EUROPE 2011 (PT 2): FLORENCE – Birthplace of the Renaissance and Ribollita

View of the Arno from Uffizi

When we started planning our Italy trip, we really didn’t have a clear idea as to where we’d go, what we’d do, or where we’d eat. We only knew of a few areas we REALLY wanted to see – Tuscany, Cinque Terre, and Bologna. In talking this through with our travel agent, she recommended that we use Florence as a base of sorts.

We started and ended our trip in Florence. We also stopped here in between Tuscany and Cinque Terre. What we discovered is that this city, the birthplace of the Renaissance, is chock full of culture, art, shopping, and great food.

We had originally booked a 6-night Slow Food tour through the Tuscany region but 2 weeks before our trip, our travel agent called to say she’d made a mistake and the tour didn’t include transportation or a guide. It was a lot of money for a mostly self-guided tour and we decided to cancel the package and put together our own itinerary (Travel Agent FAIL)… REALLY glad we did.

This was our schedule over the course of our time in Florence (click to enlarge):

We decided to start the Florence leg of our trip with a food tour, we booked the Flavours of Florence Tour through Walks of Italy and were connected with Fadi, a gentleman who’s lived in Florence for approximately 14 yrs. He took us to a couple enoteca’s (wine bars), a couple restaurants, and spent the bulk of 3 hours answering our questions and giving us tips on eateries to visit. We were assured these eateries were places he frequents and hot spots in Florence. The tips we got from him set us up well in Florence, which was great as we would return to that city 2 more times throughout the trip. For two people, we paid 269 euros and we wouldn’t hesitate to take another tour with Walks of Italy.

FLORENCE FOOD HIGHLIGHTS:

One of the two sisters who own and operate Il Cernacchino

  • Il Cernacchino: One of the places Fadi took us to, the small and unassuming shop was described as a “fast food place serving up slow-cooked foods”. We really enjoyed meeting the two sisters who own and operate this little shop. They serve up rustic Tuscan cuisine, often in breadbowls. We had a sampling of a variety of Tuscan dishes, but the ones that really stuck out to us:
    • Ribollita – a Tuscan Bean and Bread soup
    • Polpette al Pomodoro – amazingly moist meatballs, their secret ingredient? Home-made ricotta in the meatball mix
    • Milky Beef Stew – beef and onion stew made with cream
    • Schiacciata con l’uva – a seasonal Tuscan dish, where ripened grapes are wrapped in pizza dough and sprinkled with sugar and herbs
    • Zuccherini – an anise flavoured donut

Grom

  • Gelateria Grom – we tried several gelato places in Italy and Grom rated in the top two. The gelato isn’t too sweet, they use seasonal ingredients and the flavours of the ingredients really come through. It’s creamy and seriously addictive. The service we received at Perche No! was much more personable and hospitable than Grom, although I must also add that every time we’ve hit Grom there’s been a line of 10-15 people.
  • Enoteca Volpi e L’Uva – located across the Ponte Vecchio, this was another recommendation from our food tour-guide. D loved the ambiance. Being a photographer, he made us go back just to capture the lively yet intimate setting. We tried a few wines, especially enjoyed the Rosso di Montalcino. But the star was the Crostone con salsiccia al tartufo – crostini baked w/ truffle-infused sausage and asiago. It was heaven in every little bite.
  • Street Food – Lampredotto is a popular and tasty offal street dish in Florence. It’s cow stomach braised in a tomato base stew usually served as a panino with salsa verde (green salsa). Other variations include you can get Trippa (braised tripe) in a panino or for the less adventurous Panino Bollito (boiled beef sandwich). Our favourite was the lampredotto at the San Lorenzo market. (For more information on trippa and lampredotto, this is a great post by Elizabeth Minchilli whose blogI found very useful in planning our Italy trip).

