Sant’Ambrogio to me is the city’s culinary landmark. It has the daily food market and some of the best restaurants in the city. Personally, this is where the heart of Florence’s food culture beats and where I learned the bulk of how to cook Tuscan food, gleaning secrets from fellow shoppers and my favored purveyors. In Sant’Ambrogio, you find the institutions boasting Florence’s gastronomic specialties like cafe & bakery Nencioni, the pop & son run street cart of Via de’ Macci who does lampredotto & tripe, a couple wine treasure chests like Sosta de’ Papi and Enoteca Sant’Ambrogio, Gilda’s vintage accoutered sweet & soulful Tuscan restaurant, Marco’s Semel and his signature panini and of course Fabio Picchi’s Cibreo empire.
One of the best parts about this quarter is being a bit off the beaten path, one can relish in a slice of Florence without the crushing crowds. This is why I choose my gourmet market tour to taste around here- to give visitors a chance to experience not only great food but genuine culture.
Farm-to-table might be a little cliche’ but I thought it appropriate considering the heart of Sant’Ambrogio is the market. While there are few growers left or purveyors procuring goods from local & traditional sources- there are some gems left.
For those who are unfamiliar with Fabio Picchi, go inform yourself. He is one of the founders of Cibreo which operates a cafe, trattoria, restaurant, theatre cultural restaurant, an asian/tuscan fusion Cibleo (terrible name, great food) and now a specialty grocer shop: C.Bio. Basically what makes his restaurants & eateries so special is Chef Fabio is obsessed with quality and nourishing food with a strong ethos for product sourcing. He has an energetic approach to food, he demands a respect to the environment for the ingredients used in his cuisine and all the food made has a lot of careful attention to traditional recipes. I personally appreciate everything Fabio Picchi & his team does- I think anyone who criticizes Picchi just doesn’t get it. Fabio gracefully succeeds with creativity in a non-tweezer way or without imitating someone else. Their menus also revives nearly forgotten Italian dishes not strictly from the Florentine or Tuscan repertoire.
Anytime I bite into food here, I taste all the details that went in. The quality olive oil slathered on the natural risen schiacciata flatbread (which these days most bakers use industrial yeast and poor quality grain) makes my day a whole lot better. The quality is superb and the best descriptor word I can find is nourishing.
So on this note, Picchi strikes again with C.Bio (Cibo Buono Italiano Onesto/Honest, Good Italian Food) which is a small grocer selling produce from local extremely biodiverse farms, as one of Fabio’s songs for a better food world include promoting biodiversity. On the top floor, there is a sort of small nursery and table which displays (and reminds us of) heritage fruit varieties along with some fruit trees & starter produce available for purchase.
The space around the corner from the Sant’Ambrogio market used to be a former co-op & nursery (Legnaia). I used to do my shopping here too especially for olive oil, wine and everything else when I couldn’t make it to the morning market. Their branch in Sant’Ambrogio sadly closed some time ago (but the co-op still exists) and I am happy to see Picchi restore it with the same philosophy of supporting local producers, but with better goods. For example, the meat quality is remarkably higher than when Legnaia was here.
What I love about C.Bio besides the specialty produce & foods is they’re open until 8pm which is convenient for those who can’t make the market. Revel in organic produce, utterly rustic breads, fresh eggs, milk, meats from heritage breeds possibly the best butter in town and a curated selection of wines, jams & take-away foods from the Cibreo kitchen staff. It is a bit on the expensive side, but I’m one of those people who are all for paying a little more for insane quality. And you know, I would be sad if all there were to get food from was the crappy Conad or the market which is honestly hit or miss for quality foods and is only open until 2pm.
When you visit C.Bio, don’t miss a slice of their schiacciata (salted & oiled Florentine flatbread) I personally think it is one of the best in town but some Florentines disagree with me because it’s a bit soft similar to a focaccia. But what I like about Picchi’s Schiacciata is also the principle- a lot of bakers in town are grumpy and I suspect they don’t make their breads with love nor care to bother with natural rising, sourcing Italian grown grain and likely to use rancid olive oil. A dear old friend who now has passed but nevertheless whose wisdom continues in my memories, once told me that baked goods were the highest expression of love. Ever since this idea got stuck in my head, I’m convinced (albeit with sentiment) love must be an ingredient in any risen morsel.
While C.Bio’s schiacciata may not fall in line with the technical terms of how a schiacciata should be textural wise, at least the love and ethics in ingredients is there- and I can’t say the same for more than another handful of bakers around town. I also think their jams are the ultimate jam (especially the fig and almond) and their sausage from semi-wild roaming heritage pigs a protein worth all the cholesterol.
The second farm-to-table opening in Sant’Ambrogio is Luca Menoni’s new lunch spot on top of his butcher stand inside the market. Locals term this a “risto-macelleria” which poorly translates into a butcher eatery, but basically a micro version of perhaps famed butcher Dario Cecchini’s butcher restaurant in Panzano. Micro since this isn’t a full-on restaurant but more like a street food stand inside the market. Macelleria Menoni has been a fixture in Mercato Sant’Ambrogio since 1921, first helmed by Luca’s father and today is dedicated to fresh, local cuts of meat and traditional preparations (like roasts, offal, etc)
Again, I find this notable as Luca’s meat is the only stand in the market I trust for sourcing, quality and tradition. I try my best to never buy meat from the grocery store, as Italy has problems with their meat industry too. While not as disgusting as America’s, there are some lines in between to be read & paid attention to. Such as, read the labels: meat sold is from other parts of Europe and butchered in Italy. Keep in mind Italy is a small country- there just isn’t any physical possibility that all of it is raised free-range on natural feed locally.
The eatery Luca has opened is a what I’d like to call “butcher-to-table”, since you can order a foray of meat dishes from meatballs to slow cooked stews, all which heavily respect the Tuscan culinary repertoire with sides all sourced from his butcher case & produce from the market to the tables which sit above his stand. My instagram post below from a recent press lunch I attended, organized by local journalist Marco Ferri
Hey meat lovers- what about butcher-to-table? In Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, my favored source for quality local meat Macelleria Menoni (helmed by Luca Menoni) has a self-service eatery concept on the roof of their butcher stand. In likewise tasty company with choice writers in the city, we got to sample a bit of Menoni’s new food stand: fried spiced meatballs, lampredotto toasts and extremely historic dolceforte (beef slow cooked in a wine sauce accented with raisins, pine nuts and cacao). It works like this: walk up to the butcher stand, pick & pay off the menu, head upstairs, set your table and collect your meat plates from the dumbwaiter lift! They also have sides like chard cooked in tomato & garlic, parsley tender potatoes, tomatoey peas and such. Bravi Luca and team! 😘#eater
Anytime I need a reminder of why I love Italy or why Florence is a wonderful place, a visit to Sant’Ambrogio is the surefire cure, surrounded by what’s left of an ideal food utopia.
Details: C.Bio Honest, Good Italian & Tuscan Food Address: Via della Mattonaia, 3A, 50122 Firenze FI Hours: 8AM–8PM (closed Sundays) Phone: 055 247 9271
Macelleria Menoni & Terrazza Menoni: Inside Sant’Ambrogio Market/Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio (near Santa Croce) lunch from 11:30-2:30, menu changes often and everything is self-service
In your food loving trust,