CombatCritic’s Favorite Recipes: Spaghetti Bolognese


Ingredients: 

1 lb Ground Organic Grass-Fed Beef
6 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
1 Medium Organic Onion – Finely Chopped
1 Medium Organic Carrot – Finely Chopped
2 Oraganic Celery Stalks – Finely Chopped
1 1/2 Cups Organic Beef Stock
1/2 Cup White Wine
1/2 Cup Pomi Tomato Sauce
1/2 Cup Organic Milk 
Salt and Black Ground Pepper
1/2 Cup Parmigiano Reggiano – Grated
1 lb Spaghetti

Directions:

Saute the onion, carrot, and celery in a 6 quart stock pot or Dutch oven using half of the EVOO until soft, not burnt. Add the ground beef and mash with a potato masher or fork, adding salt and pepper and cooking until browned (no pink).

Add the beef stock, wine and tomato sauce, bringing to a boil then reducing to a simmer (low heat) for 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Boil enough water in a tall 16 quart pot so that the spaghetti, when added, is completely submerged, adding a teaspoon of salt and some EVOO. Add the spaghetti once the water comes to a full boil, following the package cooking directions and tasting until spaghetti is “al dente” (a bit firm, not chewy and not mushy).

Five minutes before spaghetti is done, add the milk (no cream) to the sauce and continue simmering. Drain the spaghetti when done, ensuring no excess water remains. Return the spaghetti to the 16 court pot, pouring all of the sauce over the spaghetti and tossing until the spaghetti is well coated with sauce. Add half of the parmigiano (parmesan cheese) to the pasta and continue to toss until well mixed.

Serve immediately and sprinkle additional grated cheese to individual taste.

Serves 4-6

Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

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Tabelog – Official Judge (Bronze)

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Title: CombatCritic’s Favorite Recipes: Spaghetti Bolognese

Key Words: Bologna, Bolognese, parmigiano, pasta, Reggiano, spaghetti, recipe, favorite, Pomi, tomato, sauce, Italian, Italy, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, review, Yelp, Zomato, Tabelog
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Kansas City, MO: Pretentious, Rushed, Cold, Dark, Cramped, Pricey – Garozzo’s Was Mezzo Mezzo (So-S0)


Garozzo’s Ristorante 
(Downtown)

526 Harrison Street
Kansas City, MO 64106
Phone: (816) 221-2455
Website: garozzos.com
Prices: $$$$


First, let me apologize for the quality of the photos in this post. Garozzo’s is so dark there was not enough light to take a photo without a flash or the external light source I normally use and I did not want to disturb our fellow diners so that I could take a decent photo … sorry!

We have been to Garozzo’s several times, but this was the first in about four years and since I started this blog. The food was always good, a bit pricey, but solid Italian food in a nice, but too dark and pretentious atmosphere. I say pretentious because the food screams “mom and pop” Italian restaurant, not upscale, fancy shmancy with servers (mostly waiters) dressed to the nines and with attitudes to match. 
This visit was no different. Good food, a room too dark to read the menu, a table too small to hold our food and drinks, and a waiter that was courteous, but all business, and a bit too eager to get rid of us and earn some extra tips. When you drop a C-note for dinner for two, you should not be rushed through your meal. We were.

I will not use the server’s name, but we were quickly welcomed, being the first diners at 5:30pm on a Tuesday after attending the closing for the sale of our home and celebrating with a nice dinner out. My wife and I were talking, but the server seemed eager to take our order, interrupting our conversation to ask what we wanted to drink. I asked for water and a bottle of their house cabernet sauvignon ($24).

After bringing our drinks, again interrupting our conversation, I ordered a stuffed artichoke as an appetizer (antipasto) and for entrees my wife requested the Tortelloni Gina and I the Veal Parmigiana. I asked the server if the dinners came with salad and pasta (in my case) as I seemed to remember salad coming with the entrees the last time we were there. I was either wrong or they had changed their policies because the server told me that a salad was “an additional $4”. The veal did come with a “small serving of pasta with Maggie’s Sugo” I was told.

My wife and I returned to our conversation, but about five minutes later I realized that we had not ordered our salads, my mistake, so I asked my wife to get our server’s attention, which she quickly did. I said, “I’m sorry, but we forgot to order salads”, to which he replied, “well, I already put you dinner orders in, but I can take care of that with the kitchen”. My wife ordered the Insalata Caesar ($4) and I the Insalata Santa Teresa ($4).

The cabernet was actually quite good, from a California winery they prominently feature on their wine list. The artichoke ($10), stuffed with seasoned breadcrumbs, steamed, and topped with garlic butter, quickly arrived and we dug right in. My grandmother used to make similar stuffed artichokes, except she used olive oil instead of butter and added small chunks of salami, but these were very good with tasty stuffing and large tender leaves. We were not even halfway through eating our artichoke when our server arrived with our salads. As a former waiter myself, there is nothing that pisses me off more than a server who brings the next course when we have not even finished the last, but I bit my tongue because it really did not matter that much because the salads were not going to get cold while sitting on the table, which they did for another 10-15 minutes while we finished our antipasto. The table, by the way, was so small (like all of the tables for two) that the server had difficulty finding space for our premature salads.


My wife then started eating her Caesar salad, waiting for her favorite part, the heart, while I polished off the last few leaves of the artichoke. She finished her salad, which she said was “nothing special”, in the interim and I, after the server cleared a few plates, then started eating mine. About halfway through my salad, which was good, with Romaine lettuce, red onion, chunks of goat cheese, Dijon vinaigrette, and topped with sliced roasted red peppers, but unremarkable, the server arrived with my wife’s Tortelloni Gina. That was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back, so I asked our server: “Are we in a hurry?”, to which he replied, “oh, I’m sorry, let me take that away”. I proceeded to finish my salad.
Hovering, waiting for me to finish, when the server saw my salad plate was empty, he quickly swept the plate away and returned a few minutes later with our entrees. My wife’s Tortelloni Gina ($19) was filled with chicken and prosciutto, and served in a very traditional creamy Alfredo sauce with mushrooms and peas. It was hot, very large, extremely rich, and my wife, who was born in Italy, enjoyed it very much. Bravo! The server had tried to sway me away from the Veal Parmigiano (veal parmesan to you Olive Garden lovers), recommending the Vitello Spiedini Sophia Marie ($27) instead. Because I have had every other veal dish at Garozzo’s, including the veal Sophia Maria and Saltimbocca ($27), which are both excellent by the way, I wanted to try the Vitello Parmigiana ($24), my failsafe in Italian restaurants and a good indicator of the quality of an Italian-American kitchen (you will not find veal parmigiano in Italy unless the restaurant caters to Americans).
The veal was lukewarm at best, with three very small medallions topped with the house red sauce and fontina cheese, a bit odd as “parmigiana” is usually topped with mozzarella, baked or broiled, and sprinkled with parmigiana (parmesan cheese), hence the name. The sauce was very good in comparison to most stateside Italian restaurants, but the dish would have been much better had it been served hot, warm even, and with a bit more veal. The accompanying pasta was negligible and obviously came out of a bag or box. At $24 for just an entree, $30 including salad, it would have been a poor value, even if it had been served at the appropriate temperature.

I understand that it was my mistake, asking for salads five minutes after our order was taken, but our server said he would “take care of it”, as he should have. There is no excuse for bringing multiple or mixed courses, particularly in an “upscale” restaurant such as Garozzo’s. There is also no excuse for serving a $24 veal dish cold, no matter what the circumstances.

I like the place in general, but Garozzo’s would be much better if they dropped the pretenses, brought up the lights, bought some bigger tables, and lowered the prices a tad. I also believe that customers should NEVER be rushed, especially when they are paying $50 a head and up for a meal.

CombatCritic Gives Garozzo’s Ristorante 5 Bombs Out Of 10 With Deductions For Unprofessional Service, Cold Food, Darkness, Small Tables, And Questionable Value … More Bombs Are Better!

Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp – Elite ’14/’15/’16

Tabelog – Official Judge (Bronze)

Zomato – #1 Ranked Foodie

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Garozzo's Ristorante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Title: Kansas City, MO: Pretentious, Rushed, Cold, Dark, Cramped, Pricey – Garozzo’s Was Mezzo Mezzo (So-S0)

Key Words: Garozzo’s, Garozzo, Italian, Kansas City, Kansas, city, Missouri, CombatCritic, Italy, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, ristorante, review, Yelp, Zomato, Tabelog

Translation for Civilians: Charlie-Mike = “Continue Mission”

Exceptional Northern Italian Cuisine Plus Moderate Prices Equals A "Decent Value"


Lidia’s Italy
101 W 22nd St
Kansas City, MO 64108
Phone number (816) 221-3722
Website: lidias-kc.com
Prices: $$$$

 
We have been going to Lidia’s since we moved to Kansas City in 2008 and have never been disappointed. Whether ordering ala carte from the menu or enjoying their fabulous Sunday brunch, the food is always consistent and delicious although a bit pricey.
 
Antipasti (appetizers) range from $7.50 to $14.00 and include traditional favorites like “frico” (cheese crisp – $12.50), “cozze” (mussels – $12.00), “arancini” (deep fried risotto balls – $12.00), and “pappa al pomodoro” ( a Tuscan tomato and bread soup – $7.50). The frico, for example, is delicious with crispy cheese (usually a higher-fat hard cheeses like Montasio or Asiago) baked in the oven with various decadent ingredients, having originated in the Friuli region of Italy.
 
Insalate (salads) are normally ordered along with the main course (secondo) when dining in Italy and are not “meal size” as you will find in the United States. At Lidia’s they range from $8.00 to $12.50, but I cannot comment on them as I have never ordered one because, other than the Caprese salad – one of my favorites, you should not come to restaurant like Lidia’s unless you plan on focusing on pasta and meat/seafood dishes, which are quite filling.
 
