trattoria sostanza {florence}

trattoria sostanza {florence}
In Italy you get used to stopping by a favorite restaurant or bar, only to find the owners have either sold it, or – even worse – redecorated. And by redecorated I mean stripped the warm, cozy trattoria you knew and loved into their ideal version of what a successful restaurant should look like. Yes, I’m talking shiny marble, ‘designer’ lighting and oddly shaped plates that they think will lend glitter to their menu.

Which is why I’m always so glad to revisit places that don’t change. That revel in their patina of history, embracing every cracked tile and rickety chair while still turning out incredible dishes in pocket sized, ancient kitchens.

Sostanza is – thank god – one of the latter. While working on Eat Florence a couple of weeks ago, I made a point of stopping by. And am very happy to report that not one single solitary thing has changed since I first started going here over twenty years ago. In fact, I don’t think much has changed since they first opened in 1869 .

Same white tiles that give it a feel of a butcher shop. Same framed photographs and paintings scattered across the walls. Simple glasses and plates set atop blinding white tablecloths.

But of course, what matters most, is that the food hasn’t changed either. Although the hand written menu is ‘al giorno’ the basics stay the same: pasta or tortellini, with sauce or in broth. And of course, the bistecca alla Fiorentina, which is what most people come for.

But my visit was a ‘ladies lunch’ (I was with friends Jane and Maira) and none of us could quite imagine ordering up a side of beef. So we went in a different – but still very traditional – direction.

I started off with tortellini al brodo. That might sound kind of boring, but you’ve got to understand that this is one of the very few restaurants in town that still serve boiled gallina (hen – more on that later) so the resulting broth is super rich. Chicken soup of the gods. With fat, plump meat-filled tortellini swimming around.

Jane decided on pasta al sugo, which was simply one of the best and homiest pastas I’ve tasted in a long time. Penne tossed in an intensely meaty ragu.

At my suggestion Jane and Maira both ordered the 1/4 gallina bollita. A 1/4 hen, boiled. When it came to the table, I think they were both a bit dismayed. Remember, Sostanza is not about the presentation. It’s all about the food. But these pieces looked so unadorned and naked, we thought they were going to go walking off the table. But one taste of the expertly – yet simply- boiled hen, dabbed with liberal doses of salsa verde, convinced them both. This was not industrial chicken, but a hen that had lived a full life. The chicken taste was strong, and flesh firm but moist. Minimal and just right.

I, on the other hand, went for baroque. That is the only way I can describe Sostanza’s signature dish, petti di pollo al burro (butter chicken). I can’t even imagine how they came up with this recipe. Take a pair of plump chicken breasts, lightly grill them over burning coals. Take the breast off the coals and while still hot dip in flour, then egg and set in a small pan filled with entire stick of melted butter to finish cooking over a bed of embers. Bring to table sizzling hot, butter browned and bubbly.

How do I know how it is made? You actually have to pass through the kitchen to get to the bathroom, so I stopped and had a look. A range and cooktop and a wood burning grill. That’s it. There’s not really even counter space (unless you count the tiny marble ledge, perched above the only electrical outlet, where the egg and flour are ready for dipping). Simplicity and perfection. The cook had every move down pat, from slinging and salting the sides of beef, to dishing out the pasta, to keeping the fire going.

Now, looking at these photos, I am actually regretting that one of us didn’t order the bistecca. One of many reasons to come back soon, I guess.
trattoria sostanza {florence}

trattoria sostanza {florence}

trattoria sostanza {florence}

trattoria sostanza {florence}

trattoria sostanza {florence}

trattoria sostanza {florence}

trattoria sostanza {florence}

trattoria sostanza {florence}

trattoria sostanza {florence}

trattoria sostanza {florence}

trattoria sostanza {florence}

trattoria sostanza {florence}

Trattoria Sostanza
Via della Porcellana 25r

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  1. says

    Oh my, I have just been reading on the French blogs all of the secrets to not eating. Vive l’Italie! This is one of your addresses that I will do my very best to get to, thank you.

  2. says

    We just visited Sostanza last October. It is wonderful! The owner is a delight and took me around the restaurant, narrating the stories of the many fotos. I’d recommend making a reservation. Lovely piece, Elizabeth!

  3. says

    I’ve been meaning to stop in here forever and now I will definitely go the next time I’m in Florence. Thank you for for your great photos and mouthwatering description of the dishes.

  4. says

    I love the kitchen…If I win the lottery I’m putting one my place, building codes be damned! Been to Florence a dozen times but have yet to get there. I wish there was place like this here in NY.

  5. ekc says

    Elizabeth, thank you so much for this post about one of our favorite restaurants in Florence! I often recommend it on CH and other boards and often get the “too touristy” response. So nice to see someone else who appreciates the atmosphere and, most importantly, the FOOD! If I could marry the pollo al burro, I would!!

  6. says

    Thank you all for the nice comments! To those of you who have never been, I hope you make it soon. And to those of your who know it well, may your new year be full of new visits. And to Jodi: Tuscan Grill?

  7. Anonymous says

    omg…….the best! i have fortunately been able to eat here for abt 15 years, and it never changes! the wait staff and the food are simply sublime…you must have the omlette for lunch and for dinner the chicken! and dessert!!!

  8. says

    Thanks so much for the review. It sounds like a restaurant to visit multiple times. I’m planning a trip to Florence next month. The Pollo al Burro sounds fabulous. I wonder if they could do a gluten-free version.

  9. Deb says

    Dear Elizabeth~
    I just asked for the recipe for the Pollo al Burro on another post you had about steak and Sostanza~
    But I see you have it here!

    Deb (met you in Rome)

  10. Engred says

    Elizabeth, do you know if Sostanza is open in August? It looks like I might have a chance to do a day-trip at the end of August from Rome, but if Sostanza is closed my plans might change. ;-)

  11. jennifer mcdermott says

    My mother started going to Sostanza when she was a student in Italy through the Smith College program in 1957. I continued the tradition in 1987 and now we return every time we visit Florence. It is beyond spectacular. It is all one needs in a trattoria. The bistecca is not to be missed! If you can’t eat hald a cow share it! Also the artichoke dish is insanely wonderful. I dream about it.

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