I’m all about eating with the seasons, and Italy is the best place for that. Those of us obsessed with food will tell you they love when cherries and watermelon start popping up in gelaterie, when zucchini flowers are flowing and summer truffles are on pretty much everything. I wanted to instead not only focus on seasonal goodies, but focus on places and venues which are best visited during the summer. Florence is a hot, humid city in the summer months of July and August. If you can avoid coming to Florence in July and August- I highly recommend it. I think hanging out along the seaside or at lakes is the way to visit Italy and experience Italian culture in the summer rather than the hot cities which usually empty out on the weekends when locals head to their cool seaside or lakeside pad.
Proper air-conditioning in Florence is a luxury, unless it’s a department store or you got lucky with a bar/restaurant where it actually works. But Italians have strong opinions about air conditioning. Aside from using it minimally due to high costs, they seem to believe that air-conditioning is “not good for you.” I suspect this attitude is partially rooted in the “hit by the air” aka the mysterious “colpo d’aria” theory. This “hit” whacks you supposedly if you are bearing a nude neck in cool air conditions and is apparently worsened if you sweat and then enter a cool air environment. It’s not uncommon to find air-conditioning at a bare minimum, just to take the edge off. Chances are if you are American, the bare minimum will feel barely bearable. However, this is the local culture. To be honest, we should question how much climate control we have in the states- can we never be uncomfortable for more than 5 minutes? Perhaps our excessive use of climate control is a waste of energy and we don’t allow our bodies to do their thing of regulating temperature and blood pressure naturally. Of course- there are exceptions! But I will never believe in this “colpa d’aria” nonsense or leaving the house with wet hair will give you a cold. The credit I will give for the wet hair thing or cold air on a bare neckline is ONLY if it’s winter or if it’s a chilly autumn day- perhaps this act lowers your defenses only if a virus (you know, what actually causes a cold) is already active but it is not the direct culprit of causing a cold.
Cultural rant aside, since we should accept that most places will have minimal air conditioning, why not surrender to outdoor patios, cooler cave-like dens and lighter fare?
Here are some picks for where to eat in Florence (if you’re trying to beat the heat)
Florence has a pretty heavy cuisine and is based primarily on meats, beans and wild hunter game meat. Salty sheep’s milk cheese, cured meats, grilled steak and dry red wine don’t exactly seem appetizing when you’re dripping in sweat and exasperated for an icy break. In the summer, I quite like to focus on lighter fare such as fish, appetizers, maybe some seasonal pastas and salads. For fish, check out Ristorante Vivo on Largo Pietro Annigoni. This is a brand-new fish eatery near Sant’Ambrogio and specializes in fresh catches and traditional plates from the Maremma (Southern Tuscan coast). I must admit, that I have not eaten here yet. This is an open bet on my food-tuition- my gut tells me this is close to excellent. If you have been (and it sucks) please tell me! I have tried to get in here a few times and is either full or closed. The menu beckons my palate and the inside is roomy and cool. I have been putting off this post in order to try Vivo so I’m going to risk listing a place I haven’t tried yet but will update this post as soon as I can get my fish eating face in there.
For something totally off the beaten track hit up Fiaschetteria del Pesce in Piazza della Vittoria for simple primi (first courses) and light seafood mains, perfect for lunch near the Cascine Park. The service is slightly brusk and it’s not mind-blowing, but the food is consistent and fresh. Another fishy spot I recommend is Pescheria San Pietro, which is super close to the train station.
I really enjoyed every morsel at Pescheria San Pietro near Santa Maria Novella and while the location is not scenic unless you count the tramvia, the service, quality and vibe is worth the visit. They have crudo with flavor, nice wines and freshly house-made pasta.
There is a new place called Fishing Lab on Via del Proconsolo that all the cool kids are raving about. I was not impressed with my 1st visit but I went again and was relieved to know those cool kids were on to something and I perhaps went in on an off-night. I really enjoy their sashimi-style branzino (bass) and orata (bream) raw fish, salmon tartare, fried anchovies and a “lampredotto-styled” street-food panino which has not lampredotto but octopus and a flavorful herbal green sauce plus perfectly fried onion rings to pair. Their wine list is interesting and at really really good pricing, I would make a couple requests to have some orange wines on there and to give up on serving oysters because now for the 2nd time- their oysters royally suck and they are doing them wrong (i.e. deflated, flavorless, non-creamy and served sans mignonette). As long as you stay away from the oysters and stick with the crudo (raw fish, except the tuna), seafood-based pastas, even the grilled seafood mains and street food options plus bright, mouth-watering white wines at fair prices- this place is a decent spot. However, air-conditioning is sort of a work in progress as they have fans and mobile units to cool the place.