Ranging from $17.00 (canneloni) to $22.00 (pasta trio), the prices for their “primi” (first courses – pastas) are Lidia’s “Best Value”, especially their “pasta trio” which my wife and I have had on numerous occasions. This “all you can eat” medley of three pastas changes daily and includes three different pastas (fettucine, penne, ravioli, etc.), each with its own sauce (butter and sage, amatriciana, and other favorites). Servers come around with a large plate of each, giving you as much or as little as you desire so you can sample all three before deciding on which one (or three) you want more of. You can add a caesar salad and choice of dessert for an additional $13, but I would not waste my money and recommend enjoying as much pasta as you can instead.
 
The meat and seafood (secondi) dishes are not cheap at $21 for the lemon chicken to $49.50 for the bone-in rib eye steak, but if you like a traditional Italian meal with antipasto, primo and secondo, you will not be disappointed … but you will be bursting at the seams! Secondi at Lidia’s, unlike restaurants in Italy, are accompanied by “contorni” (vegetables and potatoes), making a full meal if you prefer meat and potatoes over pasta. My favorite used to be their “involtini di manzo”, rolled beef scallops with pickle, vegetables and mustard (a Northern Italian recipe), accompanied by mashed potatoes, but it has not been on the menu lately.
 
Their wine list is extensive with nothing under $32 for a bottle (the “Value List” has a nice selection of reds and whites) and ranging up to as high as $495 for a bottle of Lange (2005) Gaja if that is your style. We have ordered from the value list every time we have been there and found the wines quite good and somewhat as the name implies, a “decent” value. They also have a full bar with drinks ranging from $9 to $34.
 
We have not been there for Sunday brunch in several years, but it used to be an excellent value at $29.50. Served buffet style, you can help yourself to a nice selection of antipasti and dolci (desserts), ordering a selection from a wide variety on main courses, including the “Pasta Tasting Menu”, frico, porchetta hash, osso buco, and lasagna Bolognese among others.
 
We have never been there for lunch, but looking at the menu it appears to be a decent value with meal selections reduced by $5 or so compared to the dinner menu and with sandwiches in the $12 to $13 range. 
 
Expect to pay a $100 to $125 for dinner for two, including antipasti and either a primo (pasta) or secondo, a bottle of wine from the value list, and a shared dessert (tip and tax included). We cannot afford to spend that kind of money every time we go out to eat, but for special occasions Lidia’s Italy – Kansas City is a decent value with exceptional food, excellent service, and moderate prices.
 

CombatCritic Gives Lidia’s Italy – Kansas City 7 out of 10 Bombs … More Bombs Are Better!

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Title: Exceptional Northern Italian Cuisine Plus Moderate Prices Equals A “Decent Value”

Key Words: Lidia’s Italy, Kansas City, Kansas, city, Lidia’s, Italy, Lidia, Bastianich, crossroads, Missouri, Italian, pasta, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

DayTripQuip™: A Free Bus Tour Of “The Prato You Do Not Expect”


That’s Prato

Phone: +39 328 00 21 009

Web: ThatsPrato.com

Prices: € € € € 

Abbey (Badia) of Santa Maria of Montepiano

Across the piazza from Chiesa Santa Maria Novella, a free bus will take from Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station to various itineraries in and around Prato, a town between Florence and Pistoia heading toward Lucca and Pisa. You pay only for the entrance to museums (if applicable) and your lunch.

Monastery of St. Nicholas -Courtyard

The Province of Prato has organized these free weekly tours available on ten consecutive Sundays from May to July, taking four routes/itineraries with both Italian and English Guides:

  • CONTEMPORARY ART AND INDUSTRIAL ARCHEOLOGY
  • WHEN THERE WERE THE ETRUSCANS / ETRUSCAN PAST
  • THE NOBLE TRAIL: VILLAS AND CASTLES
  • THE PATH OF PILGRIMS

I emailed That’s Prato, asking for a reservation for the Path of the Pilgrims tour which was quickly accommodated with a reply the following day for the next Sunday. When we arrived at the train station on Sunday morning, the group was in front of McDonald’s next to Track #1 as promised. We gave them our name, waited until everyone arrived, then made our way to the other end of the station where the bus was waiting.

Monastery of St. Nicholas – Fresco

In a modern tour bus with air conditioning and comfortable seats, we were quickly on our way to Prato, a historic city (comune) and one of Italy’s newest provinces (Provincia di Prato), established in 1992 from the Province of Florence. There were about 30 tourists on the bus for The Pilgrim’s Walk tour, mostly Italians and, oddly enough, from the Florence area no less.

“THE PILGRIM’S WALK:

The Prato area has a long history associated with monasteries and holy places as well as Marian devotion, Which dates to the Early Middle Ages. This tour retraces some of the stops made ​​by pilgrims as they journeyed through the Apennines.”

Our first stop was the Dominican Monastery of St. Nicholas (admission € 5) in the city of Prato. Established in the 13th Century, the monastery has beautifully decorated chapels, a pharmacy, dining hall, and many other rooms with fabulous frescoes and antique furniture. One of the resident nuns accompanied us on the tour, providing details of the history and tales of the ancient building.

Small Lake – Montepiano

We then took a route through the city streets and squares of the old town, then up the winding mountain road to the top of the mountain for lunch in Montepiano, a small town in the Bisenzio Valley. After a reasonably priced (€10) two course lunch on the small lake, we hiked up the hill to Abbey (Badia) of Santa Maria of Montepiano, a small church also from the 13th Century with a fresco of Saint Christopher which sits on what used to be the main road from Florence to Bologna for hundreds of years.

Fresco of St. Christopher – Santa Maria of Montepiano

We then made our way down the mountain to Vaiano and the Abbey of San Salvatore with its small, but very interesting museum. This quaint complex dates back to the 11th Century and has a serene courtyard with fountain and bell tower, halls with ancient frescoes, and a museum with historic artifacts, the abbey’s original kitchen, a small chapel, and trap door that leads to a 1,000 year-old lavatory. 

Abbey of San Salvatore – Paiano

Our bus driver then took us on the 40-minute ride back to Florence by the appointed hour of 6pm as promised, leaving us at the Santa Maria Novella train station where we had started our journey.

Kitchen (Fireplace) – Abbey of San Salvatore

That’s Prato recently added free tours on eight consecutive Sundays in September and October with the following itineraries:

  • ART AT THE TABLE IN THE RENAISSANCE / ART AND FOOD IN THE RENAISSANCE
  • THE PATH OF PILGRIMS / THE PILGRIM’S WALK
  • THE NOBLE TRAIL: VILLAS AND CASTLES

A trip by train to Arezzo or Siena, for example, will cost you €16 per person for train tickets alone, so for just €15 including lunch and museum entry (both optional), you will not find a better value when visiting Florence in terms of day trips.

You can email thatsprato@po.camcom.it, visit their website: http://thatsprato.com/, or call them at +39 328 00 21 009 to request your spot on the tour.

CombatCritic Gives 9 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better! 


Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp – “Elite ’14/’15” – And On TripAdvisor – “Top Contributor” – And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: DayTripQuip™: A Free Bus Tour Of “The Prato You Do Not Expect”

Key Words: Prato, day, trip, quip, DayTripQuip, train, Santa Maria Novella, Montepiano, Vaiano, abbey, monastery, fresco, church, antique, travel, value, Firenze, Florence, Italy, free

Forget Overpriced Florence Hotels, Rent A "Little Florentine Retreat" For Your Best Value And Comfort


Little Florentine Retreat
Via di Pilastri 36, Firenze, Italia
Web: Airbnb
Prices:  €  € € 

Accommodations: Apartment

Via Pilastri and Chiesa Sant’Ambrogio (Far Right)

We spent two months in Florence, one month in July 2012 and the other this past July (2015), staying in apartments both times. The first apartment was small, but nice in the Santa Croce/Sant’Ambrogio area and the cost a very reasonable $1000 a month or a little over $33 per day. It had a small kitchen and bath, living room, loft (open) bedroom, air conditioning, wireless internet, and a clothes washer.

Living Room

We tried to rent the same apartment this year, but the owner was not cooperative, so we found another place in the same area, our favorite, and are we happy we did!

Main Bedroom

This apartment, just around the corner from the Jewish Temple and down the street from Chiesa and Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, is on the top floor of a historic villa. With no elevator, the 54 steps (no elevator) to the apartment became tedious over the month, particularly with heavy bags and 100 degree temperatures practically every day, so we limited are exits and entries as much as possible. After all, who wants to spend most of the day in an apartment when in one of the most beautiful and culturally abundant cities in the world?

Main Bedroom and Wardrobe


Kitchen

The owner greeted us warmly upon arrival, explaining the intricacies of the small, but very functional two-bedroom apartment. One decent size bedroom with queen size bed and wardrobe and one smaller bedroom with a pullout bed, desk, and chair were all we needed for the two of us and the occasional guest. Entering into the small kitchen-living room area, the bedrooms and bath were readily accessible. The small bathroom has a shower and bidet as well as a skylight providing ample natural light. The bedrooms both have air conditioning, but the kitchen, living room, and bath do not. However, with the bedroom AC units on and doors open, which we used sparingly, the main living area’s temperature was tolerable in the 100 degree heat. The apartment has a TV with limited English language broadcasts, fast (cable optic) wireless internet, a dishwasher and clothes washer. The furniture was modern and functional, and everything necessary to live comfortably (pots, pans, dishes, silverware, toaster, microwave, etc.) was provided.

Entry and Kitchen

The apartment has been renovated inside, but still retains some of the charm of a historic building with exposed wood beams and terra cotta tile roof. The floors were also terra cotta tile. There are windows in each room, medium sized in the main bedroom and living room with views of the pallazzo across the street and a small window with no view in the smaller bedroom. The windows have wooden shutters which can be closed to provide darkness for those who may be sensitive to light when sleeping.

