As I watch July 4th celebrations from afar, I’m always struck by how differently Italians celebrate their holidays when compared to Americans. Especially when it comes to the beach and summer.
While Americans have a million different ways to celebrate summer’s arrival, they almost always seem to center on grilling and/or eating out of doors. And there always seems to be some sort of rusticity involved. I mean the whole idea of grilling is that it is easy, relaxed and even though it’s anything but impromptu, it appears that way. Yes, I know there is a lot of effort involved, but picnics and grilling and 4th of July just bring to mind a kind of casualness that is pure USA.
Italians are so different.
I am forever struck by this unique Italian combination of style, summer and dining whenever I head to the Amalfi coast. There is a certain kind of restaurant that pops up on Italian beaches every year that is so hard to translate into any other language. You see, Italians take their beach vacations very seriously. And lunch is a big part of that. So almost every beach has some sort of restaurant where you actually sit down to a full lunch. You may be in your bathing suit. You may be barefoot. But by god, you are going to eat well, and in style.
Last summer while I was taking a break from anchovy-fishing I had the chance to visit one of these restaurants. I’d heard a lot about it, but since it is pretty much accessible only by boat, I’d never been there. La Tonnarella is located about half way between Amalfi and Positano. If you take a look at it on a map you’ll see what I mean. There is no road that leads you there. There may be a goat path, but as far as arriving it’s by boat or by swimming. Or a very long steep hike.
And once you do pull up to the secluded cove, you’d be permitted in wondering what all the fuss is all about. Really, there is barely any beach to speak of, and just a couple of small pink buildings that make you wonder how they manage to survive through one winter and the next without being washed away into the sea.
The pink building on the left was our destination: La Tonarella. The name of the restaurant refers to the fact that this small cove, Marina di Conca, was, until 1956, the site of the only tuna fishery on the Amalfi Coast. And in fact, the small building where the restaurant is located was one of the places where the massive nets were stored. It was at the end of the ’60’s that the warehouse shack was transformed in the restaurant shack.
For me La Tonarella sums up just about everything that is perfect about these types of restaurants. From the sea, or even from the teeny, rocky beach itself, the place doesn’t look like much. But once you have secured a table (not an easy feat) and are seated, looking out, you are pretty much in heaven.
What I love is the mixture of being at the beach, which couldn’t be more casual, with the formality of almost any meal in Italy. Even though people are walking around in speedos and bikinis, sandy dogs are yapping away, and just about every child under the age of 8 seems to be running wild, the plastic tables are covered in starched white linen, the wine is chilled to within a inch of being frozen and the smells coming out of the kitchen bring you to your knees.
Obviously it’s all about the fish here. Since I was with a pretty big group, I just sat back and enjoyed every dish that came our way. We started off with antipasti. Perfectly grilled octopus dressed with olive oil and lemon, teeny tine fried fish served with marinated red onions, and some of the best eggplant I’d ever had, served two ways. Sauteed with local tomatoes and peppers then tossed with garlic and breadcrumbs, and also formed in to small balls and deep fried.
Although we had several different pastas, the main event – and what most folks order – was Lo Spaghetto di Jacqueline. Named after Jackie Kennedy it was evidently her favorite dish during her many visits here (it’s that kind of place, I told you). Made with pan-fried zucchini, pancetta and parmigiano it was stylish simplicity at it’s finest. Kind of like Jackie herself. And exactly like Tonarella and Italian beach dining.
Via Marina di Conca
Conca dei Marini, SA
How to get there? Easiest way is by boat, and you can hire a water taxi from either Amalfi or Positano. (just in case you don’t have your own). I think you can actually drive to the road above, but then have to hike down.
For more information on dining in Italy download my app, EAT ITALY. EAT ITALY is a free app, and contains guides to Venice, Milan, Rome, Florence, Torino and Umbria (and an ever expanding list of regions and cities) available as in-app purchases for both iPhone and iPad
For more information on the Amalfi Coast download my friend Gillian’s excellent ebook: Amalfi Coast Travel Essentials.
For your daily dose of the Amalfi Coast follow my friend Niki on her Facebook Page or else on Snapchat: Nikinpos
And if you are in the neighborhood, here are some of my favorites from the past few years: