Places to eat in Florence

First of all, I’m going to put this out there and say there probably isn’t a bad place to eat in Florence.  My best guess is even the worst place to dine in Florence is probably still better than going to Olive Garden, Macaroni Grill or Carrabba’s.  So that being said, here’s a quick list of some good spots to check out:

All’Antico Vinaio da Tommaso/Osteria all’ Antico Vinaio
Via De’Neri 65/74 Firenze 50122

This suggestion came from several different friends, and it’s hard to argue with them that this place has the best cheap eats in the city (or actually in the world in general).   Split into two locations, there’s a sit down restaurant and a take-out storefront across the street from one another.  My buddy and I opted for the take-out, which around lunch time had a line that was about a 10-15 minute wait.  It was worth it despite having to avoid all the pigeons hanging out above shitting on everyone.  For 5 euros, you can get an incredibly good sandwich.  The great ciabatta bread, delicious meats, and really fresh tasting vegetables and cheese practically had my eyes popping out of my head on the first bite.  You can order the sandwich however you want, but for the sake of not being that annoying customer, I opted for one of the Top 5 sandwiches they have on the chalkboard.  Stop in here for lunch.

Gusta Pizza
Via Maggio, 46R, 50125 Firenze

Obviously you have to stop into a place for pizza when in Italy, and again, you probably can’t go wrong with most places.  We came here at the suggestion of a friend (this will be a common theme), and it was perfectly good.  Would I say walk out of your way to find it?  I wouldn’t go across the city to do it, but if you’re in the vicinity you should stop in.  The pizza was as solid a pie as I’ve gotten anywhere, but didn’t go beyond.  The menu is simple, there’s not a whole lot of fancy pizzas to order, but the price is nice and it will definitely hit that pizza craving spot.

Ristorante Mastro Ciliegia
Piazza di San Pier Maggiore, 4R, 50122 Firenze

Another good pizza stop, one that was not suggested by anyone but rather we just stumbled upon because we were hungry (and hungover).  Its rather pleasant setting in Piazza di San Pier Maggiore actually made it one of the more relaxing parts of the trip; we got to people watch in a piazza that wasn’t huge so the low noise level was enjoyably peaceful.  Try the truffle and prosciutto pizza — it’s excellent there.

Osteria Vini e Vecchi
Via dei Magazzini, 3, Firenze

From the outside you might mistake this place for a tourist trap, especially since it’s super close to the Uffizi.  Don’t be fooled.  This great mom and pop restaurant had one of THE best Osso Buco’s I’ve ever had.  Add a Pappardelle with duck and you’ve got yourself one helluva meal.  It’s a perfect spot for a low-key meal after the museums.  And if you’re so inclined, we got a tip from a friend to ask the waiter for some of their homemade limoncello that wasn’t on the menu.  When we did that, the waiter gave us a little grin, a wink, and brought out a bottle with two shot glasses and a pat on the back that felt like he was saying, “If you know this exists, then you’re in the club”.

Ristorante Osteria Zio Gigi
Via Folco Portinari, 7-r, 50122 Firenze

Here’s another place we just stumbled into, and again it was a big score on our parts.  This restaurant had a great local vibe, and boisterous atmosphere.  The staff really makes you feel like you’re part of an Italian family, like you’re their kids.  The chef, who by my best guess was maybe the father, came out of the kitchen frequently to loudly serenade us with Italian opera, much to the embarrassment of his female wait staff who had the faces of “Dad, stop it!” written all over them.  As for the food, it was excellent (like everything on this list), but we did a number on ourselves in this place.  Since this was our last dinner of the trip, we decided to go all out, and all out we did.  We each ordered a 500 gram florentine steak, which was already more than enough.  But on top of that we each had a plate of tortellini.  The food was amazing, but you know what they say, “Too much of a good thing…”  Even our waitress acknowledged the fat shits we were and gave us complimentary digestifs at the end of the meal with a hearty laugh telling us “This will help with your” while rubbing her belly.

