Alli and I really like Florence, it was probably our favorite city that we visited on our honeymoon. It’s not the biggest or flashiest city, but it’s incredibly easy to walk around (no hills), they have some nice shopping options and it felt more like a ‘college town’ compared to the craziness of Rome. The town isn’t exactly known for their pizza but they are known for their wild boar ragu, lampredotto (cow stomach sandwich) and being the birthplace of one of my favorite cocktails; the Negroni. So Alli did her homework again and came up with a group of restaurants that we needed to visit. We ended up going to a bunch of places and had some really awesome meals, here’s some of the highlights….
La Bussola. As I said before, Florence is not known for having amazing pizza, in fact almost every thing we read online mentioned that it was notoriously bad. But when searching through ParlaFood.com for some Florence tips, we came across a blog post that spoke highly of La Bussola and their Neopolitan style pizza. We had made reservations for our group of seven and were seated right away in the dining room. I wish Alli and I could have gone back for a quieter meal because their bar is pretty fantastic (look at those stools!). The food was pretty good, our Margherita pizza was cooked perfectly in their wood-fire oven, had good toppings with a nice chewy outer crust. My pasta with beef was alright, but nothing that exciting. Our meats platter and duck liver pate crostini were very good, albeit a small portion. The bar also had an impressive selection of Italian craft beer and I enjoyed a tart bottle of 100% Farro from La Petrongnola. I’d love to go back in the future to grab a pizza and some really good beer at the bar.
Perche’ No. We didn’t get too many recommendations before our trip, but Chef Carmelo Raimondi recommended we definitely stop by Perche No for gelato when traveling through Florence. Luckily, we had been reading a lot of praise online for this gelato stand and they lived up to the hype. Located not too far away from the Duomo, their gelato was some of the creamiest that we had anywhere. Their creamy vanilla with cherries was rich and delicious, while Alli enjoyed their bacio (chocolate and hazelnut).
Gelateria Santa Trinita. Our other great gelato find came courtesy of our guide and was located right near the Santa Trinita Bridge, hence the name. The shop didn’t look that special from the outside but once we walked inside we noticed the fancy dining room, large wine selection and some very interesting flavors. It might have been the best gelato that we tried on the entire trip. I tried their outstanding grapefruit sorbet that was incredibly refreshing on a humid day.
Osteria I Brincello. I don’t remember exactly how we found out about Osteria I Brincello, but Alli really hit the jackpot with this restaurant. It might have been our best meal on the entire trip. Dining in Italy (especially in these tourist heavy areas) doesn’t start until late into the night and when we showed up to the restaurant at 7pm, it was basically empty. We were a little scared by the lack of crowd and the overly cheesy interior (bottles of wine hanging from the wall, garlic vines everywhere). Once the first plates started coming to our table, we realized that everything was going to be OK. Their lardo on crostini was amazing; thinly sliced pieces of fat, drizzled in olive oil on crusty bread. The pieces of lardo were salty and melted with each bite, they were amazing and I wanted to order more immediately. Alli’s wild boar ragu (pictured top) was served in a cooking pan (cute) and was hands down the best ragu we had anywhere. Alli believes it was the best thing she ate in Italy overall, which is saying a lot. The boar was slow roasted over at least two days and the pasta was made fresh that morning, it was perfect. I ordered potato gnocchi that our server was very excited about as the potatoes came in fresh earlier that day. The incredibly soft pillows of pasta was served in a sweet and chunky red sauce. All three courses were fantastic and some of the best variations on those dishes that we’ve ever had, anywhere. I can’t recommend visiting this restaurant enough. Our server didn’t speak too much English but was very friendly and we really enjoyed ourselves.
All’antico Vinaio. On our honeymoon two years ago, we didn’t have too many ‘great’ meals. But one of the best was a spur of the moment sandwich that we ordered from a neat looking restaurant. Alli found out that the name of the restaurant was All’antico Vinaio because it is now ranked #1 on Trip Advisor. When we visited two years ago there was no line whatsoever, we just happened to walk by a really cool looking restaurant and decided to stop by. This year when we walked up to the restaurant there was a line down the street with tourists. It was disheartening but we decided to stick it out and relive our main Florence food memory. In this case, there is a reason why this small sandwich shop has such a long line, their food is probably some of the best in the city. Their thin and crispy foccacia-like bread is baked fresh across the street and carried over every couple of minutes. You put together your sandwich by choosing your meat, cheese and veggies (kinda like Subway, except it’s good). For 10 euro we ordered two sandwiches, a prosciutto with their soft fresh cheese and speck with buffalo mozzarella and zucchini. They were gigantic and we could barely finish half. It’s a bummer that you have to stand in a crowd that was probably dropped off by a cruise ship (I know, I was that person two years ago) but the food is still worth it. Also if you like wine, they offer selections for as little as 2 euro per glass that you can enjoy on a few benches lining the street.
