Prospect Heights Chef Celebrates Top Amazon Bestseller Status for New Cookbook

Renato Poliafito, author of "Dolci."Photo: Supplied/Kevin Miyazaki

By: Natasha Lancaster

Aperol Spritz Cake. Limoncello Pistachio Tart. Italian Krispie Treats.

These are some of the delectable desserts and creative confections Renato Poliafito, owner of Ciao, Gloria cafe in Prospect Heights, has dreamed up in his new cookbook, “Dolci.”

In addition to being chock full of mouthwatering and unexpected recipes, “Dolci” has a quality unlike many other cookbooks: It’s seasoned with humor.

For example, for his Tagliolini Suppli, a recipe in the savory section, Poliafito writes, “It feels like a cousin to American state fair food, like deep-fried macaroni and cheese after a study abroad.”

With the aid of Casey Elsass (co-author) and Kevin Miyazaki (photographer), Poliafito builds on this humorous tone and develops a distinct voice across eight sections and almost one hundred recipes.

While he’s now a James Beard-nominated veteran of the dessert world, Poliafito only began baking professionally when he started a business. Despite having no formal training, he left his advertising career to open Baked in 2005, a bakery in Red Hook, which he co-owned with Matt Lewis until 2017.

Poliafito recalled those early days of Baked, saying, “Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. There were days when the overnight baker would call out sick. So, I would be pulling a full shift and then putting an apron on and going back to the kitchen to bake for the whole night.”

But Poliafito’s signature sweets contributed to making the bakery in Red Hook a huge success, leading to four cookbooks published as the “Baked” series.

Still, while Poliafito is a seasoned cookbook author, he considers “Dolci” his “first solo album” because of its personal origin and content. In the Introduction to “Dolci,” he says that he felt caught between two worlds as a child. Born in Queens to two Sicilian immigrants, Poliafito struggled to identify wholly with either country.

Ode to Iris recipe from “Dolci.” . Photo by Kevin Miyazaki

With “Dolci,” Poliafito is embracing that part of himself “that lives in the in-between” he writes. By blending his Italian background with his American upbringing, Poliafito creates innovative desserts that enhance classic flavors. Or in his own words, his recipes come from “the shared traditions of nonnas, from Bensonhurst to Bologna,” ranging from a traditional Italian Easter tart called Pasteria to Black and White Cookies.

In addition to being an ode to his Italian-American upbringing, Poliafito thinks of “Dolci” as the “unofficial Ciao, Gloria cookbook.” He opened Ciao, Gloria in the fall of 2019, after leaving Baked in 2017. Less than six months later, COVID-19 hit, and Poliafito, like many other restaurateurs, was panicked.

Ciao, Gloria on a Friday afternoon. . Photo by Natasha Lancaster for BK Reader.

“I was a wreck because I had just invested all of my savings, all of my partner’s savings … And now, I may have lost all of it,” Poliafito explained.

Although the first couple of months were difficult, the Ciao, Gloria team found creative ways to adapt and came out of the pandemic as a beloved go-to bakery: “I think in the long run, we really did become a place for the neighborhood,” he said.

“We were just there all of the time for our customers. And it shows today.”

Renato Poliafito, author of “Dolci” in his office. . Photo by Natasha Lancaster for BK Reader.

Indeed, the cafe is filled with a steady stream of people, from those grabbing lunch on their break, to people chatting for hours over a piece of Banana Nutella Snack Cake. And just like the cafe, Renato hopes that people continue to return to “Dolci” as a reference for years to come, saying, “I hope that it becomes a go-to for them.”

Fans of Poliafito’s work also will be excited to learn that he’s opening a new “fine-casual pasta place” across the street from Ciao, Gloria that will be announced soon.


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