There are two supermarkets (Conad and Carrefour) within a five minute walk as well as shops, restaurants, bars, hardware stores or pretty much anything else you could find elsewhere in Italy. Santa Croce is a ten minute walk, and the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, and the train station are just fifteen to 20 minutes away by foot. The best pizzeria in Florence, Il Pizzaiuolo, is close by, serving delicious Neopolitan-style pizza at fairly reasonable prices. Mercato Sant’Ambrogio (open 7:30am – 2:30 pm Monday thru Saturday) is also a short stroll away where you can buy clothing, shoes, housewares, fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, meat, salami, cheese, bread or anything else you might need in the kitchen. They also have a small restaurant where you can get an inexpensive lunch for less than €10 per person. It is much smaller than the touristy Mercato San Lorenzo (a ten minute walk away), but has everything you need, is frequented mostly by locals, and has better prices.

Bathroom


The owner has recently listed the apartment on Airbnb at $106 per night, but if you plan on staying for a length of time, contact the owner to see about getting a reduced rate. As I mentioned earlier, we paid $1100 for the month of July, about 1/3 of the published daily rate, so it is worth a try!

Bedroom 2


At $106 per night, you may find better values in Florence ($75-$80 per night would probably be a more appropriate price), but for the $1100 per month that we paid, this was an exceptional value and I highly recommend it for long-term stays.

 
CombatCritic gives  8 Bombs Out of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!






Read more reviews of Florence restaurants, attractions and day trips as well as ways to save money in CombatCritic’s “Definitive Florence (Italy)” …

Wood Beam and Terra Cotta Celing
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Read Reviews By CombatCritic:
Yelp – “Elite ’14/’15”
TripAdvisor – “Top Contributor” – Tabelog – “Official Judge (Bronze)
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Title: Forget Overpriced Florence Hotels, Rent A “Little Florentine Retreat” For Your Best Value And Comfort

Key Words: Florentine, retreat, apartment, hotel, accommodation, Pilastri, Santa Croce, mercato, Sant’Ambrogio, Duomo, restaurant, Airbnb, Italy, Florence, Firenze, travel, value, definitive, review, guide, 

Il Pizzaiuolo: This "Pizza Maker" Does It The Traditional, Neopolitan Way … Delicioso!


Il Pizzaiuolo
Via dei Macci 113R
50122 Florence, Italy
Near Mercato San’Ambrogio
Phone: +39 055 241171
 

I wrote an extensive review in 2012 on Il Pizzaiuolo, so I will not bore you with too many details or flowery prose. Leave it to say that in parts of Italy, Rome and northward, good pizza is hard to come by. Most visitors do not realize that this is authentic pizza napoletana (not “Napolean”, he was the squirt of a French dictator), equaling some of the best pizzerias in Naples (Napoli), the home of pizza and the best in the world.

Just around the corner from the wonderful Mercato Sant’Ambrogio and a five minute walk from Santa Croce, Il Pizzaiuolo has only around 15 tables, so the place is small and hard to find a seat after 8pm. Beside pizza, they have starters, pasta, meat, and fish dishes, but pizza is their specialty. On this visit, one of many in the past, we decided to try their frittura (€8 – fried things), including arancini di riso (rice balls), croquette di patate (potato corquettes), and montanare (fried pizza dough with a little tomato sauce). Their were just two of each (six pieces total) and a disappointment compared to what you would get in a Naples pizzeria for the same price (€8 gets you 25 pieces of the same). They were good, but there should have been more or it should have been much cheaper (€3 to €4).
I had a Neapolitan classic, pizza con salsiccia e friarielli (fior di latte cheese, sausage, and broccoli rabe sauteed in olive oil and garlic – €10) and it was wonderful. My wife’s pizza quattro formaggio (four cheeses – €8) was also excellent with loads of mozzarella, gorgonzola, ricotta, and provola cheese. As is usual in pizza napoletana, the dough was thin and chewy, only crisp enough to hold the toppings without getting soggy and with little splotches of burnt crust from the fiery wood-fired oven. Perfetto!
 

My only complaints, other than the women’s toilet being rather filthy on this visit (my wife told me, I did not see for myself) are the fact that you can only get wine by the glass or bottle, no liters or half-liters and that the prices are a little steep compared to Naples, but those are small discrepancies when you are eating un’oltima pizza napoletana (excellent Neapolitan pizza) in Northern Italy!

CombatCritic Il Pizzaiuolo 8 Out Of 10 Bombs … Bombs Are Good!

 

Read Reviews By CombatCritic:
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TripAdvisor – “Top Contributor” Tabelog – “Official Judge (Bronze)”
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Title: Il Pizzaiuolo: This “Pizza Maker” Does It The Traditional, Neopolitan Way … Delicioso!


Key Words: Il Pizzaiuolo, pizzaiuolo, pizza, pizzeria, Naples, napoletana, Neopolitan, Florence, Italy, Firenze, restaurant, ristorante, menu, Sant’Ambrogio, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, review, guide

Super Value, Nice Variety In A Beach Town With Few Dining Options


Da Franco
Restaurant and Pizzeria
Via Elea 213
84046 Marina, Italy
Phone: +39 0974 972979
Prices: $$$$
 
For a tourist/beach town, Ascea is noticeably lacking in a selection of decent restaurants, particularly on “the Corso” or main street. We went to Pizzeria and Ristorante Da Franco with a friend who lives in Ascea. The restaurant is at the far end of Corso from the town center and they have a reasonable €15 menu del giorno (tourist menu; primo, secondo, contorno, coperto, servizio) for dinner. It is quite big inside, but being a nice evening we sat on the small terrace in front on the street. The service was very attentive and good. 
 
I went with the menu del giorno and a primo of penne boscaiola (meat, mushrooms, and peas) with scallopina ai funghi (meat scallops in mushroom sauce) as my secondo and patatine (french fries) for a contorno. The boscaiola was creamy, earthy and robust, the scallopine light and savory, and the fries crispy and hot. An excellent meal at just €15.
 
My wife and her friend had pizza which was as good as expected in Southern Italy, particularly anywhere within 100 miles of Naples. The crusts thin, yet sturdy enough to hold the toppings without getting soggy with just the right amount of tomato and other ingredients, not too many and not too few.
 
Da Franco was quite a good value in a beach town with remarkably few options, particularly for those on a budget and is recommended when visiting Ascea.
 
CombatCritic Gives Da Franco 8 Bombs Out Of 10 … Bombs Are Good!
 
 
 
 
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Title: Super Value, Nice Variety In A Beach Town With Few Dining Options

 
Key Words: Da Franco, franco, Ascea, restaurant, ristorante, pizzeria, pizza, menu del giorno, menu, giorno, review, travel, value, Campania, Italy, Italian, pasta, CombatCritic, TravelValue
 

Beautiful Michelin Recommended Restaurant Falls Short Of Expectations


Pensione Bencistá
Guest House And Restaurant
Via Benedetto DA Maiano, 4
50014 Fiesole, Italy
Phone: +39 055 59163
Web: bencista.com
Prices: €€€
This review is on the restaurant only.
Recommended by the Michelin Guide (no Michelin stars) and with rave reviews on TripAdvisor (this was their first review on Yelp), we were eagerly anticipating our 11th Anniversary dinner at Pensione Bencistá’s restaurant. Arriving by bus (€1.20/person each way) from our apartment in Florence, it was a short walk down the road from Bus #7’s stop “Regresso” following the signs.

The pensione is a beautiful 14th Century villa, overlooking the valley and Florence below. The Duomo and other landmarks are clearly evident from the terrace where we were taken and our reserved table awaited us. The tables were a bit too close to one another and the back of a chair from the table next to us made it awkward to sit comfortably. One of the owners finally moved the table when the guests arrived and it became clear that it was not going to work very well for either party. A nice young lady took our order from the fixed-price (€25 per person) menu with just four primi (pasta) selections and three choices of secondi (meat), including the tagliata (sliced steak – €40/kilo with one kilo minimum).

The wine list was reasonable and we ordered a Syrah (€32) from northern Tuscany which was very good. Wine is extra, but water, dessert, service, and coperto are all included in the fixed-price. The Syrah was good, a robust, deep red with hints of berry, complimenting the meal very nicely.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
For our primi (first course), my wife had the penne con zucchini and I had the penne al ragu (meat sauce). They boast about serving only De Cecco pasta on their website which I found a bit odd because De Cecco is good pasta, but it is mass produced, not locally produced or handmade. My wife’s pasta with zucchini was swimming in olive oil, a bit off-putting, but otherwise the dish was fair, nothing special, with small chunks of zucchini, onion, and little else. She had to add grated cheese to the dish to give it flavor, something she almost never does at her mother’s house in Napoli or in restaurants. My ragu was very good, but like my wife’s dish, there was very little pasta and it took little time to consume. Not overly impressive, after all De Cecco is not expensive pasta.

While eating our pasta, the French family next to us received their secondi (main courses), porchetta, which is one of my favorites and not offered to us an as an option by our server. They were also served their contorni individually by the waiter whereas ours would later arrive on our plates from the kitchen. Maybe they were French celebrities we had never heard of, the King of France perhaps? I am joking obviously, but I thought it a bit odd in any case.


When our secondi arrived, there were the potatoes, peperoni (sauteed red bell peppers), and a small portion of melanzane alla parmigiana (eggplant parmigiana) even though I had specified in my reservation that my wife was allergic to tomatoes. We pointed out the faux pas, they apologized, and her plate was removed. My tacchino rollatini arrived shortly thereafter, but we waited and waited, seemingly forever, until her veal sans tomato finally arrived. The owner also asked if we were having the porchetta, but I told him that the server had not given us that option, so he promised to bring a few slices as a courtesy.

