A few months ago, I stumbled across an interesting article that was posted on Saveur's website. A Philadelphia-based writer and illustrator named Hawk Krall submitted a feature about something called "scachatta" (at least, that's one of several possible spellings), a tomato bread with Sicilian roots that's not quite exactly pizza, but an egg dough sheet bread topped with a meat-based tomato sauce and occasionally sprinkled with grated cheese. The kicker is that, unbeknownst to me (and not only me - most of the local foodie cognoscenti also pleaded ignorance), Tampa is the home of said specialty; in fact, Mr. Krall visited a number of prominent local bakeries as part of his research. Not wanting to miss out on such a unique item, I decided to retrace his steps and get an idea of what scachatta is all about (as well as experience a sampling of other baked goodies).
My first stop was perhaps Tampa's most well-known bakery, La Segunda Central, maker of fine Cuban bread (you can't make an authentic Cuban sandwich without it) and other delectable treats on the fringes of Ybor City (2512 N. 15th St.) since 1915. You might wonder why one would seek out an Italian dish in a Cuban establishment - one of Tampa's intriguing qualities is the intermingling of the Cuban, Italian, and Spanish communities (all employed by the formerly-massive cigar industry), which includes their respective cuisines.
Despite its age, the retail portion of the bakery is shiny and modern, clearly renovated sometime during the past few years to help serve the large volume of customers passing through its doors.
I was here of course for scachatta, but I had a difficult time controlling myself and had to pick up a few extras, namely a devil crab and a guava turnover, both of which were quite tasty.
La Segunda's was my first-ever scachatta slice and I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was savory and rich, reminding me somewhat of the sheet pizza I'd had a few years ago at Chicago's now-departed Italian Superior Bakery on Western Ave. Still, I found the concept a bit lacking and was curious to see how the versions at other bakeries stacked up.
The next stop (Alessi Bakery and Deli, 2909 W. Cypress St.) matches up head-to-head on the local history front with La Segunda very well - it's been around since 1912 and offers many of the same goods, although with a heavier emphasis on Italian sweets (its founder, Nicolo Alessi, was Italian, not Cuban). As you enter the store, you encounter a large display of boxed scachatta ready for purchase.
The back of the box states that scachatta means "smash the bread" in the Sicilian dialect of Italian and I'm in no position to debate this. What I can say is that I wasn't particularly enamored with this scachatta, either - it had a sweeter, milder profile than La Segunda's, but had more of a mass-production air to it, I suspect since it'd been made not onsite, but in Alessi's 100,000 sq. ft. manufacturing plant in northwest Tampa.
Feeling a bit discouraged, I pressed onward to Housewife Bake Shop, owned and operated by the same Italian family on Armenia Ave. (6821 N. Armenia, to be exact) since 1959 (the bakery's interior appeared to be frozen in time back to the 1960s with faux wood paneling and old drink coolers). Here I again encountered a mix of Italian and Cuban treats, including a sizable guava and cream cheese coffee cake that I had to bring home to the missus and kids.
They spell it "scacciata" at Housewife and turn out a tomato pie that's thinner and more savory than the others. If there was meat in the sauce, it was very subtle.
Last, but not least, came Angelito's La Caridad Bakery (4425 W. Hillsborough Ave.), a place I've written about on this blog before for its decadent Cuban specialties. Spanish is the main language spoken here, and I was able to muddle my way into ordering a devil crab (if you call it a "croqueta de cangrejo", they'll probably figure out what you're asking for) along with a slab of their escachata, which was kept in a refrigerator behind the counter.
The devil crab was terrific; however, the scachatta was even better, by far the best of the bunch that I sampled. The tomato sauce (which was loaded with Cuban spices and sweet caramelized onions) popped with flavor and texture, plus the crust was nicely browned and not overly-doughy. Just like most everything else churned out by La Caridad, they seem to know what they're doing. I'm not sure exactly how much of this tomato bread concoction I'll encounter once we relocate to the Northeast (more on that in an upcoming post - Hawk Krall specifically mentions Utica, NY, Rhode Island, and northeast Pennsylvania to name a few), but if I ever have a hankering for scachatta, I'll be heading to La Caridad....