Sep 12, 2009

Cornetto Nights

When asking around for a good "cornetto" place to finish off a night in Rome, it always feels like inquiring about a Masonic lodge. Folks check you out, trying to figure out if it's OK to disclose the secret. Then furtively looking around and whispering so as not to be overheard, miraculously an address slips out of tight lips, but only if you have been deemed worthy.

Everyone has a favorite cornetto dealer, almost always located in remote whereabouts, and typically underground. Directions to these secret society hang-outs usually begin with: "Look, it's a little bit complicated". This produces the stereotype middle-of-the-night knocking on unidentifiable shut gates in seedy industrial areas of the city, climbing in mysterious elevators, challenging three headed dragons and completing wild Hercules-style tasks to be granted the privilege of sinking one's teeth in a warm, fragrant just baked cornetto - a croissant.

It is therefore with the respect of an initiate introduced to a new religion that one must approach the subject. Humbly, head bowed, eyes averted. Listening carefully to the complex directions, treasuring them, keeping them safely in one's custody and dispensing them with extreme caution.

The address to a good cornettaro—Roman slang for the typical night-shift baker that sells croissants (usually an artisanal bakery/patisserie workshop) is worth gold. The perils cornetto seekers are faced with in the wee hours of the night are always lurking. One of them is seeing your favorite cornetto pusher shutting down. Er Montacarichi in via Pietralata 159A for example, a dimly lit warehouse whose service elevator pulls patrons up into the bowels of a steaming furnace where the goods are baked, and whose street level metal shutter has been mysteriously pulled down for years now. It would be trouble if the joint were no longer in business. Throngs of aficionados and cornetto junkies willing to to cross a deserted garage and climb in the musty floor lift would be at a loss without their nightly dose.

Those who believe such things can only happen in the outskirts of town are in for a surprise. Rome is dotted with cornettari. A city ordinance scared millions of nighttime consumers earlier this year when voices started circulating that selling food in bakeries and workshops after hours was illegal.

«Il cornetto è salvo» —the croissant is saved. Rome's mayor Alemanno's thundering sentence ended the controversy lifted by news of a presumed municipal law involving historic Roman cornettari, which prohibited the sale of their tasty goods after 1:00 am. A group gathered 8000 signatures on facebook for a picket line in Campidoglio, Rome's city hall; others feared a curfew blaming Alemanno's right wing affiliations to be returning Rome to its 20-year Fascist epoch, others simply feared the Eternal City would lose its status of cornetto capital that doesn't sleep. Whatever the political agenda, croissant bakers WILL continue to stay open and sell sweetness all night. And that's all that counts.
Image courtesy of 06blog

Last night, as my son snored in dreamy slumber, I payed the nanny's silence extra cash and tiptoed out of the house. I snuck out dressed in black, feverishly anticipating the adventure. Fortunately Laboratorio Lambiase has survived the bad economy and surge in cheap bars that serve stale cornetti made with industrially manufactured frozen dough.

I arrived at 1.15 am and the place was bopping with activity. Bystanders with glazed eyes and chocolate-smeared faces stood loitering the sidewalk, the moans of pleasure grew louder as I neared the small steps of the entrance that lead the believer down to a worldly universe of sweet pleasures. An exclusive circle, open to a selected handful of lucky few. Heroic knights who do not give in to the temptation offered by the luring neon lights of the "regular" cafes along the way, populated by lonely slot machine addicts and the occasional stranded drunk, no. This is a place for lionhearts and seekers of perfection.

The house specialty at Lambiase is a danish roll baked express and served hot. It is then filled with custard, fresh whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. This awesome calorie bomb goes by the ambiguous (and cheeky) name of "Sorchetta Doppio Schizzo," which I cannot translate because I agreed to posting no adult content on this site. Let's just say the analogy is with kittens and female reproductive organs. The expression doppio schizzo is the description of the pastry's topping, and means "double squirt." The long line of triple-parked cars that obstruct Via Cernaia from midnight to dawn is the undeniable sign of Lambiase's (and their divine sorchetta specialty's) ongoing success. I saw people leaving the shop with bagfuls, and surely not for next morning's breakfast. Others were spilling in giggling and high with the perfumy air that escaped the ventilation shafts in the street. I reached the counter, asked for a sorchetta and ended up eating two. Plus took one home for Mr E.

Laboratorio Lambiase also specializes in regular croissants, krapfen (a delicious fried pastry filled with custard), donuts, puff pastry elephant ears locally called ventagli (elephant ears), bite-size spicy pizzas and rustici, which are small, assorted savory canapés.

