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Inside Alessi Bakery; Tampa’s oldest family-run sweet spot

Alessi Bakery has served some of the best baked goods in the city of Tampa for more than 100 years.

In 1912, Nicolo Alessi opened Alessi Bakery with a stellar bread recipe and the will to share it with the masses. 109 years later, his once hole-in-the-wall spot has exploded into a historical Tampa landmark. This afternoon, I met with Nicolo’s great grandson, Jason Alessi, to figure out exactly how his family’s bakery was propelled to culinary stardom.

Pastry Plate at Alessi Bakery

Bringing old Italy to Tampa

“My great-grandfather came from the Santa Stefano region of Italy,” Jason recalled, “So he made some amazing breads. In the beginning, that’s all he used to serve.” He dropped his head with a nostalgic chuckle; “He even delivered them by horse and carriage.”

Joining the laugh, I let my eyes wander through the massive space. In the back, a team of women spread frosting gently over a triple-tiered coconut cake, while a young man in the front stacked banana nut loaves Tetris-style onto a tray. Overwhelmed by the sweet aroma of cannoli cream and fresh brownies, it quickly became clear that Nicolo must’ve been interested in more than just bread. Intrigued—and hungry—I asked Jason about the origins of Alessi’s vast dessert selection.

“That also goes back to Italy,” Jason elaborated. “Because of his heritage, my great granddad made awesome pastries, and he taught all of his techniques to his early chefs. Those skills were passed down through the generations, so you can still taste his influence in everything.”

My gaze caught a light brown, cream-stuffed square on a distant counter. Jason smiled as if he’d read my mind.

“Especially the tiramisu. He knew how to do that right.”

Fresh baked bread

Crafting quality products that “taste like home”

Today, Nicolo’s native-Italian touch has transformed his humble bakery into a local food empire—but not without losing its mom-and-pop charm. Complete with a multi-property storefront, a manufacturing plant, and a national distribution service, Alessi’s products have reached the homes of millions, widely proliferating familial love to kitchen tables across the country. According to Jason, the company’s attentiveness to consistency and quality across generations have been key to crafting dishes that taste like home. 

Now, as much as I love finding Alessi products in my local Publix, I’m lucky enough to live pretty close to the flagship bakery itself. Between the historical significance and the wide offering of small-batch foods (which now include deli sandwiches and store-made meals), Alessi’s famous storefront has quickly become one of my go-to lunch/treat spots.

If you’re also from the Bay, you’ve got to stop in. And, when you do, here are the menu items you need to try:

Creme brûlée bread pudding

The best things to try on the Alessi menu

  • Coconut Cream Horn- Known internationally as the “cannoncini,” this classic pastry is comprised of a flaky, tube-shaped shell wrapped around a fluffy cream center. Taking an Italian tradition to the next level, Alessi’s coconut cream version whips a generous scoop of shredded coconut into their sweet filling.
  • Peanut Butter Cannoli- Speaking of traditions, there is nothing more quintessentially Italian than the cannoli (well, except maybe pizza, which they also have). For Jason Alessi, however, one type of cannoli was not enough. Today, the bakery boasts a wide variety of flavors including Nutella, tiramisu, and almond amaretto. My personal favorite is the chocolate-dipped peanut butter, and—if you’re a Reese’s fan—it’ll be yours, too.
  • Cuban Sandwich- With a reputation as a bread connoisseur, it’s no surprise that Nicolo Alessi’s original bread recipes are still being used in house. In fact, the 2021 team not only sells his loaves outright, but also stacks and presses them into delicious sandwiches and paninis. Although all of Alessi’s deli concoctions are tasty, Jason specifically recommends the Cuban because, for over 100 years, it’s been the Cuban loaf that’s made his family famous.
  • “Ooey Gooey Bar”- Based off the Missouri “gooey butter cake,” the “Ooey Gooey Bar” is a flat, decadent dessert similar in taste to an ultra-dense crumb cake. Between its cream cheese rich batter and liberal dousing of chopped pecans, this sticky treat is sinfully delicious, and probably my favorite item on the menu.
  • Crème Brûlée Bread Pudding- How do you make bread pudding better? Cover it in a layer of crème brûlée and smear some cream cheese frosting across the top. At Alessi bakery, they do this so perfectly  that you’ll probably have trouble finding any of it left after 12pm. So, if this custard-based delicacy is calling your name, make sure to stop in early.
Guava and cheese turnover

Decades of decadence

At the beginning of our encounter, Jason told me that a handful of the current Alessi bakers had been on the staff for more than 40 years. And later, as I sat down to devour a box of pastries, the couple next to me shared that they’d been visiting the store for more than 75. To my still young mind, those numbers seemed almost inconceivable. 

But, as I sunk my teeth into a cool cannoli, my heightened sensations gently reminded me of my human mortality. I looked over at the nearby couple. 

Those people—I concluded—were using their 80 years right.

Foodies and history lovers alike can visit Alessi Bakery at 2909 W Cypress St. To place a to-go, delivery, or custom order, the store can be reached through its official website; https://www.alessibakery.com/, or found on social media: https://www.facebook.com/AlessiBakeries/, IG: @alessibakery.

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