As much as I enjoy a fancy cave aged, herb crusted goats milk Tomme cheese and a oily, aromatic glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the Dolomites, at the end of the day I simply adore a good rustic Tuscan greasy spoon hole-in-the-wall with house wine that could pass just as easily as an oily gasoline…
This is what I ACTUALLY adore most about Florence. It’s the family run, health department renegades, the hole-in-the-wall where you sit elbow to elbow with strangers at your table, the Tuscan peasant food oasis that has absolutely ZERO pretension…Italian food is this to me. Fancy name brand chef restaurant serving shot glasses of heirloom tomato coulis and vanilla pod risotto with some equally pretentious mystery “foam” that lacks not only soul but the ability to make you break a sweat when you’ve eaten a little too well. Put it away. I don’t want it. Unless a gorgeous Mediterranean man is insisting on taking me there (happens ALL the time!), I will snub it just like it snubs me with its out of reach menu prices.
Which brings me to my next point is that these greasy spoon, Tuscan hole-in-the-walls are affordable. And meant for the blue (or skirt?) collar wallet.
A friend of mine in Florence whispered to me sweet nothings recently, aka restaurant recommendations which may as well be dirty talk in my foodgeek world, and it was this pretty solid Trattoria Mario in San Lorenzo, Florence.
I am a bit hesitant to trust his recommendation because it is located in one of the most candy coated touristic corners of Florence: San Lorenzo which is extremely hit or miss. Some spots are extremely authentic and utterly Florentine while others make me want to cry in a corner, shake my fists and curse everything that American pop culture superimposed on the world. And it’s round the corner from the line up of tourist trap restaurants (with few exceptions).
But albeit being mixed up with the bad culture kids on the block, most aimless fanny-pack wanderers would not be able to easily stumble upon Mario’s. Great. The front entrance is almost undetectable and plastered with guidebook stickers and newspaper reviews from over the years. It looks like it’s not open, but it is. Indeed it is.
Walk in. Stick to a corner where the waitstaff couldn’t possibly knock you in the head with a massive platter of bistecca fiorentina (the Florentine t-bone) or pour a crock pot of Tuscan ribollita soup (twice cooked peasant “kitchen sink” soup) all over your pathetic clean clothes that are about to get ruined anyways (despite your best efforts) by crunchy skinned fried rabbit, saucy oily zucchini ravioli and the token splatter of fiasco bottled “chianti” house wine.
Put your name on the list and wait to smash in next to a couple of others who if they don’t become your best friends afterwards, are probably just French.
The menu is written on paper on the wall. There might be a dog in the kitchen. The old man is hacking a massive row of t-bones right in front of you (well, behind the kitchen which is transparent and protected by some sort of glass. There is the waitress’s daughter sneaking bites of potatoes from ready plates and from the fryer (I bet. I’m onto you, kiddo!) and a very cute cook giving you googly-eyes (or you imagine that’s it and not just his lazy eye which got burnt from too much hot grease). You are immediately thrown into the chaos and your job is to embrace it, watch steak getting hacked and order as fast as you can.
Me and a lovely partner in eating crime ordered: Tuscan Zucchini Ravioli stuffed with ricotta. Fried bunny thighs. Panzanella salad.
Word to the wise: Vegetables at these casareccia, casalinga, greasy-spoon mom & pop trattoria places will ALWAYS be soggy, over-boiled, over-oiled and greasy. Any hope in nutritional value has been washed down the drain. That is not why you are here. Want vitamins? Take a vitamin. Or eat your frilly salad at home to save calories for gut busting jaunts like these.
The pasta will not be al-dente. You will be lucky it wasn’t sold out since these primi piatti usually sell-out in the first hour or so during lunch. And that grease puddle is what that tasteless Tuscan bread is for: la scarpetta. La scarpetta means “the little shoe” and is that chunk of bread you dance around your plate with to sop up what juice is left.
The fried bunny (rabbit) tasted like fried chicken. A thick fried layer of batter blanketing a very white moist thigh meat. Ditch the dainty fork and knife, sink your teeth into that thigh like it was Jessica Rabbit’s.
The panzanella was forgettable. Panzanella is a peasant bread salad served in the summer with ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and onions. I absolutely usually don’t like raw onions but if thinly sliced, I can manage. But these were like massive haphazard chunks that seemed like they had been cut with a butter knife. I guess they were saving their chopping/slicing energies for the massive rack of steak.
The meal ended with a chat to a group of gentlemen, one of which looked like Ray from Girls (but a more handsome, Roman version) and strangely enough I couldn’t stop looking at him (shameless) and soon enough either my own googly-eye-ing or the random old man singing “happy birthday!” (probably the latter) got us over at their table, slamming down more wine, laughs and culture exchanges and moving over to the nearby bar for a post-meal coffee and shots of limoncello. At four in the afternoon. And this, my dear readers, is why I can’t see a country better to live in than this.
With wholly adoration for il bel paese,
p.s. Useful info: Trattoria Mario is only open for lunch Monday-Saturday.