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SAVORY Explores: Scachatta, a Cuban-Italian Fusion Creation

Jeanine Consoli headshot

Jeanine Consoli 

Sep 29 2023

Scachatta – A Cuban-Italian fusion dish found only in Tampa, Florida.

I grew up in a Sicilian Cuban household across the Hudson River from New York City in New Jersey. My parents are American with Sicilian roots, but my mother is also half-Cuban on her father’s side. All my memories of my home life, including meals and culture, reflected our Italian background with little Cuban influence. My Grandfather arrived in the US from Cuba when he was fifteen and worked hard to achieve the American dream. He didn’t share much about his heritage because he identified as a proud American. 

Our family often went to a local pizzeria for pizza pies, your typical circular type cut into eight slices. This shop also offered a version baked in sheet pans and cut into huge squares. Sometimes my dad would order and bring home an enormous rectangular pie. I always requested the corner slice because it was the crispiest. It was called a Sicilian pizza with a thick, spongy crust covered in a light tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. 

As an adult, I moved to the Philadelphia area and, once there, discovered tomato pie. At first, I wasn’t sure because it had a sweet tomato sauce on top of the dough with just a sprinkle of Parmesan or Romano cheese. After tasting it, I was hooked. Depending on the shop, tomato pie is served hot or at room temperature. Either way, it’s equally delicious. 

Discovering Scachatta 

Pictured: Alessi Bakery’s Scachatta

Now, I live in Tampa Bay and I am always searching for good pizza. I discovered “scachatta” or “scacciata,” a combination of bread and a thick meat sauce found only in this city and nowhere else. It’s not exactly pizza, but it looks like that Sicilian pie we enjoyed all those years ago in New Jersey, and reminiscent of Philly tomato pie as it’s often served at room temperature, but Scachatta is different. 

Scachatta was born sometime during the 1900s in an area of Tampa known as Ybor City. Cuban, Spanish, German, and Sicilian immigrants worked side by side in the cigar factories, and a few fantastic fusion dishes were born out of the co-mingling. The Cuban sandwich is one example where all the nationalities added delicacies to create something new.  

The authentic version of a Cuban sandwich has Swiss cheese and pickles (German), sliced Serrano ham (Spanish), sliced salami (Italian), and mojo-infused pork from the Cubans. The bread is always Pan Cubano, a long loaf with a thinner center accented by two bulbous ends, baked with a topping of palm fronds to add moisture in the oven (the fronds are removed after baking). The difference between Pan Cubano and a French baguette is the addition of lard or vegetable shortening for softness and salt, which brings out the flavor. 

The Base of Scachatta Is Cuban 

Pictured: La Segunda case

In many of the bakeries around Ybor, you can find Scachatta in the case next to the Cuban or Spanish pastries and the Italian cookies and cannoli, whether it’s a Cuban, Spanish, or Italian spot- this is an intertwined community.  

Scachatta’s base is made with soft, doughy bread, much like Jewish challah, and sold at room temperature. The eggy dough looks like Cuban Pan Suave – a sweet egg bread, except it’s not sweet. Assistant General Manager of La Segunda, Chance Drake, explained: “The base is often described as Cuban Butter Bread but made with eggs, which makes it really soft and gives it that yellow color.”  

And while the sauce component is different from bakery to bakery, the way it’s served is universal. Scachatta is cut into squares and ordered by the piece or tray (half or the entire sheet) to feed a crowd. 

The Sauce Makes It Unique 

Drake also described the sauce (without giving away any proprietary secrets). It consists of two types of San Marzano tomatoes, ground beef, yellow onion, bell peppers, herbs, and spices, and simmered until very thick. “It’s so thick, you can easily pick up the gravy with your hands.” 

The sauce is spread on top of the yolky dough and sprinkled lightly with Parmesan cheese, and then baked to perfection. 

Other variations include the ingredients mentioned above, chorizo, and Worcestershire sauce. 

The Best Places To Try Scachatta 

For research purposes, I tried a few Tampa bakeries to compare this incredible pizza-like fusion served only in the Tampa area. I had the chance to stop by three bakeries to sample their creations. 

La Segunda 

Pictured: The More family at La Segunda

Juan Moré came to Tampa after serving in the Spanish-American war in Cuba. Although born in Spain, he longed for the flavor and texture of the authentic Cuban bread he tasted when stationed there. Armed with a bread recipe, he established three bakeries with a few other Cuban bakers – La Primera, La Segunda, and La Tercera in Ybor City in 1915. Eventually, the Moré family became the sole proprietors, and only the La Segunda location remains. Now under the fourth generation of Morés, Anthony Copeland Moré, continues making authentic Cuban bread and the specialties the bakery is known for, including Scachatta. 

The first thing I noticed about La Segunda’s scachatta is the yellow color of the crust. Then I bit into a slice. The base is soft and pillowy. The thick sauce is flavorful, with a good balance of seasonings and beef. The Parmesan gives the topping a salty pop, but the flavor is perfectly balanced. 

Housewife Bakery & Cafe 

Housewife Bakery offers scachatta by the slice, or you can order by the tray. The new owners bought the bakery from the original family in 2018. The bakery was established in 1959 and run by the same family until then. Today, Argentinian specialties are offered alongside Italian products. They also serve a delicious selection of empanadas and the local-favorite pastries served here for over 50 years. 

The scachatta here has that same yellowy, pillowy dough I discovered at La Segunda. The sauce, however, has a bit more spice, giving their slice a nice kick. It’s savory in all the best ways. It is made with beef and basil, oregano, garlic, and onions with Parmesan sprinkled on top. Whether you like a bit of heat in your sauce is really one’s preference. I do and love this spicy scachatta. I also tried some Argentinian cookies filled with Dulce de Leche, which were equally delicious. 

Alessi Bakery 

Pictured: Alessi Bakery’s entry

Alessi’s Scachatta is so popular that it’s already boxed and ready to go. You can buy a small or a large box, and the squares are cut into tiny cube-like morsels. This scachatta tastes more “Italian” to me. The founder, Nicolo Alessi, came to Tampa and established a bakery on Cherry Street in 1912. He began to craft his bread, delivering it by horse and wagon. His scachatta recipe, which he brought from his homeland, included the beef and cheese found in his region in southern Italy.  

Alessi Bakery is also a 4th generation-family business. Their version is topped with Pecorino Romano and uses ground beef in the sauce. The box explains that scachatta means “Smash the Bread” – likely the action you take to pound the rising dough down to flatten it into a pan.  

Alessi’s boxed scachatta is labeled as Sicilian Pizza. I found it the closest to the version I’ve tasted. The sauce is sweeter, and the dough is soft and lighter than the yellow-tinged dough from the other two bakeries. I noticed a subtle beef flavor and similar seasonings, but this scachatta is topped with Pecorino cheese. Their product had little spice in terms of heat but a delightful tomato flavor. Alessi Bakery is worth visiting, but they ship nationwide if you can’t visit Tampa. They also have a vast collection of Italian pastries to take home. 

I fell in love with scachatta because it reminded me of my mixed Italian and Cuban heritage. The vibe in Tampa is that it’s a true melding of immigrants. At any of these bakeries, you’ll enjoy Spanish, Cuban, and Italian cultures blended in a beautiful melting pot where you can sip on a coffee con leche, order a Cuban sandwich, and nibble on a cannoli all at the same bakery.