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A Primer on Eating Out in Florence (Chapter 2)

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

We are scheduled to return to Florence in a little more than two weeks, and i was going to wait until we arrived there to talk about specific restaurants. However, i have received many requests from people who want recommendations for themselves or for friends whose travel to Florence is imminent. Thus, i will discuss a few restaurants where i often eat, and list a few others that, although i do not eat there regularly, know enough about the establishment to provide it to my readers as a place they should consider eating.


All of the restaurants mentioned are quite popular and need to be booked in advance. Some need to be booked several days in advance and others booked the day before or even the same day is doable. You should have a good and fun meal at any place I talk about. Keep in mind that many restaurants are not open seven days. Some are closed one or two days a week. Some are only open for lunch. The most common days to be closed are Sundays and Mondays, but others are closed on a Wednesday or Thursday. That is why i suggest that, where possible, particularly if you are in Florence for only two or three days, that you make sure you can go where you want to go and when you want to go.


i live on the Duomo side of the river, so most of the places i eat are on that side. However, there are some very good restaurants on the other side of the river. There are also hotels on the other side, but most of the hotels are on the Duomo side. There are many bridges across the river, but most people walk on the Ponte Vecchio which is the oldest bridge in Florence over the Arno River, and is the most popular because it is lined with jewelry shops on both sides.. Ponte Vecchio means "old bridge", and in Italy, when they say "old", that does not mean a decade or two or three . it means hundreds of years and this bridge was completed in 1345.


As you cross the old bridge, the first main street is Borgo San Jacopo. This area is known as the Santo Spirito. . iI is where. if one keeps walking straight when reaching the other side of the bridge, the Pitti Palace is straight ahead a very short distance. if one turns right on San Jacopo, within approximately five hundred yards, there are many places to eat or have a glass of wine or champagne. To my mind, the three best places to eat on this one block are Cammillo, Mamma Gina, and Cinghiale Bianco. "Cighiale is wild boar and it is a special dish through Florence, and, i would think most of Italy. Wild boar ribs are delicious, and when one orders pasta with meat sauce, many times that meat is wild boar meat. All of these restaurants must be booked in advance.


What i am doing here is leading you to my number 1 recommendation in the area for typical Tuscan food at a very, very fair price. This restaurant which I highly recommend to anyone, and particularly those on a budget, is Casalinga. Maybe 20 years ago, we asked a merchant with whom we became friendly where the local working people went to eat, and this was the place. When we started going there, hardly a tourist would be present. Now, this trattoria attracts more than just the locals.


Casalinga is not that easy to find so leave a little extra time to get there, The address is Via dei Michelazzi 9/R, but the address really does not help. When you cross over the old bridge, make a right on San Jacopo, go to the end of the street and make a left. Walk just a few blocks and the first right is the street on which the restaurant is located. it cannot be missed as it is only about 20 steps once you make the right.


The food is probably the best "bang for the buck" in all of Florence. There is nothing bad on the menu. There may be other wait people but a brother and sister are great and they have been at Casalinga for years and years. The sister is Christina. i cannot remember her brother's name. There is nothing on the menu that is not good. Plus each day, they have specials. Almost any well known Tuscan dish is available.


All the pasta are very good. They have great roasted chicken on the bone and i can recommend any of their pork dishes. in fact, i can recommend just about everything on the menu although i do not eat such dishes as tripe. The house wine is more than adequate. Roasted potatoes are a very popular dish throughout Florence and quite good at Casalinga.


They have all the typical desserts. i usually have the lemon sorbet, which comes in a frozen lemon, together with the contucci which are the famous hard cookies one dips in a sweet wine called Vin Santo As a hot tip. We always bring back to our home in Florida several bags of the cookies because we know a shop that we think make the best in the world. We also bring back bottles of Vin Santo which are very cheap in Florence, but very expensive in the United States, if one can find Vin Santo at all. Most of the liquor chains do not carry it, and if they do, the cost can be well over $30 per bottle. Do not buy your Vin Santo in a wine store (an enoteca). Just go into any Conad, the largest grocery store chain in Florence and you can buy Vin Santo for less than $10 a bottle. There are expensive bottles of Vin Santo, but,, unless you are looking to drink a very good sweet wine to drink standing alone, almost any Vin Santo is good enough for cookie dipping.