Da Nerbone. One of the coolest places to go in Florence is the Central Market; a large market that features deli’s, wine shops, sandwich shops and plenty of foodie finds. One of the most popular and historic places in the market is Da Nerbone, a sandwich stand that offers porchetta, roast beef and the famous lampredotto sandwich. On this particular afternoon I ordered the porchetta sandwich and a caprese salad, the total was under 6 euro. The restaurant is a little intimidating, they move quickly and there are a lot of older local men who yell in Italian from the sidelines. We lucked out and visited when there wasn’t a crowd but walking by the stand later on that day, it was packed with people. It reminded me of Toronto’s famous Carousel Bakery in the St Lawrence Market, an institution that sells cheap sandwiches at an incredibly fast pace and where locals still eat. If you are in Florence for an extended period of time, you need to visit the Central Market and grab a sandwich to go form Da Nerbone.
Osteria Del Cinghiale Bianco. Our last meal in Florence was at Osteria Del Cinghiale Bianco, a very busy restaurant that had very good reviews online. Alli again ordered some wild boar ragu and their lardo, but I ordered the pumpkin ravioli (per suggestions online) and our table ordered the suckling pig (because why not?). Even though the name of the restaurant is the white boar, the ragu wasn’t as great as our meal the night before. Instead of large slowly cooked pieces of boar, it was finely ground and didn’t have the same flavor. Still good, but not as good as Brincello’s version. The raviolis were very tasty and I could see why they were so popular, they are basically drowning in a pool of butter and sage. The pasta itself was very good, the filling was sweet and the excess of butter was rich without being too greasy. My favorite dish of the night however was the suckling pig, it wasn’t an entire pig but a large chunk with plenty of skin left on. No one else at the table could eat anymore so it was basically left to me to finish it off and I gladly did. The restaurant itself looked really cool, was packed on week night and had awesome wine pitchers with boars on them that I wanted to steal. The food was hit or miss (mostly hit) but we had such a good time as a group that it was worth the trip and everyone else seemed to enjoy their steaks and pastas (my mother in law’s cacio e pepe had a really good flavor and with thick, freshly made bucatini).
The Joshua Tree. We didn’t do a lot of drinking on this trip, besides the occasional beer or house wine at dinner. But walking around Florence we noticed that there were more bars than we found in Rome and they looked pretty casual. After consulting the internet for a good bar that was near our hotel, we stumbled across The Joshua Tree (as a U2 fan I enjoyed the name). The website makes it look pretty lame and I’ll admit, the fake Irish pub thing can be pretty dumb. However, the actual vibe inside the bar was much cooler than I expected and aside from a general green theme inside, there wasn’t much else that was ‘Irish’. The bartender had a sweet Yo La Tengo shirt, everyone inside was a local and speaking Italian, they had some decent beers on tap and everything was pretty cheap. At one point someone started arguing about a soccer team (at least I think they were) and Alli and I just took it all in. This can definitely become a touristy bar (there are dollar bills with various US college logos pinned on the walls), but if you visit on an off night you might enjoy a chill crowd of locals.
There are definitely sites to be scene in Florence, but honestly, skip the tour guide as you could find everything by yourself with a simple map and a day of just walking around and getting familiar with the place. Looking back, it’s pretty apparent that we probably ate the best in Florence. While Rome is gorgeous and filled so much to do, Florence seems to be a city that’s made for doing things at your own pace. It also was much easier to get around and made our dinner decisions less stressful. When we return to Italy again, Florence will definitely be on the itinerary.
If you want to check our our meals from Rome, click here. And to see what we ate in Orvieto, click here. And, as before, if you are interested in sightseeing shots, check out Alli’s photo albums of Rome and Orvieto/Florence.