Guest Blogger William J. Higgins, FAIA is an architect with 37 years of worldwide experience, has practiced in 10 different countries, and has traveled through more than 20 countries across Europe, Asia and North America. He is contributor to two recent books: International Practice for Architects and Founder’s Folly. He has a Masters of Architecture degree from Harvard University, a Bachelor’s Degree from Louisiana State University, and has taught at Stanford University. He is a founding Principal of Architecture International, Ltd. and was a Principal of The Architects Collaborative, Inc. Here, he shares some advice on dining in Florence.
Florence is an Italian jewel box filled with iconic art, glorious architecture, flavorful food, and rich wine. Therefore, finding a suitable family-friendly trattoria that would welcome a two-year-old and seat a table of seven adults seemed a formidable challenge, but we were fortunate that several candidates were located in our new Santa Croce neighborhood and we tried Pizzeria I Ghibellini located just a few blocks from the family apartments.
We had just ordered a family meal of the famous hearty and filling ribollita bread soup and beef lasagna when Amelia, our toddler niece, began to demonstrate how terrible the “terrible twos” could be. Admittedly, the dining hour was late, but this was Italy after all, and while all the adults sipped wine or beer and talked while waiting for our supper, Amelia had nothing to do. Eventually she became quite animated and even agitated, perhaps due to hunger. She started pounding on the table with her fork, and yelling, “Dingle hopper! Dingle hopper!” Amelia had recently seen Disney’s film The Little Mermaid about thirty times in which, you may recall, the fork is called a dingle hopper.
We, of course, thought it was quite amusing and a sign of future brilliance that she knew the Little Mermaid word for fork, so we smiled, kept sipping, and talked over her yelps. But as the clamor continued the amusement wore off, especially for the waitress. She came over to our table, crossed her arms over her generous form, and peered down at little Amelia, with a silent stare that needed no translation. Our bambina slowly dropped her fork on the table and slinked underneath it to be in the protection of her father’s legs. When our food arrived, we all wolfed our dinners, retrieved our dear little mermaid, and then retreated to the safety of the nearest gelateria.
On our different treks to Florence, I always tried to plan our dinner meals to be a short walk from our hotel, in deference to the advanced ages of our parents. Buca dell’Orafo, near the Ponte Vecchio, is one of those restaurants and one of the many cellars or buca-type eateries beloved by Florentines. An orafo is a goldsmith and the buca, “hole in the wall,” was once part of an old goldsmith’s shop. One interesting aspect of this dining experience is their custom of placing full, large carafes of wine on the table and charging customers according to how much wine has been consumed from the carafe. Saluté!
We dined family style on thin, silky, bicolored fettuccine with porcini mushrooms followed by bistecca alla fiorentina, the traditional grilled steak preparation of Florence. We passed the wine carafe, poured, relaxed, and had a wonderful meal in this unusual and delightful buca.
There are high water levels on the walls of this below-ground restaurant, marking the great flood of 1966. During this epic storm caused by days of heavy rain, Florence was engulfed in a colossal natural disaster as the Arno River rose above its banks and went cascading through the city streets. Today, you can see the high water marks along the restaurant walls at your standing head height. Many tourists seek out the Buca for its warm atmosphere and traditional recipes but they should check the weather forecast for rain before they go.
On the Oltrarno side of the Arno, we had dinner at the Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, or White Boar. The restaurant nestles on the ground floor of a 13th-century tower and judging from the buzz inside, does a good repeat business of locals and tourists alike. We were ushered into the first of its two cozy rooms by one of the owners. The dining room has exposed stone, wood tables, odd and old iron implements hanging everywhere, and lights that evoke a medieval mystery. Our two young waiters, Massimo and Marco, were friendly, English-speaking, and very professional. They were both quite enchanted with my mother-in-law and her Italian cheekbones and they spent the night charming us with their flamboyant style.
Cinghiale Biancois a comfortable restaurant with genuine Tuscan food. We savored our meal which started with taglierini with pesto, and was followed with a family style platter of tender and savory grilled meats. My father-in-law seemed to have the best dish of the night, the Tagliata con Rucola e Parmigiano, which was a perfectly cooked New York cut beef steak served with arugula dressed in olive oil and shaved parmesan. He protested in his usual manner that it was too much to eat, but the waiters egged him on and he finished it in grand style, washed down with a beer.
Where do you like to dine with family? Please share.
Ready to dine Florentine-style? Click here for our journeys to Florence.