    Lampredotto e Salsa Verde

  • i Fratellini – a teeny tiny famous Panini shop open since 1875. This place serves up cheap and tasty panini. With lots of options, I tried a panino with prosciutto and truffled pecorino cheese. Truffled cheese for only 3.50 euros? How can you go wrong?!
  • Gilli – a nice coffee shop in the Florence centre, with a history dating back to 1733. A cappuccino and a couple amaretti cookies from here make an amazing Italian breakfast… or snack. A word of warning, like many cafe’s in Italy, by drinking our coffee standing at the bar our bill came to 5 euros, compared to the 20 euros we saw others paying because they ordered and enjoyed their coffee sitting on the patio.
  • Trattoria Sostanza – We had heard such great things about Sostanza, I was eager to make a visit. We weren’t able to get reservations for our first two nights in Florence. On our last night in Italy, we were lucky and able to get 2 seats at one of their two seatings.  Sostanza would be our memorable last supper in Italy.

Walking in, we were immediately struck by the old school style (after all Sostanza has been around since 1869). The handwritten menus, framed yellowed postcards and photos on the walls all contribute to a vintage ambiance. Not to mention the jackets worn by the servers making them appear more like Pharmacists than restaurant staff.

We sat at a communal table with 3 other couples and each couple shared one Pollo al Burro, we all raved about it! The Pollo al Burro (butter chicken) deserves the hype and fame, lightly fried then roasted in browned butter… it was moist, buttery, and melt-in-your-mouth. For our last meal in Italy, we had to order the Bistecca alla Fiorentina. It was cooked the way it’s intended – rare, simple, slightly charred. Perfect dish for our last meal in Italy. Our meal was topped off with a light, crispy, raspberry meringue cake (great recommendation by our table mates).

Trattoria Sostanza - the famous Pollo al Burro

FLORENCE FOOD LOWLIGHTS:

  • Ristorante La Republicca – We were really full after our Flavours of Florence tour and stupidly canceled our reservations at Buca Mario. But after walking through Florence, we quickly became tired & hungry. We wanted gelato from Grom and decided to grab a quick bite at one of the 3 restaurants around the corner from the gelato shop. Honestly, the choices looked grim but we chose Republicca. From the outside, it felt like a place that serves mediocre food for the tourist crowd, and that’s exactly what it was. We had the lasagna al forno, the fried zucchini & artichoke, and the calamari stew. Apparently the lasagna is “made in-house” and it was ok. The squid in the calamari stew was tender enough but the stew really didn’t offer any spectacular flavours. The fried vegetable were a mess – the batter was too thick and the zucchini and artichoke tasted not fresh. Overall, we learned that bad food does exist in Italy and felt we wasted a meal because we caved to our tiredness. However, the pistachio gelato afterwards at Grom made up for the poor dinner.
  • Pizzeria O’Vesuvio – hearing that a place has the best pizza in Firenze in the same sentence as “where Jersey Shore worked” seems… strange and… out of place. But knowing that the owners come from Naples, we went to try the pizza. We had the napoli crust w/ classic toppings – pomodoro, basil, & buffalo mozzarella. Each of the individual ingredients tasted fresh and good (ex. the tomato flavour of the pomodoro sauce was sweet and packed with tomato flavour), but I’m pretty sure I’ve had pizza of this quality in parts of Canada so the overall pizza didn’t wow me… plus eating at a place where Snooki worked seems wrong.

We knew Florence would be abundant with gorgeous architecture and impressive art, but we were surprised by the abundance of great, homestyle food in this city. Sure, the original David took my breath away but Sostanza’s Pollo al Burro also rendered me speechless.

Here’s a glimpse into our Florence trip, for the full photo album of our time in Florence, please head to our Facebook page.

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(Photos by Dong Kim)

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Categories: ITALY, Uncategorized

3 Comments on “EUROPE 2011 (PT 2): FLORENCE – Birthplace of the Renaissance and Ribollita”

  1. December 3, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Gorgeous photos, Dong, as always. And Carmen, I love your writing. I’ll be referring to this post for sure if Aaron and I ever get to Italy.

    • December 3, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

      Thanks for checking out this post Christina! If you go to Italy, you’ll have to let us know where you go eat.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. FAVOURITE FOOD THINGS OF 2011 – PART ONE | foodkarma - December 30, 2011

    […] hotel staff. After 3 attempts, we were finally able to get reservations on our last night in Italy (as per my previous post). We had the Bistecca and their famed Pollo al Burro (i.e. Butter Chicken). The lightly fried […]

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