Tuscany is surprising me a lot recently, the moment I declare “this region is stuck in the past”, I soon after eat my words. Most recent consumption of minced words was at the re-opening of Luigi Pecci Centre for Contemporary Art aka Centro Pecci in Prato. The Pecci has been around for quite some time, since 1988 to be exact and has been a unique hub for collecting contemporary art.
Local English-language newspaper The Florentine covered the opening best. As quoted from a recent feature: “The Pecci was the first institution in Italy to be built from scratch with the specific intent to exhibit, collect, preserve, document and distribute research on contemporary art.”
This October, they unveiled their completed architectural spaceship-like renovation 10 years in the making and 14.4 million euros later. Thanks to the buzz in the local media surrounding Centro Pecci’s re-opening, I’m sure Prato will be getting a little more visitors.
Coming from from artsy parents and a wildly alternative city like Seattle, or at least the ghost of what a original Seattle used to be before Amazonia and Microsoft took over, I crave (and miss) eccentric, contemporary culture. It is why living in Tuscany can be somewhat stifling as it is very much frozen in Renaissance and Medieval times. When I got wind of the Pecci, I made it a priority to go asap.
The exhibition space is smaller than I expected but the current End of the World installation was concentrated in food for thought with over 50 international artists represented. I’m no art expert or critic, but still allowing my opinions to be expressed having grown up in art galleries. I appreciated the flow of the exhibit’s curation, starting with very obvious images of what the end of the world would look like with powerful messages i.e. obsolete objects such as fax machines and books in the same space under rubble, and goes further down the rabbit hole of human history garnished with eccentric metaphors, artifacts, and film installations (including a music piece with Bjork!). Apart from the main exhibition space, the center is complete with collections to peruse through, over 1000 pieces to be exact including photography and sculptures.
If you go- you’re gonna get hungry! Don’t eat at the museum when are things, like Settevelli, to devour! Read on and you’ll know what I mean…
Getting to Centro Pecci from Florence:
Public Transport (least favorite method): Take either bus line LAM-MT Azzura, stop Questura, or bus line CF, stop off at Mezzana from one of Florence’s bus stations near Santa Maria Novella. Visit http://www.capautolinee.it for more bus information.
Otherwise, you could take a train 25 minutes to reach the station Prato Centrale and from there you could schlep it by foot (about a 30 minute stroll) or jump on a local bus- look for line LAM Blu, and get off at stop: Museo Pecci. Visit http://www.trenitalia.com for a timetable for trains to Prato from Florence
Since it’s just half an hour away, I’d either rent a car or carpool with some friends OR take the train, eat in the center for lunch before heading over and just take a taxi to Centro Pecci.
Where to Eat in Prato near Centro Pecci
Mangia Prato Ristorante Pizzeria- Self-deemed ‘Enosteria’ (a word play on wine and osteria), this place is run by a very special woman chef Melania Cannistra’ who cares about every little detail in food quality, down to local, non-greenhouse organic tomatoes that are jarred and not canned. She has a special affinity for baked goods so the breads, pastries and anything oven-sourced will be sure to satiate. Little more sit-down chic than on the run casual and traditional Tuscan. Address: via Brunelleschi, 6 Prato Phone: +39 0574572917
Ristorante Pepe Nero- Pretty no-frills interior/locale but the food is small-plates fancy, think gourmet and fresh creative tasting dishes premised on Tuscan flavors and a more than palatable wine list. Address: Via Adriano Zarini, 289 Phone: +39 0574550353
Ristorante le Fontanelle- Definitely a bit of a detour from Centro Pecci but if you find yourself in town with a vehicle and want a more formal eating here- check this out. Le Fontanelle’s menu is based on fresh fish, warm service and classic hospitality and a placed importance for ingredient sourcing. Address: Via Traversa Il Crocifisso, 7 Phone: +39 0574 730373
Ristorante La Limonaia- This is more fancy pants eating: terrace, while table clothes and proper table settings and approved by Italian food culture publications such as Gambero Rosso (equivalent to say Food & Wine). Not quite fine dining but rather well crafted regional recipes utilizing prized products such as San Miniato truffle, local honey, wild chestnuts, foraged mushrooms and heritage meats. Address: Via Firenze, 83, Phone: +39 0574 592515
