Last year (just after we were here) they re-opened the upstairs of the market and turned it into what one might call a fancy food court. There’s a large Eataly stand up there, and many many vendors all preparing ready-to-eat foods (unlike down stairs which is primarily ingredients – produce, meat, fish, pasta and more). I was eager to check it out. Well, it’s cool I guess, in a fancy schmancy kind of Iron Chef sort of way. Hip, retro, quality, overpriced. There’s a slick cooking class kitchen set up in one corner too. Funky signage and graphics. And a $300,000 white truffle in a display case for all to admire.
We grabbed a twisted pastry thing for Joe with chocolate chips on the outside, he gave it an average rating. I paid for and then waited forever for a simple caffe macchiato. The baristas seemed more concerned with putting on a show for the tourists than being efficient. Almost as if to say “Observe the art involved in preparing a proper espresso.” Well I get it, I owned a coffeehouse. There are a lot of factors (well beyond my skills) in perfecting coffee. But I’m more impressed with the barista who can make my espresso, rinse off several other cups, get a fresh cornetto for the guy standing next to me and shout a ‘ciao bella’ with a wink and a smile to the mail lady all within 45 seconds. So anyway, the upstairs of Mercato Centrale is very hip and cool, but I’d much rather dive into the noise, grit and authentic flavor of the downstairs. Which, by the way, is just what we did when we left the fancy food court and went down to grab another porchetta sandwich from the guys at Nerbone. Perfection.
Leaving the market we headed over towards Piazza Santa Maria Novella. The last time we were here they were doing construction in that area and we weren’t able to visit. While we didn’t go in the church we hung out in the square for a little while, renaming it the piazza of the strong turtles.
Next stop was Santa Croce. We wandering a bit in getting to that side of town and started looking for lunch places. We tracked down a few Trip-Advisor highly rated places in that hood and discovered most of them were not open for lunch. (I have a love – hate relationship with Trip Advisor). We found ourselves in front of a little place called La Maremma and decided to give it a try. (www.ristorantelamaremma.com) Great decision – lunch went something like this…
They offered a couple of pre-fix-ish combinations for lunch. I went with Pears with Caramelized Honey and Pecorino Cheeses, a mixed Green Salad, and a glass of house red. Joe ordered the Tuscan crostiini (chicken liver pate on toast) and spaghetti al vongole (little clams). He loved it all, but it was a little too much food for lunch. I would totally return to that place for lunch or dinner. Funky sleek interior, nice bathroom (that can be an issue in these parts), really friendly servers, reasonable prices, and delicious food.
So…Santa Croce church. Not only is it spectacular artistically and architecturally, a lot of dudes so famous you only need a single name are buried there, including Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini, Michelangelo, and many others. We used the audio/tablet tour which was incredibly informative, and also captured the interest of the teenager more than my commentary could have. Worth the visit.
Not far from Santa Croce we came upon a delicious little gelato shop (Amalo) where they were making their own gelato and also did a lot of fresh fruit, smoothies, crepes, etc. I tried to order a ‘shakerato’ – espresso shaken with ice – as I was overheating, but instead I think she heard me say ‘chocolato’ and I ended up with the thickest richest hot chocolate ever. Not what I was looking for or needed, but amazing just the same.
For dinner we were on a mission to find some Florentine Bistecca – that 2+ inch thick sold by the kilo served rare delicacy that this town is know for. We tried getting a table at del Fagioli (we’ve thoroughly enjoyed their Bistecca in the past) but they were booked. I called another place – Trattoria da Georgio – a place near Santa Maria Novella said to have a good bistecca at a reasonable price. When I called there was a very quick conversation in Italian….and no reservation taken. I couldn’t quite figure it out, I heard something about ’10 minutes’. I decided that perhaps he said ‘ we don’t take reservations but come wait outside and we will have a table ready for you within 10 minutes.’ or maybe he said ‘call back in 10 minutes and someone might be here who speaks English’. Either way, we set out in that direction and found it within about 15 minutes. It was quite full, very bustling, but no line. They were able to seat the two of us at a table for 6, which we shared with a young couple and their toddler.
Indeed a bargain, they had a pre-fix bistecca option (the steak with one side, bread, bottled water and wine – or a coke) for 28 euro. Now usually bistecca is sold by the kilo and it’s considerably more. They had a non-bistecca three course option – also with wine, bottled water and bread – for just 14 euro. I opted for gnocchi with gorgonzola and walnuts (fabulous!!), bresaola (kind of a cured beef salami) with arugula and pecorino romano, and a mixed salad. Everything was delightful, service was great, portions were generous and delicious, and we didn’t break the bank. Not fancy (the bread comes to the table in a bag), kind of tight on space, but great fun. This is a picture I will remember for a long time…