For those of you following my blog for some time, it’s no secret one of my favorite Italian past times is the Aperitivo while rejecting the Aperitivo buffet. The ‘rona has taken a lot of things away from us, including the aperitivo buffet. Looks like there is a bright side after all. This post is a round-up of my personal picks in Florence doing unique (and affordable) food and drink programs/formulas (mostly outdoors all’aperto) for Aperitivo hour during this abnormal pandemic summer 2020.
Putting my personal feelings aside, I do my best to appreciate why the Aperitivo buffet makes (or made sense) for Italian social eating/drinking culture- it’s an affordable and casual way to meet up with friends without having to invest (or participate) in an evening of traditional dining. Compared to cheap trattoria outing, the aperitivo buffet is less committal, and also lighter in atmosphere as well as more food options for locals who tire of the usual repertoire.
So I get the Aperitivo buffet, I’m just not into it. Part of this comes from my own personal history. Some family dinners were spent at buffet spots- anyone know Cici’s pizza? Yeah, Italy go ahead and disown me now. I can strangely recall the cloyingly sweet nutella calzones…
I do my best to acknowledge how a global pandemic is sinking a lot of people’s livelihoods while also putting staff at potential risk- therefore I can (only) do my best to appreciate how the discussion of dining out and spending money is more a contentious arena. Let’s be honest, the ability and propensity to leisurely spend has been affected for many of us. This is why aperitivo is great- it affords everyone a slice of comestible pleasures. After all, we need a drink more than ever. I hope these suggestions strike a happy medium of quality and value.
While bittersweet, I feel safer and am relieved (and impressed) to be in a country where they partook in a real lockdown. If only Trump’s America could be like Italy– who successfully reduced their COVID-19 numbers. And because the chance of catching and passing COVID-19 to a restaurant worker is as about as probable as big winnings from a scratch lottery ticket, I’m happy to support restauranteurs.
Whether rooted in reality or idealism, I don’t feel the ethical conundrum of dining out the way I would feel if I were back in San Francisco. Workers wear masks, hand gel mandatory and many are requiring temperature checks upon entry even if an outdoor space and fines are given to venues who don’t distance their seating setups.
I am however concerned about travel restrictions easing and more people can trickle in possibly bringing in new cases/impacting the odds of a severe 2nd wave. I do notice tourists around not wearing masks in public, and although not technically mandatory I really wish they would. I’m convinced this small act would reduce the severity of an inevitable second wave.
If anything, visitors should be wearing a mask as a sign of respect to a country who partook in one of the most traumatizing lockdowns with over 35K deaths to sorrowfully match. I hope if people stay on their guard/wearing masks, distance, sanitize etc perhaps we can keep the curve flat because at some point we have to learn how to co-exist with the virus (safely) until effective treatments are available.
Going back to Aperitivo…
I would much prefer to partake in the aperitivo in a more traditional way (whatever that means anymore) in which you have a small plate of simple snacks and a drink like a glass of bubbles, light wine, bitter-based cocktail or a beer before dinner time (so between 6-8pm)
In the time of COVID-19 however, the Aperitivo buffet which extended the hours of the aperitivo ritual into dinnertime hours, has more or less been done away with due to new sanitation measures. For now at least. And I sincerely hope it never comes back.
To celebrate this silver lining the pandemic has bestowed, I wanted to share a few spots in Florence who are offering a unique Aperitivo formula or is simply a decent spot to Aperitivo during this abnormal time in our lives. Please stop saying “new normal.” Nothing about this is normal and I sincerely hope this is not what normal is to become for the rest of our lifetime.
Since I’m still trying to grasp what the hell has happened to the city since COVID, make sure to bookmark/check back for updates as I’ll add more to this list as they are discovered.
Bear in mind (did you think of a bear too?) some of these spots perhaps never had an Aperitivo buffet to begin with or are simply a listicle-worthy spot to drink well and order an appetizer. If you look hard enough, there is the awful cafeteria mensa-type buffet bars where you point to what you want and they fill the plate- but that to me feels even more tragic than the classic Aperitivo buffet format- I refuse to even acknowledge them.