Che Ciccia C’è- A sort of exclamation meaning “now that’s some meat!” As you can gather, this is an address for meat lover’s. The chef Marco Ciardi procures quality meat cuts and selections from all over the world, inspired from his past years spent as a butcher and coming from generations of meat artisans. All sorts of meats are procured here- not just beef: rabbit, game, poultry and wild heritage varieties of swine. Address: Piazza del Collegio, Phone: +39 0574 30416
Trattoria Soldano- Casual, laid-back family-style Tuscan trattoria for diners with a simpler appetite. Old-school in decor and traditional dishes from around Tuscany, if you’re curious about Prato’s cuisine, keep your eyes peeled or ask for “piatti pratesi” or stick to familiar rustic, hearty rib-sticking Florentine comfort dishes like pepper beef stew “peposo.” Address (2 locations): Via Pomeria, 23 Phone: +39 057434665 or Via della Sirena, 12 Phone: +39 0574 830913
Where to get a snack and a coffee
Tazza d’Oro– Located literally right across the street from Centro Pecci, this is one of those old-school Italian bars with a modest bistro vibe that do “piatti espressi” (quick plates), panini, coffee and pastry desserts. Loads of locals pile in dressed well even just for a coffee pit-stop or sit down outside with the Pecci in plain view. This would be a great stop if you don’t have time to sit down for a proper lunch but want a panino that isn’t stale (i.e. egg, truffle and prosciutto cotto on salty oily schiacciata flatbread) Address: Viale della Repubblica, 290
Where to get something sweet
Don’t waste your calories on pastries at Tazzo d’Oro because the following 2 addresses is where you need to spend your time in. Prato is an unassuming carb-loving city with a long tradition of baked goods- afterall is is Prato that is the nominated home to adorable sweet-wine dunkable almond dry biscotti “cantuccini” aka biscotti di Prato and likewise famous pastry chef Antonio Mattei who makes them best. The Mattei flagship bakery is in the heart of Prato’s city center and worth a visit as well.
Pasticceria Nuovo Mondo- A friend once told me that baked goods were the highest expressions and gestures of love in the kitchen. Because you have to work hours on end, scientifically fusing every single ingredient meticulously and then put that creation in the oven and hope that it comes out just right. Ever since, I’ve always held bakers in the highest esteem. They truly toil hours on end to provide sweet things that make people high and happy. The pastry chef behind this address, Paolo Salchetti, is considered to be in Gambero Rosso’s highest graces for the best breakfast destinations in Italy and Paolo’s love for this sweet factory is evident in every bite. Address: Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 23 59100 Prato Tel 0574 27765
Pasticceria Mannori- Another dolce institution in Prato with similar accolade from gastronomic journals like Gambero Rosso, Mannori procures a delicate and dainty selection of mignons, cakes, cream-filled alchermes soaked and sugar specked peschine, French macaroons and an award winning birthday cake originally from Palermo that you MUST try called Settevelli (seven veils of chocolate, cream, hazelnut all of varying textures and crunchiness, what seems like culinary crack) which upon eating you’ll really want to say “f**k” a lot because it’s that damn good. Skip everything (especially the gummy eclairs) and just head for the Settevelli. Address: Via Alessandro Lazzerini, 2
And finally, getting Gelato
Anisare Gelateria- If I did well, you stopped reading this post and got straight in the car or on the train to Prato to stuff your hearts delight with Mannori’s Settevelli crack cake. In case you’re that hardcore in your sweets exploration, head to Piazza della Repubblica and immerse yourself in homemade, artisanal gourmet gelato using extremely fresh ingredients and seasonal specialties (chestnuts, forest berries, figs, cantuccini cookies and cream, classics like pistachio, deep chocolate and more.) Address: Viale della Repubblica, 138
This list was compiled thanks to the help of a Pratese chef friend of mine, Melania Cannistra’ who runs Mangia Enosteria in Prato but also has a pizzeria in Florence near the Uffizi called “Mangia Pizza”- you can read about it here. Have any places you’d add to eating in Prato? Send me a message or comment below!
In your contemporary eating trust,
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