Gelato

Just eat it.  Everywhere.  It doesn’t matter what place you go to.  We went to everyone’s suggestions and they were all amazing.  But if you HAVE to be directed somewhere, Gelateria Dei Neri is as famous and popular as gelato places get.

All the gelati
All the gelati

Quick Hits – Don’t eat at Lazzara’s Pizza Cafe, NYC

Since I’m on a “Quick Hits” roll, here’s another from NYC.  Don’t eat at Lazzara’s Pizza Cafe in Manhattan.  Based on looking at Yelp reviews, this place had above average reviews mainly saying that the pizza was good, but the service in some cases was so-so.  We never even made it far enough to try the food.

My friends and I stopped there for a late-ish lunch and wanted to take a load off after walking around Times Square for a while (which is down the street).  It was around 2, maybe 3 in the afternoon.  The group of us sat down and because it was a later in the afternoon, some of us had already eaten, while the others just wanted a couple of slices (this was New York City after all).  Keep in mind, this place was absolutely empty — we were the only ones in there other than another couple.

The waitress first took a while to come over to us, which in itself wasn’t that big a deal.  But then she proceeded to tell us that we had to order whole pies if we wanted to sit at the table.  We explained to her some of us only really wanted to have a few slices, and the others were just looking to have a couple beers.  Nope, she said we’d have to order at least a pizza per 2 people if we wanted to stay otherwise it had to be takeout.  She didn’t even seem that apologetic or willing to compromise for some business!  It seemed more like we were bothering her afternoon session of General Hospital.

Needless to say, we didn’t want to order that much pizza and we left.  But on the way out, we said it loudly and clearly, “You just lost your empty restaurant some easy business for no real good reason.”  If there was a line out the door for people who wanted to sit, then I might understand that policy.  But the place was empty!

So, while the food might have been good, we never found out because it looks like those other reviewers who said the service was poor were spot on.

Quick Hits – Piccola Cucina 196 Spring Street

(Note: The Australia posts will continue soon.  Up next is the Great Barrier reef, but I need to find a device or store that will let me download the underwater camera memory card onto my computer first.)

Tucked away in the middle of Soho, New York is a little Italian restaurant that makes you feel like you stepped into an Italian dinner party.  Piccola Cucina is one of the branches of four restaurants (one other is in NYC, and the other two are in Miami and Ibiza), and this one from what I gathered is the smallest of the branches and has the most “homey feel”.

The food is very good, with the highlights being the Wild Boar Ragu and Shrimp pasta.  But since the menu changes constantly, I can’t really guarantee that’s what you’ll have an option of.

But regardless, the food is secondary to the atmosphere — That’s why you should go.  The restaurant only sits about 20 people at most, and everyone is shoulder to shoulder like a can of sardines.  Now this in general would bother me, but the restaurant makes it less awkward by having a boisterous, inviting feel.  Everyone is talking to the tables next to them, inviting each other to try different dishes.  The table next to us told us we needed to order a delicious sardine appetizer dish that wasn’t on the menu.  They had been told the same thing by the previous table and were paying forward the suggestion.  We did the same to the table next to us as we were wrapping up.

The kitchen is practically on top of the dining area, and you can see the hustle and bustle of literally way too many cooks in a small kitchen.  Nevertheless, you can tell the cooks are loving what they do, yelling and singing while they make some fine cuisine.  The wait staff is super friendly, inviting you to try and speak Italian with them, and blasting Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York (coming from Boston I generally hate this song, but it was too charming not to smile).  The restaurant got really rowdy when all the lights dimmed and the entire place sang happy birthday to one poor red-faced customer a couple tables over.

At the end, most checks come with mints, a chocolate, or fortune cookies.  This place gives you a freaking cannoli.  We were almost too full to eat it, but it was too delicious not to wolf down.

So it’s not a great place for a first date because of the noise, but if you’re in the area looking for a fun place to eat, give Piccola Cucina a try.