My trip to Florence last week was two fold. On the one hand I was there to update my app, EAT FLORENCE, visiting all the new and exciting places that had opened over the last year or so . But want to know what really excites me more than anything? The old places that have been there forever. While I can’t really justify yet another meal at Sostanza or Fagioli, there are still, thankfully, dozens of old places that I have never been to. I’m not sure why, but Florence, much better than Rome and especially Venice, has been very good at leaving well enough alone. There are plenty of small, hole in the wall, places that have been serving delicious, hearty Florentine fare for decades. And I meant to visit as many as my stomach would allow.
My first stop was at Vini e Vecchi Sapori. It’s VERY well known. At least by others. I was always getting asked about it on Chowhound, and almost everyone I know, visiting Florence, told me it was one of their favorite restaurants. Yet I’d never been there for a few reasons.
First of all: the location. It’s located right off of Piazza Signoria which has become, over the years, the most touristy spot not only in Florence, but in all of Italy. Also? Every time I looked in the glassed in front door the place seemed incredibly crowded and cramped, with people constantly going in and out trying to grab one of the small wooden tables.
But this time I planned ahead. I actually made a reservation for lunch, at 12:30, right when they opened. And so was one of the first to arrive on a wet and rainy winter day.
First of all the service: the family that is running the show couldn’t be nicer. Even though I was alone, and could have been stuck in an out of the way table, they let me choose any table I wanted. As I settled in, the place filled up pretty quickly. Yes, mostly with tourists (this is Florence, after all) but also with a fair share of Florentines. A few very elegant Florentine signore, on their own which made me feel right at home.
The hand written menu changes daily, and addresses the whole tourist thing right away with a big notice: No Pizza, No Cappuccino, No Ice, No Take Away. And even though they were offering a Insalata Caprese in the middle of winter, I’m going to give them a pass since this year winter tomatoes from Sicily have been awfully good. I, of course, was tempted by the raw artichoke salad. But given the nasty weather I jumped right into a big bowl of steaming Ribolitta. It was made just how I like it, full of vegetables like carrots and cavolo nero, and with enough bread and beans to fill me up. Although it came to the table with a drizzle of fruity olive oil, more was left on the table to that I could top it up.
The tables around me mostly ordered the pastas of the day: Papardelle a sugo d’Anatra (Duck Ragu) which looked, and smelled, divine.
They are known for their excellent grilled meats, and a lot of peole were ordering the Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Lombata di Vitello and what looked like a delicious tagliata served on a bed of arugula. I was very tempted by the Pollo Fritto e Carciofi, a fried mix of chicken and artichokes. But I can never resist chicken livers when I see them on the menu, and so my second was Fegatini di Pollo e Fagioli. A big plate full of tender, silky white beans mixed with chopped chicken livers. The entire thing had been sautteed together in a pan till slightly browned in spots, with a big bunch of fragrant sage. My idea of heaven
By the time I left it was completely packed. With people waiting patiently outside in the rain. So if you do go, and you should, make sure you reserve.
Vini e Vecchi Sapori
Via dei Magazzini 3, Florence
For more information on dining in Florence and Italy download my app, EAT ITALY. EAT ITALY is a free app, and contains guides to Venice, Milan, Rome, Florence and Umbria (and an ever expanding list of regions and cities) available as in-app purchases for both iPhone and iPad.