Tom Ciccarelli panicked a bit. His daughter’s wedding is in June.
And Ninni’s Italian bakery, an Akron institution for more than 70 years, has closed for good.
Where to get the cannoli?
Retz’s Laconi’s II Restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls to the rescue.
Ciccarelli said as far as he’s concerned, “you always have to have pastries, like cannoli” at a wedding. “They’re sort of a staple,” at an Italian wedding he said. “Just like sausage and pierogis at a Polish wedding.”
The Falls retiree said the 200 cannoli he is ordering from the Retz’s Laconi’s are not just any cannoli, the tube-shaped pastry filled with a sweet filling. “They taste just like them” — the ones at Ninni’s, Ciccarelli said.
There’s good reason for that: Vikki Retzer, one of the owners of the neighborhood Italian eatery, is a Ninni. Her father was Vince Ninni, who with his brother, Frank, ran Ninni’s for years in Akron’s North Hill neighborhood before it moved to East Tallmadge Avenue in 1997. It closed last year.
Vikki Retzer, an Akron Public Schools teacher, worked off and on at Ninni’s.
“My grandfather taught us the recipe and we’re making it right here,” said her son Steve Retzer, 34, manager and part-owner of Retz’s Laconi’s.
Ciccarelli, a longtime customer of Laconi’s, said the cannoli are made the “traditional way.” Cannoli refers to “little tube” in the Sicilian language. Retzer said the family recipe calls for the pastry tubes to be filled with a mixture that includes ricotta, real whipped cream and mini chocolate chips. No custard filling for these cannoli. Retzer dots the open ends with coconut dyed with green food coloring; many recipes call for pistachios.
You won’t find the cannoli in a bakery case at the restaurant. That’s because they are filled to order so the shells stay crisp. The restaurant offers them as a dessert, and they’re available for carryout and even delivery in the restaurant’s delivery area, which includes the Falls. And, as Ciccarelli discovered, they can be ordered for events, such as weddings.
Sam Laconi, whose father started the place, closed it in 1999 after 65 years. Four years later, with Laconi’s blessing, Steve Retzer and his parents Gary and Vikki Retzer reopened it in the same unassuming brick building at 547 Sackett Ave., with the same red vinyl-covered bar stools and booths.
Laconi taught Steve Retzer how he made pizza — using the restaurant’s kitchen as a classroom — and Retzer has added his own flair to the menu: an eclectic mix of family recipes and his own fare, like chicken marsala, fettuccini alfredo, mussels in a white wine basil broth and jumbo Buffalo wings. The fettucini boasts real cream, he notes. The wedding soup — which includes not only mini meatballs but also shredded beef and chicken — is among the often-requested items.
Retzer fondly recalls Laconi in the kitchen at the same time as his grandfather, Vince Ninni. Both men died in 2006. “I said, I respect both of you,” Retzer said, adding that it got hectic at times. Retzer was eager to absorb all he could. “We wheeled [Laconi] in on his wheelchair and I made the recipe and Sam Laconi watched.”
The James Beard Foundation on Monday night named Sokolowski’s University Inn of Cleveland one of America’s Classics in the 2014 James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards. This award, honoring the fixture in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, was previously announced. The restaurant is owned by Bernard Sokolowski, Mary Balbier and Michael Sokolowski.
Jonathon Sawyer, chef and owner of the Greenhouse Tavern and Noodlecat restaurants in Cleveland, was in the running for one of the Beard regional chef awards. He was aced out by Dave Beran of Next in Chicago.
The Beard awards are sometimes called the “Oscars of food.”
Zack’s closing Sunday
Zack’s Fire & Ice, the barbecue and ice cream/frozen yogurt place at 1530 W. Market St. in West Akron, is closing. The last day for frozen treats will be Sunday, Mother’s Day. Tuesday was the last day for barbecue.
Owner Kathy Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and had a double mastectomy in December. She closed Zack’s for a few weeks because of her surgery. Her illness was “financially devastating” to the business, Stewart said, causing her and husband Randy to re-evaluate things.
“A blank canvas kind of came before us,” she said. They have decided to move their family to the Southwest, where Randy Stewart has accepted a job and they will be closer to family members.
The Stewarts bought the longtime neighborhood spot in 2010, transforming it from a simple ice cream/frozen yogurt shop into a barbecue place that also offered frozen treats. “I love the place we’ve held in the community … Mom and pop shops are fewer and farther in between these days.” Kathy wrote in a note about the closing.
Food trucks in Akron
It’ll be a food truck-apalooza on Friday afternoons beginning May 16 outside the new offices of the nonprofit Child Guidance & Family Solutions at 18 N. Forge St. in downtown Akron.
Food trucks will gather from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Friday through Sept. 12 in the agency’s lot facing East Market, at the corner of North Forge.
Check the agency’s Facebook page to see which trucks will roll up each week. Participating trucks are Boca Loca Burrito Factory, Green Machine, Orange Trük, Retro Dog, Stone Pelican and Wholly Frijoles.
A portion of the vendors’ proceeds will go to the agency, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary of providing counseling to children and their families.
Farmers market opens
Opening day for the outdoor Countryside Conservancy farmers market at Howe Meadow is Saturday. The market, featuring a variety of produce, meat and prepared food vendors, will run from 9 a.m. to noon each Saturday through Oct. 25. Howe Meadow is at 4040 Riverview Road, Cuyahoga Falls.
Countryside is a nonprofit that promotes local farms, offers educational programs and manages farmers markets. See www.cvcountry side.org.
Barberton move delayed
Denny Gray, owner of Al’s Quality Market and Al’s Corner Restaurant in Barberton, reports that he now expects to move his businesses by the end of the month. Initially, he had planned the move for May 1, but remodeling is taking longer than expected.
Gray will combine the market and restaurant at 155 Second St. NW in downtown Barberton. They are now in separate locations on Tuscarawas Avenue. Al’s specializes in housemade sausages and Eastern European foods at both the market and the restaurant.
Send local food news to Katie Byard at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.