The tacchino (turkey breast) was rolled with ham and cheese inside, then lightly pan-fried. It was delicious, but extremely small once again with just one little rolled breast. The potatoes, melanzane, and peppers were all very good as you would expect at any decent restaurant in Italy. The scaloppine was also quite delicious, a reasonable portion, not small, not huge, white and tender as real veal should be. It is just a shame that we could not enjoy our anniversary main courses together.

For dessert we were offered a choice of plum cake, torta di mele (apple pie), or biscotti (hard cookies with almonds) and a small glass of Vin Santo. We shared the torta di mele and biscotti con Vin Santo. The apple pie was simple and tasty, an Italian version slightly similar to American apple pie but drier. The biscotti were good, looking store-bought, and the glass of Vin Santo, a sweet white wine famous in this region, was very small, but big enough to dip the three cookies in as is the tradition. Again, the French family received dessert and something we were not offered by our server, fruit and cheese. Why our server failed to tell us about the additional options for secondi and dolce (dessert) is still a mystery.

For the price, the meal was good and a fair value in Florence where comparable fixed-price meals start in the €30 to €40 range (including wine however). The setting idyllic, a beautiful ancient villa with an incredible view, the experience was better than the meal alone. The food was very average, with very few basic selections and small portions. The service was very friendly and punctual, but the numerous mistakes detracted greatly from our overall experience, particularly being our wedding anniversary.

Recommendations for a better experience:
1)      Handmade pasta or a least a top-quality, local pasta like Pastificio Chelucci for example
2)     Much less olive oil in pasta dishes
3)     Better consistency in the treatment of guests, making sure all options are available to everyone, not a select few
4)     Slightly larger portions
5)     Attention-to-detail. When someone has a food allergy, it is critical that they are not served the food in question

Keep in mind I am comparing this dining experience to establishments with similar formats and prices in Italy, for example, Incontro in Ariano Irpino where the same €25 fixed-price meal has five abundant, delicious courses (choice of meat or fish, two antipasti, primo, secondo, contorni, and dessert – pastas are made in-house), including all the wine/water you require, coffee, limoncello, service, and coperto. When comparing Pensione Bencistá to Hotel Incontro’s superb restaurant (10 Bombs Out Of 10) and other excellent restaurants we have tried around the world, we enjoyed our meal well enough with the result being …
CombatCritic Gives Pensione Bencistá 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!
Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp – “Elite ’14/’15” – And On TripAdvisor – “Top Contributor” – And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: Beautiful Michelin Recommended Restaurant Falls Short Of Expectations

Key Words: Michelin, Pensione Bencistá, pensione, Bencistá, Fiesole, Florence, Firenze, Tuscany, Toscana, Italy, restaurant, villa, anniversary, fixed, price, travel, value, Yelp, TripAdvisor, star

An Outstanding Lunch Value, Possibly Overpriced As A Dinner Option


Osteria dei Centopoveri 
Restaurant and Pizzeria
Via Palazzuolo, 31r, 50123 
Florence, Italy
Phone: +39 055 218846
Website: centopoveri.it
Prices: $$$$


Air conditioning on a 100+ degree day in sweltering Florence, Italy … HOOAH!

Tortellini Panna Prosciutto Con Piselli


Reasonably priced at €10 for a two course lunch, including wine, water, service and tip, this osteria (it is not spelled “ostaria”, just like pizzeria is not spelled “pizzaria”) and pizzeria is one of many value options near train station Santa Maria Novella in Florence. There are better and worse, but the food and service were pretty good and the price excellent.


Insalata Caprese

The restaurant is large and our group of six were quickly seated even though they were pretty busy. Five adults ordered off of the fixed price menu and the lone, very hungry child ordered a Margherita pizza, what else. Four of us had the tortellini panna prosciutto con piselli (ham, cream, and peas) for our first course and one had the pasta alla Sorrentina. The tortellini were mass produced, but very good, and plentiful served in a creamy, garlicky sauce with diced ham and peas. The sauce was so good that I ignored my wife’s pleas and performed “scarpetta”, cleaning my plate with the fresh, local bread and happily consuming it. The pasta all Sorrentina did not look all that appetizing, but what could we expect in Florence? There was no sauce, only a small amount of crushed tomato and a little mozzarella mixed with a lot of store-bought pasta.

Frittata di Patate


The very hungry child did not receive his pizza until after our second courses were served, but he was very patient nonetheless. A pizza lover, he was not impressed by his pizza although it looked good from where I was sitting, so 3/4 of it went uneaten. Our main courses were the Caprese salad, frittata de patate (potato omelette), and scallopine ai funghi (pork cutlets in mushroom sauce). The Caprese was decent with fresh fior di latte (cow’s milk), not mozzarella di bufala (made with water buffalo milk in the region of Campania) as you would get in and around the Island of Capri, its namesake. The dish’s signature fresh basil leaves were notably missing and replaced with lettuce, something you would never see in Southern Italy, but it was not bad at all. The frittata di patate was pretty good, although my wife did not think it was good as her friend Giovanna (from Naples) mother’s version. Giovanna had the scallopine, which she said was “so-so”, coming in a thick, creamy mushroom sauce along with green beans on the side. It looked good, but I did not taste it, so I cannot corroborate her evaluation.
Scallopine ai Funghi


We received a liter of local red wine for the five of us, five bottles of water (we had been walking in the 100 degree heat for four hours), and five after-meal espressos with the bill coming to a very reasonable €60.50 for six people, a relative bargain in Florence. The menu is basic, nothing fancy, but the food good and the value exceptional. They are quite a bit pricier for dinner, in the €25 to €40 range per person, so lunch is a major value.


My only complaints were: 1) the child did not get his pizza as fast as he should have; 2) the sparsely adorned pasta alla Sorrentina; and 3) the lack of basil on the Caprese Salad, otherwise we were quite pleased with our meal.

CombatCritic Gives Osteria dei Centopoveri 7 Bombs Out Of 10 (3.5/5 Stars) … BOMBS ARE GOOD IN THIS CASE!




Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube



Title: An Outstanding Lunch Value, Possibly Overpriced As A Dinner Option

Key Words: Osteria dei Centopoveri, osteria, centopoveri, restaurant, pizzeria, Via Palazzuolo, Firenze, Florence, Santa Maria Novella, Italy, menu, review, travel, value, pasta, wine, pizza, CombatCritic, Yelp, TripAdvisor, tourist

Florence, Italy: Good Versus Bad Equates To Average Value


  • Trattoria Il Contadino
  • Via del Palazzuolo 69-71R
  • Florence, Italy
  • South of Santa Maria Novella Station
  • Phone: +39 055 2382673
  • trattoriailcontadino.com
 Prices: $$$$

Trattoria Da Giorgo, just down the street, is closed on Sunday and was not an option after our return to the train station from a day trip in Siena, so we decided to try Il Contadino. They have decent food and lots of it with cheap prices compared to the rest of the overpriced tourist traps in Florence. Unlike many restaurants in Italy, they are open seven days a week from noon (12:00) until 10:30pm (22:30), so you can get a meal anytime you like. Arriving around 7:00pm on a Sunday night after a long day in the Tuscan sun, we were quickly seated and shortly thereafter our waiter arrived. 


That was the most efficient service we received the rest of the night because as he and his female counterpart hovered around our table in the nearly empty restaurant, making for a rather uncomfortable experience, they chatted with each other and their friends at the next table. However, when we needed something, we had to try to catch their eye rather than counting on them to notice when they were needed instead of socializing with each other.


Tagliatelle alla Boscaiola

The menu is fixed price, €9 to €12 for lunch, and €13.50 to €14.50 for dinner, a decent value for what you receive in return and there is also an “ala carte” menu if you so choose. For €14.50 (€12 at lunch) you are entitled to a ½ liter of water, ¼ liter of wine (per person/ red or white), primo (first course from the day’s menu – pasta, soup, etc), secondo (second course from the day’s menu – meat dish), and contorno (vegetable – salad, potatoes, artichokes, broccoli, etc). 

Scallopine

Tagiatelle alla Boscailola, a long, thin pasta in a tomato-based sauce with ground beef, mushrooms, and black olives was my choice as a primo. The tagliatelle were good with rich, earthy tones from the mushrooms and unlike more than a few Tuscan restaurants we have been to recently, perfectly cooked “al dente”. My wife decided to forgo the meat dish, so she ordered the prosciutto e melone (cured ham and and honeydew melon) for her primo. Being difficult to improve on sliced ham and melon, her first course was as good a most places and a fair size portion.
Risotto

For secondi I had the scaloppine ai funghi (pork cutlets in a white wine and mushroom sauce). The meat was very dry and had obviously been sitting around much of the day waiting for a customer to arrive. The sauce was good and there was plenty of it, but a few more mushrooms would have been nice. My wife had the risotto with zucchini and gorgonzola, creamy with a bit of zing from the aged cheese, it could have cooked a minute or two longer to reach the desired consistency of a classic risotto. Our contorni were patate fritte (French fries), crispy but not very hot, and patate arrosto (roasted potatoes) which, like the pork, had also been sitting in a chafing dish for far too long.

We had to remind the waiter two times to bring our wine, a local red, which was decent, lightly chilled and fruity. Instead of bringing a half-liter for the two of us, he brought a single one-quarter liter carafe five to ten minutes after our primi had arrived and another carafe, having to ask him once again, after our second courses had arrived. With so few people in the restaurant, there is really no excuse for such inattentive service.