The same principle stated above is true with Aperol. The Aperol Spritz is the favorite drink . it is one part sparkling water, one part Aperol and one part prosecco. Some put in an orange peel, i put in a slice of orange after i have squeezed a little orange juice in the glass. A spritz is as good as the sparkling wine used. i buy from Sicily and have ship to me in Florence, a sparkling wine from Planeta, which also makes a great chardonnay, The sparkling wine from Planeta, I think, is far better than all but the most expensive prosecco. The bar in the Bristol Hotel in Paris uses Chandon champagne in their spritzes which makes the drink great but is way over the top. A spritz, even served with enough appetizers that one does not have to eat dinner, is, generally euros 10 or less.


Back to where to eat. If good food is your objective along with drinkable wine, and you have only a day or two in Florence, you cannot go wrong at Casalinga. They are also open for lunch and booked solid so call in advance.


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Now, i am back on my side of the river, and my first recommendation is Gratella (the Grill) located on Via Gulfa 81R. This is where Barbara and I host about 40 people each year for an American/Italian Thanksgiving. There are hardly any tourists but they are still fully booked every night. Gratella is open for lunch, but, if i have been there for lunch, i do not remember.


The house red wine at Gratella is really quite good. For our Thanksgiving dinner, i bring my own champagne and white wine, but drink their red wine which is bottled especially for them.


Eat anything on the grill and have a great meal. There is steak, veal, pork and they are all good. Their onion soup is terrific but very salty so I no longer order it. The peposo, which is beef stew, is as good as any in Florence and served with terrific polenta. i also recommend the platter of prosciutto, salami, cheese etc. Order that first, then a pasta, all of which are good and then some grilled meat. Here the roasted potatoes are great, even better than at Casalinga. The beans are also quite good as is their oil


One of the favorite dishes in Florence is what Americans would think of as chopped chicken liver. In Italy, it is called "fegatini" and it is particularly good at Gratella. in fact, it is a great dish brought in a container with a flame underneath to keep the food hot. Spread the liver on very good bread that will be provided.


The prices are fair. This is a place where there is a possibility for a discount if pay with cash. This is an extremely good place to eat. it is probably not a place your concierge would recommend, but as i said in Chapter 1, do not depend on your concierge.


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My next recommendation is Sostanza at Via dei Porceliana 28R, It is not that easy to find the first time, but it is a three minute walk from the Excelsior and St. Regis Hotels which are on the river. This little joint is like a private club and has been around for over 150 years. Now pay attention---no credit cards, communal seating and not even coffee.


They have many things on the menu but there are three dishes to die for. Many think Sostanza has the best Florentine Steak in the world. It is loaded with salt so be careful. You can walk into the kitchen which is about the size of a medium sized master bathroom and see the huge slabs of steak which they cut to order the size requested.. ONE can buy a steak for one person, or any other number of people. If you like the bone, which I think is that best part, instead of ordering one steak for two and getting one bone, or two steaks for one. . All Florentine steak is served blood rare. In some places, it is "take it or leave it" and they refuse to serve the steak any other way. Sostanza will cook it medium rare if one asks politely but that is it. Maybe you can get it pink, but do not go further than that. In fact, if steak is only acceptable cooked to the point where there is not color left, save your money and order something else. Florentine steak is not intended to be eaten well don.


For those who do not want to eat meat or do not eat meat, Sostanza has one of the greatest chicken dishes of all time cooked served in a skilledtwith about a ton of butter. Many couples split their dinner ordering one steak and one chicken. They are both beyond great.


For those who do not eat meat or chicken, they serve an omelet that is quite good. Their beans are probably the best in Florence. Order them either in oil or tomato sauce. I prefer the latter but either is great. The bread is a terrific roll. You can have as many as you want but do not expect a bread plate. This is not a fancy place. it is tiny. Maybe thirty people, and they have an early sitting and a late seating. if you go early, do not expect to linger because there is a line outside for the second seating. Maybe that is why they do not serve coffee.