Pasticceria Laboratorio Lambiase
Via Cernaia 47A Tel. +39 06 4941363
(please don't say I told you)

More worthy cornettari, divided by area:

Trastevere: Unnamed bakery/pastry shop on Vicolo del Cinque
Testaccio: No name pastry workshop on Via Alessandro Volta
Marconi/EUR: Il Cornettone in Via Oderisi da Gubbio; No name bakery workshop in Via Pietro Blaserna, 38
Monteverde: Unnamed pastry/bakery workshop in Via di Monteverde
Prati: Quelli della Notte on Via Leone IV; Dolce Maniera on Via Barletta, 29; Unnamed bakery workshop on Viale Angelico
Trionfale: No name bakery/pastry shop on Via Angelo Emo
Boccea: No name bakery/pastry shop on Via di Forte Bravetta
Centocelle: No name bakery/pastry shop on Via dei Platani
Parioli: Bambu's Bar on Viale Parioli; Marcucci in Piazzale Ponte Milvio
Nomentano: Pasticceria Romoli on Viale Eritrea, 140-142
L'Angolo Russo in Piazza Sempione
San Giovanni: No name bakery/pastry workshop on Via Albalonga, near Piazza Re di Roma
Cinecittà: Pasticceria Tichetti on Via Appio Claudio


  1. It's 3am in the U.S., I cannot sleep and now all I can think about is wanting a croissant.

  2. "Everyone has a favorite cornetto dealer..."

    This is so true! My girlfriend and her friends down here in Naples swear by a couple... and then when groups of friends mix, there is always an argument of where they will go for their midnight (or post-midnight) treat :-P

  3. Hi and Grazie! I popped in from Maggie's blog but didn't realise I would be facing such a variety of food. I'm a fan of Sorrento and adore Italian style cooking. It's morning here so the coissants were really appreciated, thank you. I'll be back for lunch. Oh, I forgot to mention my love of Pino Grigio!

  4. Hi Lola

    Its well worth a midnight stroll...

    Happy days

  5. Love your header!
    Will you bring some unmentionables for me if we ever meet in Positano?

    Ha! Word Verification is
    'Lickit' ...How adapt!

  6. Hi Lola! Just been catching up on all your many posts here.. all delicious, as usual! I would love a cornetto right now, if only one was to be found in this town!

  7. Lola, you have me drooling and wanting to go on a mission under the veil of darkness in search of croissants. I love this post and will closely guard your location. I look forward to eating there one day. Enjoy your weekend!

  8. reminds me of il dolcetto in Molfetta. love it!!!!!!!

  9. Our small baker around the corner has croissants, and I love them. They may not be as fabulous as yours, but as I have never learned to bake them, I am happy I can get them early at seven!

  10. Oh My God! That looks good. It is only breakfast time in L.A. but i so want one of those and an espresso!

  11. This is not fair. I'm nowhere near a croissant baker. Now, I must get myself out and scout for 100 miles or so, hopeful, hungry, lusting for something that only Rome can provide.

    As usual, you make food a fantasy trip.

  12. I absolutely adore croissants!!!!! Could live on them...Who says woman cannot live on bread alone??? If it's a croissant, I CAN!!! Beautiful post...beautiful writing...beautiful photography! Love it! Janine XO

  13. Lola now that looks delicious and I am starving as usual.

    No package from you yet darling, I wonder if the vatican has taken possession of it. What do you think dear friend.


  14. Lola, my mouth is watering - I want a croissant!!!! . . . and you've had 2 and a half - it's not fair!!!! ~ Eddie x

  15. Ialways try and tell myself that I'm not that keen on croissants - I have a weight problem and they are one of the most fattening things you can eat (5WW points each one). I much prefer pain au raisins - which are probably much more.

    Having said that I watch what I eat - I'm not very good at it or else I wouldn't need to lose four stone!


  16. I think I'm gonna love this blog...:)

  17. Lola how is the cookbook coming. Because when that comes out, that is something I am going to treat myself too.

    Love Renee xoxoxo

  18. Wow, making pastries illegal? What a bizarre thing to try and block the sale of!

    Now I'm jonesing for one!

  19. Sounds like an orgy of fantastical edible delights the way you describe it.

    And as to "This is a place for lionhearts and seekers of perfection", well Lola, that is your place here.

    Beautiful new layout and header!

  20. I feel like I just finished reading a thriller novel. You make me smile...I love this blog!

  21. My mouth is watering and I can smell them - aaaaargh it's killing me!!!!!

    yummy yum yum

  22. Wonderful post Lola, you couldn't describe the cornetto madness any better! I haven't had any middle of the night cornetti for soooo looong... I don't even know if Verona has anything remotely similar to Lambiase...I'll have to find out...
    PS the Sorchetta must be a porcata galattica, slurp!!

  23. I've never had a night cornetto. I adore them for breakfast, though!

    The Sorchetta sound to die for.

    Oh, my. I think I'm going to have to find a way to Rome one of these days.

  24. Your blog makes me hungry! I have a 7 year old daughter named Lola :))

  25. You are hilarious...The furtive glances! The moans of pleasure! Life has got to be more fun in your neck of the woods than anywhere on the planet, though I'm pretty sure one would need YOU personally, dear, as tour guide to experience half the wonders. I loved your post. Absolutely.


  26. Lola, you're luring me to Rome!
    I never knew about these café's, but they sound divine.
    What's this about a cookbook?? Please put my name down for it..I love your recipes.

  27. You are a saint to share these treasures!! It is a drive that is within us all!! Yumm......
    Grazie xx :)