What is it about Florence, the capital of the Tuscany region of Italy, that makes it a worldwide star within the culinary universe? I think it’s their seasonally fresh and local ingredients in conjunction with time-honored recipes, often handed
down from one generation to the next.
When I travel, I love to do pre-trip restaurant planning. I’ll bug friends for suggestions, scour the internet, make lists, bookmark websites, and then ultimately, once I get to my destination, I opt to trust my instincts instead. Sometimes a highly rated establishment, upon looking at it, might not seem right. Maybe it’s because of the menu or the décor or even the people dining there. I’ve learned to trust my gut.
The 5 criteria that I look for in a great restaurant experience are: quality, creativity, dependability, ambiance, and friendliness. All of the restaurants I’ve featured here exude all these attributes, plus they’re reasonably priced.
OSTERIA DELL ENOTECA
Across the Arno River in the Oltrarno district and very close to the Pitti Palace, Chef Nicola Chiappi helms this establishment joined by owners Edoardo Fioravanti, Manuele Giovanelli, Lorenzo Ricci, Zeno Fioravanti, and the very
charming Shannon Fioravanti, the wine club director. In conjunction with their sister restaurant, Enoteca Pitti Golae Cantina (www.pittigolaecantina.com/wine-club), they offer the Wine Club which as they state, “…was created to suit the needs of our valued clients and friends throughout the globe and to offer access to this selection of extraordinary and limited production of wines to all.”
Shannon recently shared with me that they’re now exhibiting an art installation within the Osteria. “It is the artwork of
Deva Manfredo. The Pilgriam of Now is the exposition and it’s these very interesting rock pieces. They’re for sale as well.”
I always feel welcomed when I enter Osteria dell Enoteca. The elegant tables are covered in fresh white linen, laid out with
beautiful cutlery and glassware. The front room is classic and airy, whereas the back-room’s walls and archways are covered in ancient exposed brick evoking a feeling that the space is wrapping its arms around you, in a warm and soothing embrace.
Instead of a wine list from which to choose, the sommelier will guide you to their extensive wine wall and help you
pick just the right libation for the evening’s dining experience. Their Chianti Classico is excellent!
For a starter, I highly recommend the Selezione di Salumi di Maiale Grigio del Casentino; their selection of charcuterie
salami from the gray pig of the Casentino area. These ribbons of sweet, salty, and savory cured meat will melt in your
mouth. Enjoy it with a crust of their fresh Tuscan bread. Or you can try the Cantabrian anchovy fillets preserved in olive oil and served with pink Hawaiian salted butter.
For a first course, I loved their light and refreshing cream of Tuscan bean soup, topped with marinated shrimp and sage.
Also, don’t miss their large tortellini filled with pumpkin in a sauce of aged pecorino, thyme, and hazelnuts. Truly delectable pockets of perfection.
For second courses, I suggest the braised wild boar with olives. Having never eaten boar before, I anticipated a gamier type of meat, but not so. This dish was tender and rich with a very sophisticated sauce. Or better yet, splurge and order their bistecca dell’Osteria, the house specialty bone in steak. This perfectly dry aged steak is cooked on an open flame and served rare to medium rare. If you must have your steak cooked medium or well-done, I suggest you order something else.
The cheese board or their traditional Cantucci cookies served with Vin Santo (a delicate dessert wine) are both delicious ways to end a great meal. Via Romana 70r. Tel: +39-055-228-6018. www.osteriadellenoteca.com
CUCULIA RISTORANTE LIBRERIA
Also in the Oltrarno district you’ll discover Cuculia, which, when translated, refers to the twittering sound the cuckoo bird
makes. The restaurant is also a bookstore, which gives the space a quaint and homey feel.
Cuculia is the love child of Chef Oliver Bentancourt and his wife, Roberta. This dining experience was exceptional, from
the innovative culinary creations, to Rosa, our smart and entertaining server. It was a dinner I will never forget.
Our evening started off with an unexpected “on the house” soup of pumpkin and carrot with cauliflower, beet foam, spinach and croutons. Simply delicious and gorgeous to look at.
For starters I enjoyed their chard roll served on a bed of pesto with beet foam but I fell in love with their winter salad with fennel, avocado, winter melon, pumpkins seeds and pomegranate on a bed of chickpea humus.
For mains, the sunflower pasta made with organic hulled wheat stuffed with goat cheese and honey on a bed of
chestnut purée that was thyme scented was exceptional. It was sweet, tangy and aromatic, all in one bite.
The delicate cod fish perfumed with a saffron rose infusion was extraordinary. I was concerned about a saffron rose combination being overpowering but it was very subtle.
For dessert, experience their chocolate fondue with raspberries, strawberries, and bananas, or enjoy one of their fruit
sorbets. All of the dishes were stunning artistic creations; like paintings for your palette. Via dei Serragli, 3r. Tel: +39-349-
A short stroll from Cuculia you’ll discover Piazza Santo Spirito. It’s named after the 15th century Basilica di Santo Spirito, which sits grandly on the north end of the piazza. Here you’ll find a plethora of restaurants standing shoulder-to-shoulder vying for your attention within this charming and lively plaza. But it’s Borgo Antico that I keep returning to again and again.
“Chef Marco Cabras from the island of Sardinia and Chef Olmo Gozzi, work side by side creating the fantastic dishes at
Borgo Antico. Chef Marco is also quite famous for h is desserts. Restaurant Manager Andrea Melani shared with me, “People come from all over the world to try his cheesecake.”
