, sweet-smelling bakery will fix what ails you.
Fortunato Brothers is something of a time capsule; it maintains an old tradition of the neighborhood, and provides the opportunity for a classic pastry and coffee experience. Despite Williamsburg’s trends and changes, high-quality desserts from mom-n-pop bakeries never goes the way of the man-bun.
Images: Tabelog, Fortunato Brothers, I Just Want to Eat, Explore Brooklyn, LIB Magazine, and Me So Hungry