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FOOD: A Taste of La Sicilia

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Gay-owned Montrose bakery seems destined to become community staple. 

By Marene Gustin

Walk into this boutique bakery on Lower Westheimer, and the first things you notice are the divine aroma and the decadent pastries filling the glass-enclosed counter. The second thing you notice will likely be co-owner Antonio Rios, a Cuban-American with a 100-watt smile, working the counter and the tables. If you’ve been there before, he’ll greet you by name and strike up a friendly conversation.

La Sicilia Italian Bakery & Cafe, which opened March 12, is like a little slice of Europe in Montrose—a welcoming home filled with tasty treats and aromatic coffees that seems likely to become a mainstay in the community. The genius behind both the artwork in the café and the food coming from the back is Antonio’s husband, chef and co-owner Diego Chiarello Rios.

“It had always been my dream to move to the United States,” says the native of Sicily who has been baking since he was 8. His four brothers are also pastry chefs.

Six years ago Diego moved to New York City, where he met Antonio within a week.

“A mutual friend set us up,” Diego says in a charming Italian accent. “I didn’t even speak English then, so I wasn’t expecting much, but we married within a year.”

Antonio is a Houston-area native who was working in human resources for a corporation. But he and Diego dreamed of running their own small European bakery. While they were traveling around the country looking for a location, Antonio’s parents convinced the couple to visit them in Spring.

“I wasn’t sure the South would be so welcoming to an openly gay couple,” Antonio says, “but this was not the Houston I left.

“This area has just been wonderful,” he adds. “We received flowers and cards welcoming us to the neighborhood. It’s so inclusive, and we want to be a part of the area and the gay community here.”

The couple starts baking at 4 each morning, and the shop is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Everything—from the buttery croissants to the raspberry-and-almond braids, cookies, savory paninis, and pizza-style pastries—is made fresh daily. At the end of each day, unsold inventory goes to The Women’s Home, a local charity that assists homeless women.

The co-owners are currently staying with Antonio’s parents in Spring, but after leasing their Montrose space they will soon move to a nearby apartment.

“I love Houston, because it reminds me of home,” Diego says. “[It has] so much more green space than New York.” What down time they have is mostly spent hanging out with friends, watching movies, and cooking.

“We make Cuban and Italian food, and it’s really what we prefer,” Antonio adds. But they have discovered Lupe Tortilla’s fajitas, which Antonio says they are “kind of hooked on.”

Visitors—the shop already has many local regulars—may want to take home one of everything they see. And the owners admit it is not always easy for them to resist their own treats. “We go to the gym a lot,” Antonio laughs. “But it’s worth it.”

Although the café already has plenty to offer, there’s one more thing to look forward to: custom cakes.

“Diego is a real artist,” Antonio says, showing photos of elaborate cakes on his phone that would rival those at any black-tie gala or over-the-top wedding. There’s even a photo of a multi-tiered white confection that Diego made for the couple’s own wedding.

“I just love the colors, the decorating, and the artistry of cakes,” Diego says.

As if we didn’t already have enough reasons to return to La Sicilia.

La Sicilia Italian Bakery & Cafe
515 Westheimer Rd., Suite C
713.636.2900
facebook.com/lasiciliausa/

This article appears in the April 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine. 

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.
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