I am finally compelled to write you all after a whirlwind stay in Florence. This time, things started to feel normal again. I never want to hear the words “zona gialla/arancione/rossa” ever again. I experienced Florence in a period in which I felt like I could finally resume what life was remotely like before the modern day plague struck. That is, doing tours, dining out and living between two places I consider home: San Francisco and Florence, Italy.
I write you from my couch in San Francisco, sipping on a negroni (made myself *unwashed/unbrushed hair flip*), in tattered pajamas no less. Just as I would have imagined my first real blog entry to be in the last nearly 2 years to look like. I hope you appreciate the visual picture I’m painting…
I was brought back to Florence to check on our culinary tours/events (so stoked they have been able to “ripartire” after this mess!). I’ll be in SF for the remainder of the year if anyone wants to book a food tour, wine tasting or company/holiday event!
I love the life I built but it hasn’t come with complications. I don’t want to sugar coat living in Italy and I hope the curated bits I or anyone posts are not influential- social media is a smoke and mirrors place that could implode one day- make sure to subscribe to newsletters and blogs.
I digress, the title of this post involve panini in Florence and so I’ll revert back to the point
When I was in Florence recently, I chased after a spiral to understand the best panini in Florence but came to realize this started with understanding the bread it’s wedged on
This is a topic that cycles though Florence food-related blogs because of All’Antico Vinaio and their stronghold over the city’s panini identity. Even during the pandemic (minus the spring lockdown of 2020) they’ve been bullet-proof. They have for the most part maintained wrapped-around-the-street lines and massive demand.
Would you like to know what I think?
As one entrepreneur to another (although I am hardly even close to their scale!)- I tip my hat to them. They work hard, are somehow always nice and jovial (some Florence businesses are run by grumps) and serve a consistent product.
It’s not easy what they have accomplished, in the country they operate in. They are so busy, that there are literal guards that patrol the street they sling panini on to make people don’t snack around/obstruct the via.
But as someone who derides mass tourism, industrial foods and mediocre quality- I can’t say this is a panino I could get behind. I also find it absurd to wait in line for more than 15 minutes for a what should be a humble sandwich lunch. But mostly, in order to meet the demand they have- I doubt they are using artisanal ingredients from small producers. A key ingredient in their instagrammable sandos is meat, and while I’m not inspector gadget for every calorie I purchase, meat is one of those things I try to be discerning about.
What I don’t understand is: there is a historic butcher (Antico Salumificio Anzuini- watch this reel by Memento Martina!) that gets overlooked. They are across the street, make their own meats and is control of the supply chain for their panini. I’m sure this butcher is too small (i.e. aren’t cost effective) artisanal to meet the demand of their friends across the street to collab as a meat supplier.
And not to mention the plethora of other panini makers around the city who aren’t (thankfully) tourist attractions with lines stretching to the river. I understand the need to go where everyone else has, but this obsessive list-ticking pilgrimage has got to be addressed.
I’m going to do my best to not make this post into a listicle, but rather implore you to explore these other lists and resources around the internet for finding great panini in Florence:
Follow this series by my friend Memento Martina (who is a trained butcher among other amazements)
My alternative guide to the best panini in Florence (an oldie but still a goodie)
In Italian, but a tour of Florence’s best schiacciata according to Vice Munchies Italia
This post I made on instagram recently
And this listicle for lampredotto by Gambero Rosso if eating guts is also your thing
Also I’m sure other bloggers have compiled similar guides and just because I or anyone else have written on a relevant topic doesn’t mean that A. anyone owns the title or B. no one else can have a say in the matter, taste is extremely personal! The beauty of the internet (despite its creepier sides) is there isn’t a gatekeeper for asserting the best of anything.
I will say I personally deduced what makes a panino a memorable one is the bread. Meat is important, and implore you all to be discerning when it comes to consuming it, but for Florence and to many Florentines, the bread is just as important as the fillings. And this is where the debate for schiacciata vs focaccia comes in!
Schiacciata is what I joke to be Tuscany’s modern answer to its saltless/oiless bread. It is a flatbread, punched down by hand (hence the root of the word “schiacciare” to squash) and oil slathered on and bae’d with coarse salt.
It is rustic, a bit chewy and should have a very slight crunch to the crust.
Florentines I have spoken with say most of the “schiacciata” from local-loved places like Pugi are actually most similar to Ligurian focaccia due to its pillowy softness. In San Francisco, my food tours stop by a historic Ligurian bakery to taste traditional focaccia in case you are in town and want to indulge in this topic together.
This softness is obtained by its brine, but I looked on the internet to fact-check this and it seems there is some talk of Ligurian focaccia having crunch. I spent a trip entirely dedicated to tasting Ligurian focaccia (read in this post) and apart from Recco’s cheese-filled thin focaccia- I NEVER came across a focaccia with a noticeable crunch. Bread trends run wild!
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I then switched my focus on where to find the best schiacciata in Florence, and this is what I deduced for eating this bread PLAIN without any fillings or toppings:
Panificio La Pagnotta on Via de’ Macci- I’m no Florentine but I’d say for being in the historical center, this is the most accurate benchmark for a classic schiacciata in Florence
For the QUEEN of schiacciata, you need to make the pilgrimage to Forno Giotto in Chiesanuova
For the most flavorful, look no further than Antico Forno Giglio in Via Gioberti (and on this private market tour in Florence we get special tastes and peeks no one else gets)
I also enjoy the schiacciata from Pugi in Piazza Beccaria as more classico Toscano (the one in Piazza San Marco is more of a focaccia) and any carb Forno Canapa (get the coccoli while still warm if you can) and the breads from Forno Becagli on Borgo Ognissanti. It’s a vibe.
What are your thoughts? Please share them respectfully
In your panino Italiano trust,
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