The interior of the restaurant is warm and cozy, but when possible I prefer to sit outside. Even in colder weather it’s comfortable with the help of their special overhead heaters.
For starters I recommend their amazing selection of country homemade salami, crostini and pickled veggies. Or try their
liver paté on crostini with capers, which is served with a semi-hard cheese, dipping bowl of honey, pickled hot peppers, pickled onions, and a smear of mustard.
Moving on to first plates, you’ll love their gnocchi with a rich gorgonzola sauce, or my favorite: t he spaghetti carbonara
topped with pancetta and black truffles. The sauce is smooth and silky while the pancetta is crunchy and salty, and to top it off the truffles give it an earthiness. This is absolute comfort food. I’ve dreamt about this dish more than once.
Two m ore of my favorite main dishes are the bee f stew made with red wine, and the warm seafood antipasto with
prawns piled high on top of mussels, clams, calamari, and more. It’s enough food for 4 to 6 people! And why not finish off your meal with Chef Marco’s world-renowned cheesecake? Piazza San to Spirito, 6r. Tel: +39-055- 210-437. www.borgoanticofirenze.com
OSTERIA DEL FAGIOLI
I have the tremendous good fortune of being friends with a true Florentine and qualified tour guide, Francesca Marucci
(www.mytripintuscany.com). Francesca and I first met when she took me on an exceptional Cicchetti tour through Venice, several years ago. Now living back in her home city of Florence, every trip I take to this part of the world, we manage to meet up for a smart cocktail, if not a meal.
Every restaurant she has suggested has been exceptional and Osteria Del Fagioli is one of her favorites. It’s a casual and friendly, family run business that’s always booked with locals as well as tourists. (Reservations are a must and it’s
cash only!) Del Fagioli has a small menu offering old-style Tuscan cuisine. As Francesca says, “It’s very close to Santa Croce and affordable considering the central location.”
Osteria del Fagioli translates to “Restaurant of the Beans”. And one such dish that they offer is the ribollita soup,
comprised of black cabbage and beans. Ribollita means twice boiled; you make it one day and then reheat the next, giving it
more depth of flavor. Other great choices are their pappa al pomodoro (a thick Tuscan bread soup) and the zuppa di contadino verdure (a farmer’s vegetable soup.) For main courses their veal bracciole is praised by many as is their ossobuco. And of course, there is the famous Bistecca Florentina. Make sure you arrive hungry.
On Francesca’s most recent visit she enjoyed their pici all’aglione, which is a hand-rolled, thicker type of spaghetti. A
typical dish from the Siena area, it’s served with a rich sauce made of tomato, garlic, and parmesan cheese. For a main course, she ordered their beef filet. “My filet was super tender. The best!” she exclaimed. “Best filet ever!” I think she liked it. Corso dei tintori, 47r. Tel:+39-055-244-285. www.facebook.com/pages/Ristorante-del-Fagioli/128531613884673
HARD ROCK CAFÉ FLORENCE
I know what you’re thinking. Bear with me. Years ago, a classy world-traveler lady friend of mine gave me some advice prior to my first trip to Europe. “At some point, you’re going to want to take a break from trying to decide where to eat. You’ll get weary of deciphering menus and struggling with language barriers.” So, she gave me a list of places she suggested that were great tasting and very American friendly with menus in English. I’ve since lost her list and in fact, the restaurants may not even exist anymore. But during a recent, visit and after an exhausting day of museums, churches, and crowds, I heeded her advice when I stumbled upon the Hard Rock Café.
Like in Venice, the Hard Rock in Florence is housed in an ancient and historic building. Set on the edge of the Piazza della Repubblica it is surrounded by bookstores and museums, as well as other restaurants. Originally, it started out as a high society Florentine café and then transitioned into the famous Gambrinus Cinema in 1922. Inside the décor is pretty much the Hard Rock brand, but happily, on a weekday lunch visit, it was pretty subdued and not too crazy or crowded.
I was craving a good old-fashioned hamburger. They offered regular beef or their special Tuscan burger derived from
the Chianina cattle. This is one of the oldest breeds in the world. In fact, the famous bistecca alla Fiorentina is made from its meat. I ordered it as a bacon cheeseburger. You can go all out and have their Flocal legendary burger which is topped with crispy rigatino, (pancetta) and Galaverna cheese, with a Chianti red onion compote. But I kept it simple.
Pause, as I recall my first bite…it was rich, juicy, flavorful, and messy in the best of all possible ways. This was the tastiest burger I had ever eaten in my life. Seriously. It was so good, I was tempted to order another one to go, but I didn’t. I’ll just make sure that during my next visit to Florence, I’ll order the Flocal with the works. Plus, one to go! Via De’ Brunelleschi 1. Piazza della Repubblica Tel: +39-055-277-841. www.hardrock.com/cafes/florence
When I asked Florentine friend and chef, Luca Brozzi, co-owner of Love x Food – The Cooking Class of the Chianti Hills,
(www.lovexfood.com) why Tuscan food is so unique and delicious, he replied, “The traditional Tuscan cuisine is considered peasant cooking; the most enjoyable part is the simplicity of the recipes using fresh local ingredients and the love of the
people to prepare simply delicious meals ready to feed your soul.” I can’t agree more. Buon appetito!