Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Even though I really love discovering brand new places, what I really love is re-discovering old places. And by this I mean traditional, worn-at-the-edges places I’ve been to years ago. Unfortunately, in Italy, these places are an endangered species. Rather than embrace the patina of history and sense of place that clings to bars and restaurants, owners decide to ‘re-new’ or ‘restore’.
And if you’re thinking the kind of light touch that I wrote about in my last two books (Italian Rustic and Restoring a Home in Italy) think again. Rather than painstakingly clean, polish and put back together cracked and worn walls and floors, many of the owners rip interiors apart, throw away the old, and install slick and shiny marble, halogen light fixtures and oddly shape furniture that cannot have any possible use except as design statements.
(Don't they realize that Keith McNally pays good money to recreate what they are ripping apart?)
Way too often, when I go to re-visit an old favorite, I’m met with an unrecognizable - bright and shiny - monstrosity.
Luckily, some places have a more sensible approach. Realizing they have a good thing, and letting well enough be. Worn out floors, foggy mirrors and all.
Stoppani, a pastry shop in Bari, is one of the hold outs. Founded in 1860 the bar still has the original wood paneling, Thonet chairs and marble tables. Even better are their pastry offerings, which also hark back to an earlier - and better? - era.
Domenico and I were in Bari a few weeks ago and stopped by for a morning coffee and brioche. This eggy, shiny breakfast pastry is what most bars served before cornetti became fashionable. Very bready and not as rich, they are usually eaten at breakfast, dunked into an icy cold granita in the summer.
Since we were there in winter, we chose cappucino. As well as a pair of bigne di San Giuseppe, since it happened to be March 19. The place was also gearing up for Easter and I wish now that I had grabbed one of their home made colombe, full of almonds and candied fruit and all tied up in crisp white paper and ribbons.
I also love the old fashioned sweets Stoppani still makes, the ones that are getting more and more difficult to find. Cotognata, quince paste, which you can buy by the kilo. Or the various fruit gelees, wrapped up individually in cellophane.
But mostly I like the fact that Stoppani just hasn’t changed. And if they’ve held out this long - against the rising tide of ‘renovation’ - I’m hoping that they’ll still be there next time I’m in Bari.
Via Roberto di Bari, 79