For another fish curiosity that I have not yet tried but people keep telling me to is Povero Pesce near Campo de’ Marte- it’s pretty out of the way for visitors but also worth the trek for those who like an eating adventure outside of the historical center. For more raw things, not just fish, try A Crudo in Santo Spirito on Via Mazzetta for a specialized niche selection of raw tartares varying by meat, fish and vegetables. Yes- they have vegan raw tartare, even! They offer a nice selection of locally sourced artisan meats, cheeses and drinkable wines too.
For pastas, I recommend sticking to places like Coquinarius on Via delle Oche by the Duomo, has not only a fab list of pastas but also a killer selection of wines, salads and it is pretty cool inside since it has a den vibe to it. Vivanda on Via Santa Monaca in Santo Spirito has a great list of vegetarian gourmet pastas, like buffalo mozzarella filled ravioli-like cappellacci with basil and summer tomatoes. I enjoy their starters like seasonal vegetable fritter polpette balls, cheeses from around Italy that aren’t just Tuscan pecorini. Il Buco del Orafo near the Ponte Vecchio is one of the best eateries in town for legit Florentine fare. While they have a scarce selection of summer-friendly foods since the menu is strictly Florentine/Tuscan i.e. heavy, comfort food- they blow me away every. time. with their pastas. I don’t know how they do it. The texture and flavoring of their maltagliati in sugo (haphazard cut pasta in a juniper berry savory no-tomato beef ragu’) is worth the sweat. They also are one of the few places in town where they do summer Panzanella right, which is soaking the stale bread in cold water and crumbling the bread and balancing the tomatoes/vinegar/oil/cucumbers/onions just right. Gilda’s in Sant’Ambrogio has a few tables outside and they have extremely valid options for seasonal pastas as they are practically plopped on the curb of Sant’Ambrogio Market. T’Amero in Piazza Santo Spirito for their funky seasonal pastas, proper air-con inside and the tables outside which are perfect also for Aperitivo/Spritz time.
This is not exactly a recommendation for pasta but on a recent press lunch, I experienced Irene Firenze (the restaurant on Piazza della Repubblica and is attached to the Hotel Savoy and I was really impressed. Most memorable was a sort of flavor-layer work of amberjack crudo served on a block of Himalayan salt which apparently helps regulate temperature and they top with a pistachio and citrus granita. Il Magazzino in Piazza della Passera is a tried and true favorite, their pici all’aglione (poor man’s tomato and thick noodle pasta) blows me away. It’s as if the tomatoes, garlic and olive oil all conspired together to marry into a trinity of umami orgy bliss. Take advantage of pretty much anything with tomato on menus throughout Florence as this is the peak season for tangy, umami fleshy ripeness.
For salads and juices, check out green nook Carduccio near Palazzo Pitti for big salads made with local and organic produce and fresh pressed fruit juices- either virgin or spiked with organic prosecco. Carduccio opened recently and I lunched there as part of a small, no-frills soft-opening lunch and can honestly say it’s a sweet, cool spot run by health-minded ladies. For more fresh juices and smoothies, stop at Le Menagere on Via de’ Ginori in San Lorenzo. I like how they use almonds, yogurt and honey in their smoothies and it’s not just pureed fruit. If you are staying in a home rental where you can use the kitchen, hit up one of the food markets like Sant’Ambrogio and make your own decadent salads at home. Since I eat out a lot for work, I tend to make big salads at home. Some of my favorite tosses have included using fresh purple figs from the Maremma, thinly sliced cucumbers, heirloom Florentine tomatoes, fresh torn basil, bright chopped zucchini flowers, etc. Get some quality Modena balsamic vinegar to dress with and this is better than what you can find in most eateries since Florence is the city of meat, not big salads.
What I am noticing on menus:
All things tomatoes, zucchini flowers (mostly fried), Panzanella (fresh tomato, cucumber and bread salad), Pappa al Pomodoro (stewed tomato and bread), black summer truffle, lots of porcini mushrooms (I also saw this in the Emilia-Romagna but I don’t feel like porcini are in season at least in Italy right now?) anchovies, friggitelli (mild non-spicy green peppers which you normally fry or pan-fry), round bright purple eggplant, figs, loads of basil, green radicchio, parsley, strawberries, cherries, etc.
Since the summer has dropped it’s 95+ degree weather on us in a blink and technically has just begun, I will add more recommendations to this list as the sauna continues….
In your hot trust,
Stay in touch with more up-to-date eating tips on my instagram, facebook and snapchat accounts (search: curiousappetite)! Looking for food & drink tours in Florence? Check out these gourmet tasting crawls or wine tours in the countryside to escape the city heat!