I take eating very seriously. It’s my job- fer chrissake! When I originally started this food blog, it was intended for detailing restaurant experiences. And I kind of took a detour with bits of travel notes and cultural reflections, but my true passion in blogging still lies within writing in a sort of food critic-y voice.
If you gave me an unlimited dining expense account, I would probably be like a kid in a candy store. Everyone goes out to restaurants and has their own selection process. I have my own which can become a job of its own. It needs to have the following ingredients: character, location, a good SMELL and a menù that incites curiosity and passion.
There are so many garbage restaurants in Florence, so many overpriced mediocre restaurants and so many overrated, over discovered restaurants that to me make it harder to find a restaurant that I am pleased with (at least in the city) than it is for me to eat back in Seattle. Okay, that is a high claim but it is very true. It’s so easy to get ripped off in Florence. But the type of restaurants that I am currently in love with are casalinga-style trattorias.
Casalinga is a very hard concept to translate but it literally means housewife. If a restaurant does cucina casalinga (housewife style cuisine) it’s kinda family, rustic style with absolutely no frills and no makeup. It is the grandma in the grubby kitchen with the family or just simple cooks whipping up greasy spoon Tuscan fare at very modest prices. It is blue-collar dining and it is the kind that warms my heart and reminds me why Italy is such a wickedly awesome place.
I really don’t go for the top name brand restaurants that have the most cutting edge modern Jackson Pollock style cuisine (dot on a plate- not food!). Okay, Michelin starred chefs really do have some skill and deserve their fame. But what to me these fancy, exclusive arm-and-a-leg priced restaurants lack is grit. They provide a very sterile experience in a stuffy, privileged atmosphere which you can get anywhere in the metropolitan world.
The illustrious hole-in-the-wall (such that of a cucina casalinga) is a true gem that you can only find off the beaten path. Granted, my idealization of casalinga restaurants aren’t super organic and presumptuously artisan, but they provide to me one of the cornerstones of the food movement that I think is utterly essential. And that is: good, fresh healthy food at fair prices which is accessible to everyone.
I very much disagree with the exclusivity of eating and dining. I think dining is a beautiful experience that everyone should have access to- regardless of socio-economic status. And this is why I loved these blue-collared, working class casalinga resto joints in Florence. In America, unless it is ethnic food, it is quite hard to find healthy, cheap food in a charismatic environment. There are things like diners, soup kitchens, delis, burger joints, etc but nothing…I mean NOTHING can compare to the sheer wholesomeness of a Tuscan hole-in-the-wall.
Recently I discovered 12€ Tuscan straccetti chicken in a luxurious cream sauce topped with aromatic fresh shaved truffles with rice pilaf at a restaurant I will not disclose because I do not want them to get over-discovered. However, if you want a name you can take the time to contact me and I will happily give that name to you.:)
I also enjoyed a fresh personal burrata with an anchovy cream (which strangely is a great balance between extreme umami saltiness for the sweet creamy gooey burrata cheese). Burrata and truffles are basically 2 foods in life that have the ability to make me cry.
At Trattoria Giorgio, a name I can disclose since they are already over discovered but still okay, I marveled at the fact they offer a full course meal for €14 euros to include a 1st (an ample selection of delicious, gut filling pastas) a second (albeit salty, yet savory meaty mains including sliced steak or crispy saucy rabbit leg) a veggie side like garlicky collard greens or Tuscan beans and this also includes a 1/4 liter of house wine, water and bread. The food wasn’t exquisite, but I quite enjoyed how we were all cramped inside, eating elbow to elbow, surrounded by cheesy imitation renaissance wall paintings (including very creepy looking babies with la madonna) eating on tiny tables with red checkered paper place-mats and the kitchen looking like a scene from some New York soup kitchen in the 80’s. Again, it’s an everyday blue collar joint that everyone can partake in.
I actually recently visited La Casalinga (THE casalinga resto in Santo Spirito with the family working their tushes off 6 days a week, hooting and hollering around the kitchen making cheap Tuscan fare for the tripadvisor masses) and I must say- I wasn’t that impressed. I felt they were a bit over-discovered, commercial and didn’t have much of a soul in respect to the last couple places I recently attended.
I distinctly remember going to the bathroom and noticing wrappers of grocery store mozzarella and while I know this is the sign of a casalinga, home-style resto, I just wasn’t impressed that a mozzarella plate was nearly €10 when at the Conad (where they bought the mozzarella) it cost them €1-2. Having ordered a slab of pork chops and a bruschetta board, I didn’t think it was that tasty, interesting or that remarkable in character, aside from the scenes in the kitchen of the family stewing away in aspirated Tuscan dialogue. However, it is still quite cheap as we got away with appetizers, a main, wine and dessert for €20 each. Just not my cup of tea.
I have a few more I have found off my curious path that I intend on trying and that I may share on my instagram feed but whose name I may not reveal in the romantic hope that they retain their charm and local vibe.
Until then, stay hungry and ever so curious- as they say: when in Rome!
p.s. don’t forget dessert- especially when it’s a flourless chocolate TORTA!