The restaurant is clean and bright even though it is in a rather seedy part of town, but we were somewhat disappointed by the food and very disappointed by the service. When I gave the waiter my card, telling him that I would post a review on my blog, TripAdvisor, and Yelp, he said “So what? I can post a review on TripAdvisor, so what makes you different from me?” I told him that I am Yelp

“Elite”, a TripAdvisor “Top Contributor”, and have a blog averaging 40,000 views a year. Enough said.

You will have a better meal in Italy for €30 or less, several places come to mind, but in Florence, with its dearth of reasonably priced restaurants, you will not find many inexpensive options. Although our experience was somewhat disappointing, the food was not bad overall and the prices fair. So if Trattoria da Giorgio just down the street is closed or too full, Trattoria il Contadino would be a decent second choice.

CombatCritic Gives Trattoria Il Contadino 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!





Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Fixed Price Menu (Italian)

Fixed Price Menu (English)

Special Menu (Dinner)

Menu of the Day (Italian)

Menu of the Day (English)




Title: Good Versus Bad Equates To Average Value

Key Words: Trattoria il Contadino, trattoria, Contadino, Firenze, Florence, Santa Maria Novella, Italy, menu, review, travel, value, pasta, wine, meat, dessert, CombatCritic, Yelp, TripAdvisor, tourist

By Giorgio, This Is As Good As It Gets!


 Trattoria da Giorgio
  • Via del Palazzuolo 100R
  • Florence, Italy
  • South of Santa Maria Novella Station
  • Phone: +39 055 284302
  • Website: trattoriadagiorgio.it
 Prices: $$$$
We ate here three years ago and loved the place. Great food, lots of it, and ridiculously cheap prices compared to the rest of Florence and its overpriced tourist traps. So we returned once again and, again, we were not disappointed!
They open for dinner at 6pm, rather early by Italian standards, but make sure you get there before 8pm unless you want to wait. They have a sign-up sheet at the entrance if all of the tables are full, so simply jot your name down if you cannot find a seat. Arriving around 7:45pm on a Wednesday night, we were quickly seated and shortly thereafter our waiter arrived with our water and a half-liter of red wine.

The menu is fixed price, €13 for lunch and €14 for dinner, a pittance for what you receive in return and there is no “ala carte” menu. For that very reasonable price, you are entitled to a ½ liter of water, ¼ liter of wine (per person/ red or white), primo (first course – pasta, soup, etc), secondo (second course – meat dish), and contorno (vegetable – salad, potatoes, artichokes, broccoli, etc). Desserts are extra, but quite cheap at €2 for lemon sorbet or €3 for tiramisu, panna cotta, and cheesecake among others.
We had the homemade pasta for our primi, a bigoli (think fat spaghetti) with black truffles and mushrooms and paccheri con broccoli e salsicce (a large flat noodle in a creamy sauce of broccoli florettes and sausage). The truffle and mushroom pasta was superb with rich, earthy tones and unlike more than a few Tuscan restaurants we have been to recently, perfectly cooked “al dente”. The paccheri con broccoli e salsicce had a slightly odd taste, almost as if there were tuna in the recipe (I asked and there was not). It was not bad, but it was not what I was expecting, so my wife and I swapped plates as she found it quite tasty. I attribute it to a temporary disruption in my palate rather than a problem on their part.
For secondi we both had the scaloppine marsala e noci (cutlets, pork I believe, in a creamy marsala and walnut sauce). The meat was juicy and tender and the sauce sublime, reminiscent of a savory German “rahm” (cream) sauce and one of the best sauces I have had in recent memory. Our contorni were patate fritte (French fries), perfectly cooked – crispy and hot – and artichokes marinated in olive oil, also excellent.
The wine, a local red, was good – lightly chilled, mildly sparkling, fruity, and slightly sweet. Although very full, we could not resist sharing a tiramisu (€3). Coming in a rather large cup, there were layers of saviardi cookies soaked in coffee and sweet mascarpone cheese sprinkled with cocoa powder as is the tradition.
Once again, we were not disappointed. In-fact, Trattoria da Giorgio is the “BEST VALUE” in Florence or anywhere else for that matter. You will not have a better meal anywhere in Italy for €30 … guaranteed.
CombatCritic Gives Trattoria da Giorgio 10 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better … IT’S “THE BOMB”!



Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: By Giorgio, This Is As Good As It Gets!

Key Words: Trattoria da Giorgio, trattoria, Giorgio, Firenze, Florence, Italy, menu, review, travel, value, pasta, wine, meat, dessert, CombatCritic, Yelp, TripAdvisor, tourist

DayTripQuip™: Ancient Arezzo … An Antique Aficionado’s Allure


DayTripQuip™: Take the train (Regionale Veloce: 1 hour 10 minutes – €8.10/person each way) from Santa Maria Novella Station in Florence. The train station is in the center of Arezzo and just three blocks from the historical center (centro storico), a Roman amphitheater, ancient churches with famous frescoes, a beautiful cathedral containing the mummy of a pope, and a fabulous piazza. Restaurants, antique stores, and shops abound, providing a quaint respite from the crowds of Florence for a few hours at least.

Piazza Grande
Roman Amphitheater
Chiesa San Francesco
Chiesa San Domenico
Duomo San Donato
Pope Gregory X

Fresco of Maria Maddalena – Piero della Francesca

Piazza Grande – Benigni’s “La Vita e Bella” Was Filmed Here

Title: DayTripQuip™: Ancient Arezzo … An Antique Aficionado’s Allure

Key Words: Arezzo, day, trip, quip, DayTripQuip, train, Benigni, La Vita e Bella, vita, bella, film, movie, duomo, cathedral, fresco, church, antique, antiques, travel, value, 

18 FREE THINGS TO DO In Florence, Italy (Firenze) … That’s TravelValue!


There are the “must see” places in Florence like the Uffizi Gallery where you can see famous works of art by Michelangelo, DaVinci, Rembrandt, and many, many more or the Galleria dell’ Accademia where Michelangelo’s “David”, one of the most incredible statues you will see anywhere in the world, is located. But most museums and even the churches charge heavily to enter, so you must purchase a FirenzeCard for €72 (valid for 72 hours, allowing free entry into many of Florence’s museums), choose very wisely, visit during FREE ENTRY DAYS (normally the first Sunday of the month), or visit the many free venues in the city …

1) SANTA MARIA NOVELLA AND PHARMACY

Florence is very rich in churches and most of them are free to enter. These include the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, one of the most beautiful churches in the city which houses works by Giotto, Masaccio and Ghirlandaio. Unfortunately, the church now charges €5 to enter, but a visit to the pharmacy, founded by Dominican friars in 1221, is free. In their gardens they cultivated medicinal herbs that were used to prepare medications, balms and ointments for the small monastery. They follow the same formulas for preparation of spices, liquor, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals to this day.

Pharmacy website: www.smnovella.it

2) THE “DUOMO” (THE CATHEDRAL OF FLORENCE”)

Built in the 15th Century, admission is free to Santa Maria del Fiore (the Cathedral or “Duomo”), Italy’s second largest church (after St. Peter’s in Rome) and the third largest in the world (St. Paul’s in London is the other). It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is open from 10AM to 5PM Monday through Saturday and 1:30PM to 4:45PM on Sunday. The dome, bell tower, museum, and baptistery all charge to enter or you can buy a consolidated ticket on their website. The Museo dell’Opera is closed until November 2015 for renovations.
The facade and dome of Santa Maria del Fiore is imposing and awe-inspiring, dominating the large piazza in which it stands it is so large that it is impossible to photograph the entire structure without a special lens. Its beautiful marble polychrome facade of greens, pinks, and whites is unlike any other I have seen. The interior is massive and spectacular, my favorite part being the massive dome completed in the 1460s with a fresco of the apostles who appear to be sitting on the edges with their legs dangling over the sides.
This is one of the most impressive structures I have seen anywhere in the world and is a MUST SEE if visiting Italy.

3) BAPTISTERY OF ST. JOHN

Across from the Duomo entrance is the Baptistery of St. John. Until the 19th century, all Catholic Florentines were baptized here. The octagonal monument is distinguished by its geometric, colored-marble exterior and detailed interior mosaics. Admission is €5, but admiring the famous bronze doors (with replica panels) carved with scenes from the Bible is free.

4) OBLATE CAFETERIA

On the second floor of the famous Oblate Library and not far from the Duomo, their Cafeteria has been open to the public since May 2009 and has already become an important place of the city’s social and cultural life. The interior decoration is modern with every detail chosen carefully, allowing you to spend time at the library in a relaxed, safe and unique atmosphere.

Almost every evening there is a themed musical event with free admission and optional drinks (unless you sit at a table of course).

CLICK HERE for more details.

5) SANTA CROCE NEIGHBORHOOD

Just to the east of the historical center is the Santa Croce Neighborhood. Stop in Piazza Santa Croce, the neighborhood’s lively main square, to admire the facade of the medieval Santa Croce Basilica, the largest Franciscan church in the world. Many famous Italians are entombed inside, including Michelangelo, Galileo, and Marconi, but entrance to the church costs €5 (Open Weekdays: 9.30 am – 5.30 pm). Near the church is the Leather School of Santa Croce, Scuola del Cuoio, where you can see artisans making leather products and a display of leather-working tools.

6) STROZZI PALACE

Strozzi Palace is the perfect example of a Renaissance mansion, appearing like a fortress in the heart of the historic center of Florence. Every Thursday evening from 6PM to 10PM free entry is allowed to the “Strozzina” and its Exhibition of Contemporary Art in the palace’s Center for Contemporary Culture.

More details on www.palazzostrozzi.org

7) FREE WALKING TOURS

These tour are the original walking tours of Florence, they are FREE. Arranged by local professional guides working on a tip-only basis, your generosity will allow them to continue this service.

They offer two daily tours beginning at the Central Railway Station (Santa Maria Novella). You will can choose between the Renaissance Tour (11AM), Medici Family Tour (2PM), or take both.

