Friday, June 28, 2013

Italia - Firenze

Off to Firenzi (Florence)! Clocking in at just a 2.5 hour train ride from Venice, it's the city of Michelangelo's David, the Medici's, the home of the renaissance and a ridiculous amount of world famous art. It's also smack dab in the middle of Tuscano (Tuscany) with the stunning rolling hills, wineries in the hundreds and some of the best olive oil in the world.

The best sandwich I had in all of Italia was at a shop just a block away from our apartment called Salumeria Verdi. When we think of porchetta here in Philly our mind immediately goes to roasted pork, sopping in juices and stuffed into an Amoroso's roll with sharp provolone and sauteed garlicky greens. In Italia, porchetta is a boneless pork loin, wrapped in pork belly, stuffed with garlic, rosemary, fennel or other herbs, roasted till crispy on the outside,then allowed to cool and sliced thin for layering onto bread. Take that sliced porky goodness and throw on some ham, roasted potatoes, provolone, spinach & spicy tomato sauce between two layers of focaccia. Toss it on a grill press until the cheese starts to ooze and you have something magical. It's not the garlic bomb gut buster of Tony Lukes - instead this is an intensely flavored mix of textures, smells and tastes. All your senses will be tingling.

Fun fact - a panini in Italia is not necessarily grilled on a press. It's just a sandwich. When it's grilled it becomes a panino. Remember that, heathens.

Salumeria Verdi
Via Giuseppe Verdi, 36/r 50122, Firenzi


Dinner on our first night was thanks to a recommendation from a college friend that studied abroad here. Il Brindellone is on the south side of the Arno and was a bit of a walk off the beaten path. That walk would serve us well on the way home as we waddled slowly down the street, smelling of delicious Italian steak.

A starter of crispy fried zucchini blossoms. Not quite as good as our first ones in Milano, but that didn't stop us from housing the lot of them. 

These little puffs of dough are called coccoli.  They are served with a heaping mound of stracchino cheese  that is something like a tangy cream cheese. The name is derived from the Italian word "stracca" meaning "tired". Supposedly it comes from cows coming down from the alpine pastures in the autumn and the milk is richer and higher in fats. The balls are basically little hunks of pizza dough that are allowed to rise and then quickly fried to just golden. You spoon the super creamy stracchino onto one and hop on the train to flavor town. I have never had anything like this before - I'm fairly certain this is a local Firenzi dish. Sooooo good.

Ho hum. Another amazing caprese salad with beautiful rounds of mozzarella di buffala and ruby colored tomatoes. The cornerstone of any decent meal. 

House wine (vino di casa) is the way to go in Italia. Don't even bother spending extra on fancier bottles, you're just wasting your euros. The house wine is always good. It's cheap. And it's served in liters or pitchers. Cin cin!  (Cheers!) 

I say "probably the best" a lot on this blog. The above pork chop is not in that category. It is THE BEST pork chop I've ever had. A one inch thick slab of perfectly grilled pig, shimmering in an olive oil rub, beckoning me like a siren song. So, so tender. It needs no sauce or enhancement. This is just pure carnivorous perfection.

Prosciutto and melon. I was never sure if this was just an Italian American thing, but here it is!  That salty, paper thin prosciutto wrapped lovingly around juicy sweet hunks of melon is such a delicious play of flavors. Vegetables and fruit were not exactly front and center on most menus. Even if it's wrapped in ham, it felt good to eat something that didn't have parents.

Speaking of vegetables, a beautiful salad of greens, radicchio, tomatoes, thin sliced cucumbers and shaved pecorino. 

I don't even know how they pile spaghetti this high. If I tried to do this at home it would immediately slump down onto the plate.  Italian magic!

Il Brindellone
Piazza Piattellina, 10, 50124

A quick day trip out to the west of Firenze through Prato, Lucca & Pisa. Had some really good thin crust pizza in Lucca, which is this beautiful little medieval town that is still surrounded by it's ancient walls. For a few euros you can rent a bike and ride the walls for a great view of the city and the surrounding countryside. The pizza was from a hold in the wall place called Sbragia. Look it up next time you're there.

Our favorite apertivo spot in Firenze was at ChiarScuro. An amazing spread of pasta salads, cheese, meats, sandwiches and spreads. Good red wine and strong negroni's. I don't understand how this concept hasn't caught on in the states yet. This place is basically a coffee shop by day, but in the late afternoon they start assembling the apertivo buffet. Anything that hasn't sold that day is offered up for free when you buy a drink. A great place to meet up with friends before heading out for the night. Lots of locals and a very fun scene. 

Via del Corso 36R


Mmmm...more gelato. This was a great little place by out apartment called La Carraia. That's cookies & cream with dark chocolate on top. Wow. The trip advisor reviews rank it as some of the best gelato in Firenze, if not all of Italia. The address on the trip advisor link shows it on the south side of the Arno river, by the Pitti palace.  But we stopped at one on Via Giuseppe Verdi just where Borgo Santa Croce comes in, by the Santa Croce church.  

Finally got to sip some good Italian beers. The Moretti's and Peroni's are fine, but I wanted a taste of what Alla Spina has been bringing to Philly.  Danny Rock is not the most Italian sounding name, but they had a great beer list and a foosball table.  We literally stumbled into this place on the way back from sight seeing. A good sampling of beer on tap (alla spina) and lots more in bottles. My favorite was the Extra Re Ale. Nice amber color and just a little hoppy. Basically a good farmhouse/saison.

The TrentaTre was a much stronger, Belgian style with a bit of sourness that reminded me of a flemmish ale.  Very good, but this is a sipping beer.

Danny Rock
Va de' Pandolfini 13r, 50122


Our last dinner in Firenze was at Osteria del Caffe Italiano, with friends from Philly who just so happened to be in town for the day. After a bit of back and forth "where should we eat" conversation, we picked the place that was busiest and ended up waiting outside for a table about 30 mins. The wait was well worth it, plus they gave us free glasses of wine to keep us happy. I love it when a plan comes together. 

They also own a little pizza shop just next door that serves traditional Neapolitan style pies. We did not get to try the pizza, but there was a hefty line out the door for it. Always a good sign. The website says they make it in strictly three variants - Napoli, Margherita and Mariana.

By far the best prosciutto we had in all of Italia. I personally love how it is served on a tray with no adornment. They are basically saying that this stuff is amazing and needs nothing else. And they are right. This is a tray of smiles.

Just another caprese you say? This one split up the tomatoes and cheese on different plates! Mind blower!! Seriously though, this was insanely good. This was the best piece of mozzarella di buffala we had in our two weeks there. The cheese is barely solid, falling apart with beautiful tears. It tasted like the cow was milked hours ago and sent directly to our plate.

Riccota & zucchini balls, dusted in pecorino. These little guys literally melted in your mouth. 

Papparadelle with the wild boar ragu. This is an oft repeated dish at many a Philly BYO. Nice to have a taste of the real thing. It is so simple but such an intense burst of flavor. The homemade pasta is light and nearly orange with egg yolks. The perfect backdrop to the earthy, falling apart tender ragu meat.  

Osteria del Caffé Italiano
Via Isola delle Stinche 11/13r, Firenze

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