When Corrado Palmieri was growing up in the “heel of the boot,” as he says, he was often elbow-deep in flour as he helped his grandmother bake pastries specific to Southern Italy and his home province of Lecce.
Decades later, after years of business school and working in investment banking, he opened his own Italian coffee shop and bakery — not in his home town or even in Milan, the business capital where he had worked, but in Dallas.
Palmieri Cafe, which opened March 26, occupies a corner of Dallas Farmers Market with a few tables on the concrete walkway and a view of downtown. After finding success at a stall in the Shed, it was time to get a more permanent establishment, he says. It turned out to be a step in the right direction, he says.
Dallas isn’t a random spot for Palmieri to land. When he was working as an investment banker, he chose SMU’s Cox School of Business to earn an MBA, he says. When he went back to Italy, he paired up with a pastry chef to perfect his knowledge and skill in the kitchen.
He's stocked the wall behind Palmieri's walk-up counter with products from Italy, but we’re not just talking coffee beans — there are spoons, uniforms, even water glasses. His mother, who still lives in Lecce, made the baristas' vests.
But the most noticeable item from Italy is what Palmieri calls “the Ferrari" — the La Cimbali espresso machine.
"The ‘Ferrari of the coffee machine’ is the most expensive professional Italian espresso machine on the market, and in Italy is considered the best in quality machine,” he says, noting that the La Marzocco brand is not as popular in Italy as it is here.
Palmieri is a man who's proud of his coffee: Sit down with him and a couple of shots of espresso and he’ll gladly explain how Italian espresso differs from coffee in the West. It’s smoother to drink and more balanced between bitter and sour, he says. Like almost everything about Palmieri, the coffee beans, too, come from Southern Italy.
“It’s not a big roaster; they're roasting for me a special blend that is not here," he says. "They are importing directly; they are not present in the U.S. at all. It goes together with the uniqueness.”
Palmieri believes there's a Dallas market for what they call a “bar" in Italy.
“Bar, they are making coffee and pastries fresh everyday there, those are the top ... that is what I’m doing here," he says. “Dallas was completely missing an Italian bakery, an Italian coffee shop, and also, this type of experience.”
The two windows filled with pastries offer both savory and sweet. You’ll find a calzone with beef and parmesan surrounded by a unexpected but delightfully sweet dough. Palmieri's near-famous homemade lemon-vanilla cream comes inside a thin roll of pastry; to the untrained eye, it looks like a cannoli.
“Everyone loves cannoli. I do not want to make cannoli,” he says. “Because all of the things that I’m doing, you cannot find anywhere else here."
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Palmieri is a very particular guy — which yields a very particular product.
“It took me three full months to find the flours to get the same consistency of the dough I like in Italy,” he says. “I now mix four different types of flours — one is Italian and the remaining three are made in Texas.”
"I’m doing this for my customers," he says, "where they can find a place with everything unique."
Palmieri Cafe at the Dallas Farmers Market, 920 S. Harwood St.