At Paolo’s Gourmet in Westwood, a Uniquely Italian Experience

This Sicilian-leaning marketplace sells traditional packaged goods, but it also offers tasty bites as a café, gelateria and pasticceria.

The Cheese & Meat Board for two at Paolo's. Photo by Emily Bell

Paolo’s Gourmet on Westwood Avenue floods with sunshine in the afternoon. Sun rays glint off the pastry case and retail bottles of oil and vinegar like you’re in the middle of an Italian gourmet kaleidoscope. And that’s not actually far off. The Sicilian-leaning restaurant/gelateria/market is the brick-and-mortar compliment to Conca D’Oro, a long-running retail business from Paolo Salvia. Paola’s, which opened in November, is like a miniaturized suburban Eataly in the heart of downtown Westwood.

Of course, Paolo’s isn’t as massive as Eataly, but it felt big and bustling when a friend and I visited last Saturday. The interior is white and modern, but still homey. There’s a small café area in front by the big sun-drenched, street-facing windows, with Paolo products on the wall doing double duty as décor and active retail. Which reminds me—since this is a café and gourmet market and gelateria and pasticceria and who knows, maybe they notarize, there’s a lot going on. So if you’re there for one thing (e.g. espresso and Cannoli), use the separate café line. Everything else, go to the front counter, where a couple massive menus hover above an equally massive range (part of the semi-open kitchen), with cold/savory and gelato cases to your left. (If you’re lucky, someone very kind will offer you samples of gelato while you mull lunch options. We tried a deep mahogany chocolate and a pale pistachio, both rich and cool and chewy-thick. Note to self, return in summer.)

You can sit or browse while you wait; We chose the latter, shamelessly ogling the savory and pastry cases, making mental notes of what to try next time. There were big hulking slices of beautifully layered eggplant parm, rows of fat golden arancini, piles of cannoli, sugar-dusted cartocci (like cannoli in doughnut form), chocolate-dipped lobster tails, and adorable mini sfogliatelle.

Paolo’s Classic Piadina. Photo by Emily Bell

Thankfully, lunch came fast. Neither of us had tried piadina (a thin, soft Italian flatbread), so we tried the Paolo’s Classic, which at $9 was layered with prosciutto, creamy Stracchino cheese, ribbons of prosciutto, fresh and sharp arugula and a drizzle of aged balsamic. Our waitress Maryanne (from what I could tell was Paolo’s head honcho at that particular hour) suggested we try the pizza next time (she said so while delivering a gorgeous-looking specimen to the table beside us). “It’s made with a special Sicilian flour, so it’s lighter.”

We rounded out our piadina with the cheese and meat board for two ($16), a beautiful refinished slab of wood that groaned under the bounty of asiago, aged provolone, cheddar, Swiss, and primo sale (a kind of young, milder pecorino), more prosciutto, tingly hot capicola, sweet country ham, and juicy porchetta laced with fresh pesto. A delicate fig jam and a few briny green and beet-brined olives rounded things out, as would a nice bottle of Nero D’Avola (they’re BYO). We also ordered truffle fries, which were extremely well fried, with little flecks of cheese and mushroom (though next time, I’ll go for arancini since they’re actually Sicilian and looked rapturously cheesy when folks at a nearby table tore into them).

There’s more to try on the savory side: pizzas with that light Sicilian flour, pastas, porchetta and steak sandwiches, even “Breakfast Piadina” with things like eggs and pancetta. Next time I go I’m definitely trying their version of panelle, or Sicilian chickpea fritters, from the “Sicilian Specialies” section.

Apricot cornetto. Photo by Emily Bell

Dessert, however, was a must—the pastry case screeches with Soprano-pitch temptation, and you don’t mind it. We got a cornetto (sort of like an Italian croissant), which light and tender-crisp and sweetened a hit of apricot jam inside. We also split that aforementioned cartocci, which was as soft as its filling of chocolate-studded cannoli cream, and a mini sfogliatelle, because “mini” calories don’t count and the lemony ricotta filling was enough rationalization anyway. My friend’s coffee was fine, but my espresso was surprisingly good—rich, deep with a cocoa savor and not too acidic.

The pastries, I was told, are flown in twice a month from Sicily (not a hard feat for an importing company), presumably flash frozen and baked fresh daily. Washing down another bite of sfogliatelle with the rich brown dregs of my espresso, I didn’t taste a hint of air travel.

For a meal that included piadina, one massive carnivore-cheese plate, molto fries, two coffees, and two (and a half) perfect pastries, we paid $44 before tip.

Paolo’s Gourmet is located at 48 Westwood Avenue in Westwood. They’re open every day of the week except for Monday. When I called recently they said weeknight walk-ins should be fine, but for a weekend dinner, call in advance and if they can, they’ll put a table aside. They do catering as well as in-store and takeout dining. 201-497-6688

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