The third great dish, the best single dessert in Florence. is a meringue cake which can be ordered with or without berries. i recommend ordering it with berries. No matter what, unless you are diabetic or otherwise will die or get very sick from eating dessert, do not leave without getting at least one order. i only split mine under gunpoint.


So it is easy: steak, chicken, beans and cake. No first course is necessary although i see many people ordering a salad. i drink the house red wine almost all the time. i am sure it has happened on occasion, but i would not expect to get a table without booking in advance. The price is higher than either Casalinga or Gratella, but it is worth the money. Remember, only cash. Figure euros 50 per person, give or take.


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My next recommendation is Gatto and Volpe (the cat and the fox--no relation). The address is Via Ghibellina, 147/r. It is easy to find because Ghibellina is a well known street right in the center of the city.


I like this restaurant because they have a huge choice at very fair prices, and they have great tap beer. it is safe to drink beer from the tap in this place, but not in all places.


I particularly recommend the beef tagliata which is sliced steak Usually, there is some very good tartare that can me salmon, tuna or steak. Their salads are quite good. I have not eaten it, but several guests i have taken like the osso bucco.


The house wine is fine, bit i, generally drink the beer. The service is good but a little rushed because they are so busy. There are several small rooms instead of one big one. i have never eaten the pizza or the calzoni, but both on the menu with several different varieties. This is a good place to go, have good food and drink, in a convenient place without overpaying.


My way of determining if a restaurant is expensive or not is to look at the price of certain dishes. To be inexpensive or moderately priced, the pasta should not cost more that euros 10 or 12, unless, of course, one is eating truffles or lobster on top. I use the same price range for pizzas. Another dish to test the price is the veal chop (lombatina) If it is more than euros 20, one is in a different price range.


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My last recommendation for this chapter which, remember, just consists of the places on my personal rotation of places to eat in Florence (I am not considering brunch at The Four Seasons where i go almost every Sunday unless i am out of town or in a coma) is La Giostra located on Borgo Pinti 10/18/R. There are actually two entrances, because the restaurant was so successful that they expanded. It does not matter where you are seated.


Before i go any further, I should mention that my Wife hates this place and will not go. Why? The portions are huge and not only does she not want to see all that food in front of her, she does not want to see anyone else eat that much.


i would bet that a huge percentage of American students studying in Florence, when their parents come to town to visit, this is the first place the student wants to be taken. They have an early and a late seating---mostly tourists at the early seating and mostly locals at the second seating.


There is not a house wine. The wine list is extensive and ranges from very inexpensive to very expensive. i know the owner very well and can bring my own wine, sometimes sharing a glass with him, or bring my own beer because I always, not almost always, eat the schnitzel which is the best i have ever eaten. This is not an inexpensive place, but fairly priced for what one gets except for the beer which is ridiculously overpriced. i bring my own beer as well.


One reason the checks are so large is that first timers think this is like any other place and that, therefore, one has to order several courses. This is a serious mistake. One is served a full plate of very good appetizers and a glass of passable prosecco which is included without extra cost. Eat that, and order any main course and the odds are some food will be left.


The restaurant will accommodate anyone who wants their food cooked without salt. Every dish is terrific, but the schnitzel is to die for. It comes with three wonderful sauces and delicious roasted potatoes. The meat covers a large plate and only really big eaters finish it. The dish is made the Austrian way so it is not deep fried. For those who do want the veal, all the fish dishes are particularly good. The seafood pasta is also excellent, and son Charles thinks they have the best spinach he has ever eaten. Go for sure, and have a great meal, but don't tell my Wife.


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All the places i have mentioned are open for both lunch and dinner. There are, literally, hundreds or restaurants in Florence where great food is served. My intent here is just to give the reader enough to not go wrong. If it is not good, i never go back, and I have eaten at all the places mentioned here dozens of times.


March 2, 2022.







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