One of my favorite cookbooks is “Sicilian Home Cooking: Family Recipes from Gangivecchio” by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene, a mother and daughter team who run their restaurant in a former priory built in 1366 in Sicily.

From time to time, I notice a Sicilian dish on a menu in an Italian restaurant, such as meatballs made with raisins or arancini, the tasty little rice balls which are often among the antipasti. Finally, I found an authentic Sicilian right in the Italian Market.

Monsu is the brainchild of Peter McAndrews who owns Modo Mio and Paesano’s sandwich shops. I love to go out for Saturday or Sunday brunch. Well, dear, readers, I now add Monsu to my list of best places to brunch.

The cash-only BYOB is housed in the former Butcher’s Café. I entered the cool room and a charming man seated me and offered me a glass mug of strong coffee. The restaurant opens at 11 a.m. and I was a tad early.

Monsu is Sicilian dialect for monsieur. According to our waiter, Sicilian chefs would go to France, learn and work, and return to their native land. Edward and I glanced over the menu and immediately discovered our brunch could have been served anywhere in Sicily.

A server brought us hot-from-the-oven focaccia along with a small dish of extra-virgin olive oil with discs of creamy ricotta. I loved the slightly salty crust on top of the bread and spread the cheese on top.

We decided to share the Italian breakfast ($13) as a starter. Our eye-appealing large white plates contained tuma persa, pecorino pepatto, a slightly salty Sicilian cheese studded with black peppercorns, mozzarella di bufalla, mild coppa, Pepperoni Siciliana and mortedella neopoutana. Sweet strawberry slices and thinly-sliced Granny Smith apples also were on the plate. A bit of honey was placed near the tuma persa. Honey is a top ingredient in Sicilian cuisine.

The chef came over to us to explain the order in which to enjoy the meats and cheeses. I thought it much like a wine tasting. Go from light to rich. Each ingredient wowed me. I loved the honey with the hard tuma persa. We scraped our plates clean and I asked our server if the chef would kindly write down the names of each meat and cheese so I could buy some to take home. He kindly did so. A croissant came with the charcuterie but I preferred the homemade focaccia.

As soon as I saw the description of the pancakes ($11) I knew I would be transported into a Sicilian nona’s kitchen. Three of thee tasty treats were lovingly prepared with semolina flour and ricotta cheeses. I’ve made cottage cheese latkes, but never thought to use the far better and tastier creamier ricotta. I had a taste sensation as soon as I poured some pure maple syrup on top of the cakes and popped a morsel in my mouth. A perfectly grilled sweet Italian sausage came with my brunch. It was crisp and totally free of grease.

Edward’s omelet of the day ($11) was filled with mushrooms, provolone cheese and roasted peppers. Bingo! We hit the jackpot. Chef Nihad Hajdarhodzic is an expert in preparing the perfect omelet. It was pure deep yellow on the outside and creamy inside. There was not one speck of brown or overcooked spot on this masterpiece. Oven-roasted potatoes came with the dish.

I called Hajdarhodzic to thank him for taking the time to write down the charcuterie for me. I discovered he is 26 years old, from Bosnia and arrived in Philadelphia six years ago to study culinary arts at Drexel University.

We chatted about his knowledge of Sicilian cuisine and some of the dishes he is placing on the menu. He arrived at Monsu two-and-a-half months ago.

“I bake lasagna with cinnamon and cocoa,” he said. “Sicilian dishes are often sweet and sour. I use raisins, almonds, pistachio nuts and hazelnuts in some of my dishes. I make a swordfish dish with raisins and Marsala.”

Sicilian food reflects Arabic, Jewish and French influences. Now this talented young man is placing his influence on each tasty dish.

Three tips of the toque to Monsu. SPR



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