5329 Main St., Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: Di Camillo Bakery
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Bakeries Desserts Ice Cream Niagara Falls Williamsville
"Di Camillo may look like a corporate bakery, but its obviously professional attention to detail goes part of the way towards explaining its appeal across state lines."
When friends from outside Western New York mention places here that they know by name, we pay attention: which local companies are capable of making such an impression? Add Niagara Falls' and Williamsville's Di Camillo Bakery locations to that list: a friend from Illinois told us he had to see whether the breads were as good as one of his co-workers claimed - worth bringing home from out of state. We visited twice while he was in town, focusing on the numerous confections but also sampling the bread.
Since we'd already eaten before our first visit, our sampling was way too abbreviated. Walking through the small but clean, modern-looking Williamsville store, we passed by the open on-site bakery, refrigerators and freezers with milk, cheese, pasta, and oversized ice cream sandwiches, and metal display racks filled with almost anything Italian that could be bagged: breads, dried pastas, cookies, and more. This wasn't Guercio's - Di Camillo's is a lot smaller, with no produce and very little to sell that isn't homemade - but by the standards of dedicated Italian shops in the suburbs, there's a lot to keep people interested. Especially the desserts.
We were immediately sucked in by the Chocolate Cannolis ($2.95 each), cookie-like tubes typically filled with sweet Ricotta cheese and atypically capped with fast-drying chocolate at each end. These chocolate caps were the highlight, a classier and softer alternative on the tongue than the more common, spiky little chocolate chips cannolis are sometimes dipped in. The dough shell was plain but thankfully not stale or soggy, and the filling was sweet, fresh enough, and acceptable in quantity - good overall rather than great. As we say more often than we'd like, these weren't our favorite Cannolis ever, but they were good enough to entice us to sample more of the menu.
Next time, we arrived hungry and went a little crazy, ordering the Tiramisu ($3.15), the Mini Carrot Cake ($2.45), a Cheese Danish ($1.95), a Walnut Butter Tart ($3.20), some miniature Chocolate Biscotti ($0.66), and of course, some bread. Each of the desserts was in "good" territory, some hovering above, some below. The Tiramisu was in the middle, with plenty of sugary cream and sprinkled dark cocoa on top, but too little coffee, amaretto, or ladyfinger flavor below. It sure looked beautiful, though, and though we weren't thrilled by it, we wouldn't turn it away, either.
To our way of thinking, the Mini Carrot Cake was a little better than good, though not a Wegmans Ultimate Carrot Cake-beater. Amazingly soft and moist, Di Camillo's "cake" was something closer to a sweet, very mildly spiced carrot filling. Topped with a thick layer of similarly soft cream cheese, a ring of ground walnuts, and the typical frosting-formed carrot, each spoonful was like eating a fun, custardy version of the real thing. For some context, our friend had never tried the Wegmans version, and pronounced Di Camillo's amongst the best he'd ever had.
By comparison with the prior, yielding desserts, the Walnut Butter Tart and the Chocolate Biscotti were very hard - the Tart unexpectedly so, and the Biscotti exactly as it should have been. We'd place the tart below the good level, its semi-sweet pie shell-like crust adding little to the mess of dense, buttery nuts and brown sugar found in the center; there was no pleasure to be had in any of the bites. Thankfully, the mini Biscotti were great and cheap: we'd picked the true chocolate ones over chocolate-drizzled alternatives, and ate them up with some milk we'd purchased on site. Fans of these harder-than-cookie, less sweet treats will find plenty to like here.
And what about the Cheese Danish, which we picked up to see how Di Camillo's did with flaky pastries? Our friend declared it the best he'd had in years, and we'd agree that it was very good: light and perfectly baked, its icing applied with amusingly imprecision, and everything from its dough to its cheese obviously freshly assembled only hours before. We'd actually tried to get one on our first visit but found them out of stock; having succeeded this time at snagging the last one, we understood why they weren't easy to find.
That left the vaunted bread - the thing that first brought us, indirectly, to this place. While we're not going to tell you that it's miraculous or the sort of stuff that we'd expect people to be shipping over state lines, it was entirely good: the roll shown here came from a sack of 12 ($2.60 total), each lightly crusted and golden on the outside, filled with soft Italian dough on the inside. No one would complain about such good, reasonably priced bread; that said, Western New Yorkers have lots of great bakeries to choose from, and we'd hate to live someplace where something as seemingly simple as this needs to be imported rather than purchased locally.
As with other places that we've visited but haven't sampled deeply enough to issue a rating, we can say the following about Di Camillo's Bakery: it's a sharp-looking little place, fitting in wonderfully with both Williamsville's older shops and its more modern additions, while bringing a compelling collection of intriguing ingredients and snacks to fans of homemade Italian food. Sure, it may look like a corporate bakery by comparison with yesterday's sweet shops, but the obviously professional attention to detail in everything from its decor to its packaging goes part of the way towards explaining its appeal across state lines. For a local business, Di Camillo's sure looks like it could be a national or international one; it should serve as a model for other Western New York companies looking to make more impressive statements.
The last of the sweet shops on our agenda for the week was Anderson's (6075 Main St., Williamsville, NY 14221, 716.632.1416), which we've previously covered in an article focused on its wonderful lemon ice - one of many treats we've been enjoying at its various Western New York locations for years. This time, we brought a friend along to sample the even more famous custard: it's like soft-serve ice cream, but made with milk and eggs. Anderson's touts its perennially popular version as its "own original recipe," a "14% mix" that's been "handed down from generation to generation." People who like custard like or love Anderson's.
Yet right before we ordered our desserts, our friend mentioned Culver's, a largely Midwestern custard chain with locations as far West as Arizona, and in no other Southern state save for Texas. As it turns out, Culver's takes custard very seriously, actually e-mailing its customers a true Flavor of the Day calendar every month, with each flavor available for only one day before being replaced the next. In June, for instance, the calendar for one location shows Campfire Smores on the 6th, giving way to Double Strawberry on the 7th, and Cookie Dough Craving on the 8th. Caramel Chocolate Pecan on the 16th? If we lived near a Culver's, we'd be following the calendar and showing up for special flavors - what a great promotional idea.
To its credit, Anderson's has something similar: it offers 13 different custards that do the rounds in a given month, each for two days at a time, varying by location. The flavors are comparatively tame - think "Strawberry" and "Banana" rather than Culver's "Strawberry Bon-Bon" and "Heath Chocolate Almond" - and the Black Raspberry one on offer when we visited wasn't enough to excite us or our friend. He picked a sprinkle-edged waffle bowl with the plain chocolate custard inside, and we went with the lemon ice. Medium, in an effort not to overorder, as we too often do here.
But there are times when a medium bowl of lemon ice just isn't enough, and this was one of them. After one sample of his custard, we were craving more and wishing we hadn't gone with the lemon ice this time. It was creamy, with the barest hints of egg, and just chocolatey enough. Despite his initial desire for more flavor options, our friend literally savored it, praising the custard, the waffle bowl, and its edging of "tasty" sprinkles until it was painful to watch and hear. Tasty sprinkles? Seriously? A bowl like that couldn't possibly be as healthy as the lemon ice, we tried to tell ourselves, and besides, even our friend must be finding the plain chocolate blase by comparison with Culver's back home. Right? No; all he would say between bites was that it was very good, and then he went back to eating and smiling like a Cheshire Cat.
We know what we're ordering the next time we visit Anderson's. Thanks, pal.