Find more details here: www.florencefreetour.com

8) PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO

Looking for the perfect photo opp while in Florence? Do not miss this large plaza located at the top of a hill above Piazza Poggi on the south side of the river Arno. The centerpiece of the piazzale is its terrace, the perfect place to spend some time taking in the beautiful city below. You can reach this lookout by bus if you are not up to the climb or, like me, have knees that have seen better days.

View From Piazzale Michelangelo

9) ABBEY OF SAN MINIATO AL MONTE

Follow the main street from Piazzale Michelangelo to the steps of the Abbey San Miniato al Monte, one of the highest points in Florence. Michelozzo’s Cappella del Crocifisso (built in 1448) is the centerpiece of the Romanesque basilica and frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi decorate the crypt behind it. 

Wander the abbey’s cemetery where Carlo Collodi, author of Pinocchio, is buried and stay until sunset when the golden light reflects off the Arno and terra-cotta roofs of the majestic city below. 

Admission is free (open from 7AM to 1PM, 3:30PM to 7PM on weekdays in winter, and 7AM to sunset in summer). Masses are held throughout the day on Sunday and holidays; and the 10AM and 5:30PM masses are performed in Gregorian chant in the crypt, an incredible experience.

10) DANTE’S CHURCH

You must pay to enter Dante’s house down the street, but entry to Santa Margherita dei Cerchi, dating back to 1032 and known primarily as the “Church of Dante”, is free.
It has been said that Dante met his muse, Beatrice, here for the first time and fell in love with her. Beatrice’s family had tombs are there where her father, Folco Portinari, is buried. Many visitors like to think that Beatrice is buried in the church and in front of what tradition has identified as Beatrice’s tomb, you can find a chest full of messages lovers leave to Beatrice asking her to protect their love. Beatrice, however, was married to a member of the Bardi family and was likely buried in the tomb of her husband’s family in the cloister of Santa Croce Church.

Address: Piazza dei Giuochi, 50122 Florence, Italy

11) PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA

Florence’s most famous square, Piazza della Signoria is the heart of the historic center and a free open-air sculpture exhibit. The imposing Loggia dei Lanza, also known as Loggia della Signoria, holds important statues, including those by Cellini, Giambologna and Fedi and a proportionally smaller copy of Michelangelo’s David stands in front of the entrance to Palazzo Vecchio. The piazza has been Florence’s political center since the middle ages and Florence’s town hall, the medieval Palazzo Vecchio, literally towers over the piazza. You’ll also want to admire the beautiful fountain in the square or have a seat in front of or under the Loggia della Lanza to relax or watch the multitude of tourists wander past.

12) LOGGIA DEL MERCATO NUOVO

Not far from the Piazza della Signoria you will find the new market or “Loggia del Porcellino”, the name of the fountain portrayed by a wild boar sculpted in bronze and created in the 7th Century by “Pietro Tacca” (the original is kept in Palazzo Pitti). It would be worth your while to spend some time in the area as there is a tradition of placing a coin in the boars mouth. If it falls out and rolls over the water drain, you then rub its nose to bring good luck. Remember the coin must travel to the other side of the drain for it to work!

At the centre of the loggia you can also see the “scandalous stone” (Pietra dello Scandalo), the place place where debtors would be punished in Renaissance Florence. The punishment consisted of chaining the prisoners and whipping their legs, repeatedly falling down onto their behinds.

13) THE MARKETS OF FLORENCE

A stroll through the local markets does not cost anything unless you indulge yourself, but is an excellent way to enjoy a morning, afternoon, or an entire day. Here is a selection of  Florentine markets:

• SAN LORENZO MARKET: Extends from Piazza S. Lorenzo to Ariento Street around the Basilica of San Lorenzo (in the historic center of Florence). It is the most important market in the city and you will find clothing, leather goods, souvenirs, local food products and much more. It is a great place for a quick, inexpensive lunch to eat there or take withg you for a picnic elsewhere in town. It is open Monday to Friday from 7AM to 2PM and on Saturdays from 7:00 to 17:00 (except from mid-June to September when it is closed on Saturdays).

• SANT’AMBROGIO MARKET: Near Piazza Ghiberti and Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, Mercato Sant’Ambrogio has outdoor spaces where you will find fresh fruit, vegetables, clothing, flowers, shoes and appliance stalls. If you are looking for food, enter the building where you will find meat or fresh fish, pasta, general groceries, cheeses, and bread. If you get hungry, there is also a restaurant inside the market with good, cheap meals. The market is open every day (except Sunday) from 7AM to 2PM.

• MERCATO DELLE PULCI: The ‘flea market’ is located in Piazza dei Ciompi and is open daily from 9AM to 7:30PM. On the last Sunday of the month, the stalls are extended to the surrounding streets where you will find whatever you can imagine, including furniture, paintings, antiques, coins and jewelry. Maybe you will find a treasure among the many antiques!

• MERCATO DELLE CASCINE: Is located in the beautiful Parco delle Cascine (the largest park in Florence). Open every Tuesday from 7AM to 2PM, it is probably the biggest and cheapest market in town where you can buy clothing, shoes, housewares and much more.
• THE CURE MARKET, In Piazza delle Cure, it is open every morning except Sunday and holidays.
• THE FIERUCOLINA: “The Fierucolina” is an organic market that promotes organic farming and biodynamic agriculture with food, wine, and handmade bio-manufactured products. It takes place the third Sunday of each month (except in August) in Piazza Santo Spirito (Oltrarno).

• THE MARKET OF RARE BOOKS: In Loggia del Grano, it is open Thursday to Saturday from 10AM to 6PM.

• THE FLOWER MARKET: Under the porch of Piazza della Repubblica, every Thursday morning from 10 to 19.• THE PIGGY MARKET: Florentine straw objects, handmade embroidery, leather goods, wooden objects, and flowers in Piazza del Mercato Nuovo from 8AM to 7PM every day except Sunday and Monday morning.

• THE STRAW MARKET: Piazza del Mercato Nuovo from 9AM to 6:30PM every day except Sunday and holidays.

14) THAT’S PRATO … THE PRATO YOU DO NOT EXPECT!

Across the pizza from chiesa Santa Maria Novella, a free bus will take from Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station to various itineraries in and around Prato, a town between Florence and Pistoia heading toward Lucca and Pisa. You pay only for the entrance to museums (if applicable) and your lunch.

Available 10 consecutive Sundays from May to July, taking four routes/itineraries with both Italian and English Guides:

  • CONTEMPORARY ART AND INDUSTRIAL ARCHEOLOGY
  • WHEN THERE WERE THE ETRUSCANS / ETRUSCAN PAST
  • THE NOBLE TRAIL: VILLAS AND CASTLES
  • THE PATH OF PILGRIMS

Email thatsprato@po.camcom.it to request a spot or visit their website: http://thatsprato.com/

PHONE: +39 328 00 21 009

15) OLTRARNO – SANTO SPIRITO AND SAN FREDIANO NEIGHBORHOODS

If you want to get away from the crowds, head across the river on Ponte Santa Trinita (west of Ponte Vecchio) or turn right after traversing Ponte Vecchio toward the area known as Oltrarno. Here you will find interesting neighborhoods that see far fewer tourists. It is a pleasant place for a walk where you will see typical Florentine buildings, small stores, artisan workshops, and small neighborhood squares. In Piazza Santa Spirito there is a small morning market and in the Santo Spirito Church, designed by Brunelleschi in the 15th century, you will find a wealth of art work. Santa Maria del Carmine Church has a beautiful Renaissance fresco in Cappella Brancacci (open 10AM–5PM, Sunday 1PM–5PM, closed Tuesdays).

16) CASA GUIDI: ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING HOME.

Just down the street from Palazzo Piti on the Altarno side of the river, Casa Guidi is located on the first floor (second floor to Americans) of a historic palazzo. There is an engraved stone marker above the massive door indicating where she lived and a brass nameplate above the buzzer outside with details about operating hours. There is also a single brass button below the rest that merely says “Elizabeth”.

The apartment consists of just three rooms that you can visit, but they are spectacular and contain furniture of hers and from the period as well as photos, paintings, busts, and other memorabilia. Her husband study is small, but has elaborate frescoes on the walls and ceilings. The dining room is large, but not extremely interesting. The living room, off of which are the bedrooms and kitchen (not open to the public, but apparently you can rent them for lodging). is massive and contains a large library of her works, more artwork, and some beautiful period furniture as well as some of her possessions.

The visit is self-guided and FREE, but you must visit on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday (April to November) between 3PM and 6PM only. Just ring the buzzer for Casa Guidi, though the giant door and a gate, then go up one flight of stairs to her apartment on the left.
Address: Piazza San Felice 8, 50125 Florence, Italy

Phone: +39 055 354457


17) PONTE VECCHIO

Ponte Vecchio, or the “old bridge”, was built in 1345 and was Florence’s first bridge across the Arno River. It’s the only surviving bridge from Florence’s medieval days (the others were destroyed during World War II). Following a flood in 1345, the bridge was reconstructed, adding rows of shops to the bridge where many of the city’s butchers were located. More shops were added later and Ponte Vecchio became a place for gold and silver shopping in Renaissance Florence. It is still lined with shops selling gold and silver jewelry, a good place for window shopping or people watching …

18) IF YOU ARE LIKE ME, PEOPLE-WATCHING IS “THE BOMB”

The best free activity in Florence may very well be people-watching. While you peruse the jewelry and souvenir shops on Ponte Vecchio (the medieval stone bridge over the Arno River), get off the beaten path and head to Oltrarno, the neighborhood on the far and less touristy side of the Arno. Get lost on the narrow cobblestone streets, wander in and out of artisan workshops, and rub shoulders with locals at the daily morning market (closed the second and third Sundays of the month, when artisan and antique markets are held) in Piazza Santo Spirito.

Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: 18 FREE THINGS TO DO In Florence, Italy (Firenze)

Key Words: free, things, to, do, Florence, Firenze, Italy, Italia, Ponte Vecchio, Duomo, piazza, signoria, ponte, vecchio, santa, maria, novella, Oltrarno, market, mercato, walking, baptistery, Santa Croce, travel, Value

Santa Maria del Fiore "Duomo di Firenze" – A "Must See" If Visiting Rome And Italy’s Northern Provinces


Santa Maria del Fiore (“Duomo di Firenze”)
Piazza del Duomo 9
50122 Florence, Italy
Phone: +39 055 294514

Built in the 15th Century, admission is free to Santa Maria del Fiore (the Cathedral or “Duomo”), Italy’s second largest church (after St. Peter’s in Rome) and the third largest in the world (St. Paul’s in London is the other). It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is open from 10AM to 5PM Monday through Saturday and 1:30PM to 4:45PM on Sunday. The dome, bell tower, museum, and baptistery all charge to enter or you can buy a consolidated ticket on their website. The Museo dell’Opera is closed until November 2015 for renovations.

The facade and dome of Santa Maria del Fiore is imposing and awe-inspiring, dominating the large piazza in which it stands it is so large that it is impossible to photograph the entire structure without a special lens. Its beautiful marble polychrome facade of greens, pinks, and whites is unlike any other I have seen. The interior is massive and spectacular, my favorite part being the massive dome completed in the 1460s with a fresco of the apostles who appear to be sitting on the edges with their legs dangling over the sides.

Across from the Duomo entrance is the Baptistery of St. John. Until the 19th century, all Catholic Florentines were baptized here. The octagonal monument is distinguished by its geometric, colored-marble exterior and detailed interior mosaics. Admission is €5, but admiring the famous bronze doors (replica panels) carved with scenes from the Bible is free.

This is one of the most impressive structures I have seen anywhere in the world and is a MUST SEE if visiting Italy.

CombatCritic Gives Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore 10 Bombs Out Of 10



Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: Santa Maria del Fiore “Duomo di Firenze” – A “Must See” If Visiting Rome And Italy’s Northern Provinces

Key Words:  Santa Maria del Fiore, Duomo, Firenze, must, see, Rome, Italy, Florence, dome, baptistry, baptistery, marble, facade, piazza, tower, opera, review, travel, value, CombatCritic, Yelp

Another FREE Florence (Italy) Attraction: The Elizabeth Barrett Browning Home – Casa Guidi


Casa Guidi
Piazza San Felice 8
50125 Florence, Italy
Near Palazzo Pitti
Prices: FREE
Casa Guidi, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s (EBB) former home and where she died, is in Florence … and, unlike most everything else in the city, it is FREE to visit!
My wife is a huge fan of the Brönte sisters and EBW was a fan of Charlotte’s. I also enjoy her poetry and have a First Edition of one of her works, so I was also interested in visiting her home.
Just down the street from Palazzo Piti on the Altrarno side of the river, Casa Guidi is located on the first floor (second floor to Americans) of a historic palazzo. There is an engraved stone marker above the massive door indicating where she lived and a brass nameplate above the buzzer outside with details about operating hours. There is also a single brass button below the rest that merely says “Elizabeth”.
Living Room
The apartment consists of just three rooms that you can visit, but they are spectacular and contain furniture of hers and from the period as well as photos, paintings, busts, and other memorabilia. Her husband study is small, but has elaborate frescoes on the walls and ceilings. The dining room is large, but not extremely interesting. The living room, off of which are the bedrooms and kitchen (not open to the public, but apparently you can rent them for lodging). is massive and contains a large library of her works, more artwork, and some beautiful period furniture as well as some of her possessions.
Husband’s Study
The visit is self-guided and FREE, but you must visit on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday (April to November) between 3PM and 6PM only. Just ring the buzzer for Casa Guidi, though the giant door and a gate, then go up one flight of stairs to her apartment on the left.

CombatCritic Gives Casa Guidi 8 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!




Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube



Title: Another FREE Florence (Italy) Attraction: The Elizabeth Barrett Browning Home – Casa Guidi

Key Words: FREE, Florence, Italy, Attraction, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Elizabeth, Barrett, Browning, Home, Casa Guidi, Firenze, review, museum, attraction, Yelp, TripAdvisor, travel, value

Disappointing At Best … Undercooked Pasta, Mediocre Service, A Poor Value


Trattoria La Casalinga
Via dei Michelozzi 9R
50125 Florence, Italy
Near Palazzo Pitti
Phone: +39 055 218624
Prices: $$$$

Insalata Caprese

After reading the wonderful reviews on Yelp, including one written recently by a trusted Yelp friend from New Orleans, I was looking forward to a nice lunch in Oltrarno near Chiesa Santo Spirito while in the neighborhood visiting Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s former home, Casa Guidi. The last time we ate on this side of the river, we were disappointed at best and, unfortunately, that was also the case on this our second visit. 


We were seated right away, but the waiters were too busy with everyone else in the room and we had to wait ten minutes to be acknowledged. Even then, the waiter was in a hurry, rudely interrupting our questions about the menu to run off to another table. Strike ONE!

Once we finally ordered, our drinks appeared promptly, a bottle of mineral water (€2.50) and a half-liter of vino rosso della casa (house red wine – €4). The water was water and the wine decent and at a very reasonable price for Florence.

We shared an Insalata Caprese (€7.50) which turned out to be a small ball of mozzarella, two small tomatoes cut into sixths, and two basil leaves. It was “OK”, but more expensive and not nearly as big or as good as many I have had in Italy in recent months.

Ribollita

I ordered the Ribollita (€6.50), a hearty Tuscan soup made with stale bread, cannellini beans, and vegetables like cabbage, carrots, celery and the like. It was tasty and filling, accompanied by the local unsalted bread which I utilized to mop-up what was left in the bowl. For such a basic dish, what Italians would unassumingly call a “peasants” dish, the price was a tad high and probably should have been in the €4-€5 range.


Tortellini Panna e Prosciutto

My wife had the tortellini panna e prosciutto (€7.50), a not so generous dish of apparently handmade tortellini, bravo, in a cream sauce with pieces of prosciutto crudo. Unfortunately, her tortellini were not close to “al dente” and could have used another minute or two in the boiling water. I have eaten is hundreds of restaurants in Italy and I have never been served either undercooked or overcooked pasta. If a kitchen in Italy cannot cook pasta properly, they have no excuse for being in business. Strike TWO!


Tiramisu?

When the waiter arrived and asked how our meal was, my wife told him about the pasta, but he seemed to care less. We ordered a piece of tiramisu to share and it was also below average. While waiting for the check, I saw several tables of “locals” being served a complimentary “digestivo” before leaving, usually a local beverage such as grappa or limoncello. But the tourists, my wife and I obviously, were neither offered a digestivo nor an apology for the poorly cooked pasta. After all, we were “just a couple more annoying tourists”. Strike THREE … YOUR OUT!


With the bill coming to €36.50 for a salad, two pasta dishes, one dessert and drinks, including a mandatory €4 service charge, it was not an overly expensive meal, but the bang for the buck just was not there and it was not a good value.

CombatCritic Gives Trattoria La Casalinga 4 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!








Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Title: Disappointing At Best … Undercooked Pasta, Mediocre Service, A Poor Value

Key Words: Trattoria La Casalinga, trattoria, casalinga, Florence, Oltrarno, Santo Sprito, santo, spirito, Florence, Firenze, Italy, menu, review, travel, value, Yelp, TripAdvisor

20 FREE THINGS TO DO In And Around Florence, Italy (Firenze)


There are the “must see” places in Florence like the Uffizi Gallery where you can see famous works of art by Michelangelo, DaVinci, Rembrandt, and many, many more or the Galleria dell’ Accademia where Michelangelo’s “David”, one of the most incredible statues you will see anywhere in the world, is located. But most museums and even the churches charge heavily to enter, so you must purchase a FirenzeCard for €72 (valid for 72 hours, allowing free entry into many of Florence’s museums), choose very wisely, visit during FREE ENTRY DAYS (normally the first Sunday of the month), or visit the many free venues in the city …


1) SANTA MARIA NOVELLA PHARMACY

Florence is very rich in old churches and many of them are free to enter (except Santa Maria Novella as I recently found out). These (used to) include the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, one of the most beautiful churches in the city which houses works by Giotto, Masaccio and Ghirlandaio, now charging €5 to enter. Like Basilica di Santa Croce across town, at least they do not discriminate in their greed as Catholics are required to pay the same as everyone else to enter a Catholic church … what a disgrace.

Its famous pharmacy, founded by Dominican friars in 1221, is located around the corner from the square at Via della Scala 16. In their gardens they cultivated medicinal herbs that were used to prepare medications, balms and ointments for the small monastery. They follow the same formulas for preparation of spices, liquor, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals to this day. 
Pharmacy website: www.smnovella.it
Address: Via Della Scala 16


2) THE “DUOMO” (THE CATHEDRAL OF FLORENCE”)

Built in the 15th Century, admission is free to Santa Maria del Fiore (the Cathedral or “Duomo”), Italy’s second largest church (after St. Peter’s in Rome) and the third largest in the world (St. Paul’s in London is the other). It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is open from 10AM to 5PM Monday through Saturday and 1:30PM to 4:45PM on Sunday. The dome, bell tower, museum, archeological site, and baptistery all charge to enter or you can buy a consolidated ticket on their website. The Museo dell’Opera is closed until November 2015 for renovations.