Not in any particular order:
Mad Souls and Spirits- This San Frediano staple has now geared up with Fermento 1889 to procure a 12eu formula of a personal pie (gourmet in style, long fermentation in dough technique) and craft cocktails designed to pair. Julian Biondi is back for the moment pouring so that’s reason in it of itself to carb hooch yourself mad. Address: Borgo S. Frediano, 36/38r, 50124 Firenze FI (Oltrarno)
Dorsoduro- Snag a spritz made with Select bitter and a cicheti platter inspired by the kind of fishy snacks one would find at the bacari of Venice, also for 12eu. I dig this spot and wonder why it doesn’t get enough love. Could be the off-beat location in San Lorenzo, which is currently a quarter needing more love in terms of food/drink patronage. Address: Via S. Gallo, 31, 50129 Firenze FI (San Lorenzo)
Whle you’re in San Lorenzo and if you’re into craft beer and pub food, don’t miss Brew Dog (no aperitivo but their beer is so damn yum)
Gesto at Beppe Fioraia- Now closed on Borgo San Frediano, Gesto’s cocktail program has moved to the garden space at Beppe Fioraia. The cocktail options are solid, even if fluid, and you’d be a fool to miss out on one of their drinks with thoughtful touches like negroni-marinated cubed watermelon garnishes out in the prato with a board brimming with cured meats, cheeses, fried coccoli and other finger snacks. Just watch out for mosquitos and wasps :/ Address: Via dell’Erta Canina, 6/R (San Niccolo’)
Il Locale- If you thirsted after Il Locale’s swanky New Yorkish cocktail palace with Renaissance frills, this is probably the best time to dwell here. They offer a 15eu mixology-level craft tipple plus a tower made of Tuscan olive wood filled with fancy chef’s kiss snacks like fried scamorza cheese bites and whipped potato canapés dusted with truffle salt. Sit facing the bar to bartender watch ice cubes hacked to perfection and all sorts of jedi tricks. Address: Via delle Seggiole, 12r (Santa Croce)
Move On- They don’t do an aperitivo formula but I discovered by chance that Luca Manni is bar manager at this record store/gastropub smack dab in the middle of Piazza del Duomo and if anything, before the crowds return, this is prime real estate for a craft cocktail by Luca, appetizer snack (bar food in quality) with an insanely beautiful view of Florence’s dome. Address: kinda next to the Duomo
Habitat Firenze- Admittedly I still need to check this out but they’ve re-opened literally today and is a boho themed raw bar (according to their IG- raw fishy things or tartare on colorful buns- gimmicky maybe?) with creative craft drinks. This is a purely gut move listing it here without having tried it. Anyone wanna go with me? Address: Via del Giglio, 59 (San Lorenzo- near the Medici Chapel and where News Cafe used to be:(
Procacci- Now this historic bar known and loved for their secret-recipe truffle mini-panini has socially-distanced tables outside on Via Tornabuoni and if you can snag a spot, it’s quaint for a cheese plate of pecorini, parmigiano chunks and truffle cheese plus a glass of prosecco or skip the cheese and stick to the signature panini (not just truffle, also butter and anchovies, finocchiona, etc) You can easily get away with a posh aperitivo for 15eu or less per person. Address: Via de’ Tornabuoni, 64R
Lungarno del Tempio for their summer pop-up bars like Dogana (quaffable drinks/wine and mediocre but edible aperitivo mini-portions of farro salads, veg couscous and pappa al pomodoro) but the food in this mini riverside complex is redeeming such as Le Follie di Romualdo spinning pizzas plus Pescapane for fried fish sandos, Ara’ for Sicilian treats (arancine, panelle, etc) and Smoked & Fried for pulled pork and coleslaw plates. (nearest bridge: Ponte San Niccolo’)
View this post on Instagram
Kidnap one of your besties, take the bus up to Fiesole for a romantical Aperitivo @pensionebencista (but book a table in advance). Cheesily watch the sunset over Florentia with a bottle of funky wine (this long macerated orange Vernaccia di San Gimignano was all over the place but 😳 interesting) pair with a cheese board or flat out 🐽 arista and 🥔 and likewise funky grooves on Thursdays when they have solid DJ sets spun by quality ears like @dredecor8 @mmmmmmmmimmy @florence_lofi_sunset. The only snag is the last bus leaves at shy of 10 so plan on a taxi splurge (unless you’re set with a car). Well worth the treat! 🌅#curiousappetite #fiesole
For more outside the historical center spots (I desperately need out get out of the center more so please feel free to troll me with hate DMs for having left out Le Cure, etc): Melloo (Statuto?) for craft beer and prosciutto/stracchino stuffed coccoli and groovy music, Pensione Bencista’ (Fiesole) for Thursday DJ sets, snagging a bottle of natural wine plus artisan cheeses off the menu on a little terrace overlooking Florence from afar and a romantical sunset to match. Cafe de Paris in Piazza Dalmazia (truth be told, I’ve never liked it there but tons of fighetti Florentines dig it so I guess you gotta mention it) Il Pavoniere at the Cascine, Maniffattura Tabacchi (Bulli e Ballene for Venetian-style cicheti crostini bites, cones of classics like fried mozzarella panini or meat-stuffed olives and spritz and Soul Kitchen for music)
Other splurge-worthy spots with a view would be: La Terrazza at Continentale (historical center) which has a canape’ plus drink formula for around 20eu and a view overlooking Ponte Vecchio, Grand Hotel Minerva (Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, 16) who started doing a Negroni and burger aperitivo for 15eu and Kareem Bennett is behind the bar who is one of the city’s best. Hotel Lucchesi (Lungarno della Zecchia Vecchia) is doing a rooftop poolside aperitivo platter and drinks thing for around 25eu- their booze and food program is run by Gabriele Frongia who knows his (good) stuff.
Any others to add? Message or comment vs having a stage-5 meltdown. Oh and I intentionally left out Serre Torrigiani until they get their plastic situation under control.
If you’d like to consult more wine bar picks, consult this guide. Stellar spots for craft cocktails in Florence? Hit this up.
And if you can’t make it to Florence- I have a couple ideas to bring Florence to your home. Want to learn how to make the perfect Negroni at home or be guided through a wine and cheese pairing by an Italian sommelier? Consider one of my company’s virtual events and online tours! Want real deal Italian food sent to you? Consider a summer aperitivo baskets!
In your distrust for buffets,