The facade and dome of Santa Maria del Fiore is imposing and awe-inspiring, dominating the large piazza in which it stands it is so large that it is impossible to photograph the entire structure without a special lens. Its beautiful marble polychrome facade of greens, pinks, and whites is unlike any other I have seen. The interior is massive and spectacular, my favorite part being the massive dome completed in the 1460s with a fresco of the apostles who appear to be sitting on the edges with their legs dangling over the sides.

This is one of the most impressive structures I have seen anywhere in the world and is a MUST SEE if visiting central Italy. Unlike the rest of the complex (dome, baptistery, vault, bell tower, and museum), you can enter the cathedral for free. Entry is through the north door of the massive west-facing facade and the line snakes along the routinely shaded (in summer) north wall of the cathedral, but it moves rather quickly. There are even free guided tours in several languages lasting around 30 minutes, so check at the desk on the left after you enter to inquire.


3) BAPTISTERY OF ST. JOHN

Across from the Duomo entrance is the Baptistery of St. John. Until the 19th century, all Catholic Florentines were baptized here. The octagonal monument is distinguished by its geometric, colored-marble exterior and detailed interior mosaics. Admission is €5, but admiring the famous bronze doors (with replica panels) carved with scenes from the Bible is free.

4) OBLATE CAFETERIA

On the second floor of the famous Oblate Library and not far from the Duomo, their Cafeteria has been open to the public since May 2009 and has already become an important place of the city’s social and cultural life. The interior decoration is modern with every detail chosen carefully, allowing you to spend time at the library in a relaxed, safe and unique atmosphere.

Almost every evening there is a themed musical event with free admission and optional drinks (unless you sit at a table of course).

CLICK HERE for more details.

5) SANTA CROCE NEIGHBORHOOD


Just to the east of the historical center is the Santa Croce Neighborhood. Stop in Piazza Santa Croce, the neighborhood’s lively main square, to admire the facade of the medieval Santa Croce Basilica, the largest Franciscan church in the world. Many famous Italians are entombed inside, including Michelangelo, Galileo, and Marconi, but entrance to the church costs €5 (Open Weekdays: 9.30 am – 5.30 pm). Near the church is the Leather School of Santa Croce, Scuola del Cuoio, where you can see artisans making leather products and a display of leather-working tools.


6) STROZZI PALACE

Strozzi Palace is the perfect example of a Renaissance mansion, appearing like a fortress in the heart of the historic center of Florence. Every Thursday evening from 6PM to 10PM free entry is allowed to the “Strozzina” and its Exhibition of Contemporary Art in the palace’s Center for Contemporary Culture.

More details on www.palazzostrozzi.org

7) FREE WALKING TOURS

These tour are the original walking tours of Florence, they are FREE. Arranged by local professional guides working on a tip-only basis, your generosity will allow them to continue this service.

They offer two daily tours beginning at the Central Railway Station (Santa Maria Novella). You will can choose between the Renaissance Tour (11AM), Medici Family Tour (2PM), or take both.

Find more details here: www.florencefreetour.com

8) PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO

Looking for the perfect photo opp while in Florence? Do not miss this large plaza located at the top of a hill above Piazza Poggi on the south side of the river Arno. The centerpiece of the piazzale is its terrace, the perfect place to spend some time taking in the beautiful city below. You can reach this lookout by bus if you are not up to the climb or, like me, have knees that have seen better days.
View From Piazzale Michelangelo


9) ABBEY OF SAN MINIATO AL MONTE

Follow the main street from Piazzale Michelangelo to the steps of the Abbey San Miniato al Monte, one of the highest points in Florence. Michelozzo’s Cappella del Crocifisso (built in 1448) is the centerpiece of the Romanesque basilica and frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi decorate the crypt behind it. 

Wander the abbey’s cemetery where Carlo Collodi, author of Pinocchio, is buried and stay until sunset when the golden light reflects off the Arno and terra-cotta roofs of the majestic city below. 

Admission is free (open from 7AM to 1PM, 3:30PM to 7PM on weekdays in winter, and 7AM to sunset in summer). Masses are held throughout the day on Sunday and holidays; and the 10AM and 5:30PM masses are performed in Gregorian chant in the crypt, an incredible experience.
10) DANTE’S CHURCH

You must pay to enter Dante’s house down the street, but entry to Santa Margherita dei Cerchi, dating back to 1032 and known primarily as the “Church of Dante”, is free. 

It has been said that Dante met his muse, Beatrice, here for the first time and fell in love with her. Beatrice’s family had tombs are there where her father, Folco Portinari, is buried. Many visitors like to think that Beatrice is buried in the church and in front of what tradition has identified as Beatrice’s tomb, you can find a chest full of messages lovers leave to Beatrice asking her to protect their love. Beatrice, however, was married to a member of the Bardi family and was likely buried in the tomb of her husband’s family in the cloister of Santa Croce Church.

Address: Piazza dei Giuochi, 50122 Florence, Italy

11) PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA

Florence’s most famous square, Piazza della Signoria is the heart of the historic center and a free open-air sculpture exhibit. The imposing Loggia dei Lanza, also known as Loggia della Signoria, holds important statues, including those by Cellini, Giambologna and Fedi and a proportionally smaller copy of Michelangelo’s David stands in front of the entrance to Palazzo Vecchio. The piazza has been Florence’s political center since the middle ages and Florence’s town hall, the medieval Palazzo Vecchio, literally towers over the piazza. You’ll also want to admire the beautiful fountain in the square or have a seat in front of or under the Loggia della Lanza to relax or watch the multitude of tourists wander past.


12) LOGGIA DEL MERCATO NUOVO

Not far from the Piazza della Signoria you will find the new market or “Loggia del Porcellino”, the name of the fountain portrayed by a wild boar sculpted in bronze and created in the 7th Century by “Pietro Tacca” (the original is kept in Palazzo Pitti). It would be worth your while to spend some time in the area as there is a tradition of placing a coin in the boars mouth. If it falls out and rolls over the water drain, you then rub its nose to bring good luck. Remember the coin must travel to the other side of the drain for it to work!

At the centre of the loggia you can also see the “scandalous stone” (Pietra dello Scandalo), the place place where debtors would be punished in Renaissance Florence. The punishment consisted of chaining the prisoners and whipping their legs, repeatedly falling down onto their behinds.


13) THE MARKETS OF FLORENCE

A stroll through the local markets does not cost anything unless you indulge yourself, but is an excellent way to enjoy a morning, afternoon, or an entire day. Here is a selection of  Florentine markets:

• SAN LORENZO MARKET: Extends from Piazza S. Lorenzo to Ariento Street around the Basilica of San Lorenzo (in the historic center of Florence). It is the most important market in the city and you will find clothing, leather goods, souvenirs, local food products and much more. It is a great place for a quick, inexpensive lunch to eat there or take withg you for a picnic elsewhere in town. It is open Monday to Friday from 7AM to 2PM and on Saturdays from 7:00 to 17:00 (except from mid-June to September when it is closed on Saturdays).

• SANT’AMBROGIO MARKET: Near Piazza Ghiberti and Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, Mercato Sant’Ambrogio has outdoor spaces where you will find fresh fruit, vegetables, clothing, flowers, shoes and appliance stalls. If you are looking for food, enter the building where you will find meat or fresh fish, pasta, general groceries, cheeses, and bread. If you get hungry, there is also a restaurant inside the market with good, cheap meals. The market is open every day (except Sunday) from 7AM to 2PM.


• MERCATO DELLE PULCI: The ‘flea market’ is located in Piazza dei Ciompi and is open daily from 9AM to 7:30PM. On the last Sunday of the month, the stalls are extended to the surrounding streets where you will find whatever you can imagine, including furniture, paintings, antiques, coins and jewelry. Maybe you will find a treasure among the many antiques!

• MERCATO DELLE CASCINE: Is located in the beautiful Parco delle Cascine (the largest park in Florence). Open every Tuesday from 7AM to 2PM, it is probably the biggest and cheapest market in town where you can buy clothing, shoes, housewares and much more.

• THE CURE MARKET, In Piazza delle Cure, it is open every morning except Sunday and holidays.

• THE FIERUCOLINA: “The Fierucolina” is an organic market that promotes organic farming and biodynamic agriculture with food, wine, and handmade bio-manufactured products. It takes place the third Sunday of each month (except in August) in Piazza Santo Spirito (Oltrarno).

• THE MARKET OF RARE BOOKS: In Loggia del Grano, it is open Thursday to Saturday from 10AM to 6PM.

• THE FLOWER MARKET: Under the porch of Piazza della Repubblica, every Thursday morning from 10 to 19.• THE PIGGY MARKET: Florentine straw objects, handmade embroidery, leather goods, wooden objects, and flowers in Piazza del Mercato Nuovo from 8AM to 7PM every day except Sunday and Monday morning.


• THE STRAW MARKET: Piazza del Mercato Nuovo from 9AM to 6:30PM every day except Sunday and holidays.

Across the piazza from chiesa Santa Maria Novella, a free bus will take from Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station to various itineraries in and around Prato, a town between Florence and Pistoia heading toward Lucca and Pisa. You pay only for the entrance to museums (if applicable) and your lunch.

The tours are available 10 consecutive Sundays from May to July, taking four routes/itineraries with both Italian and English Guides:

  • CONTEMPORARY ART AND INDUSTRIAL ARCHEOLOGY
  • WHEN THERE WERE THE ETRUSCANS / ETRUSCAN PAST
  • THE NOBLE TRAIL: VILLAS AND CASTLES
  • THE PATH OF PILGRIMS
Email thatsprato@po.camcom.it to request a spot or visit their website: http://thatsprato.com/


15) OLTRARNO – SANTO SPIRITO AND SAN FREDIANO NEIGHBORHOODS

If you want to get away from the crowds, head across the river on Ponte Santa Trinita (west of Ponte Vecchio) or turn right after traversing Ponte Vecchio toward the area known as Oltrarno. Here you will find interesting neighborhoods that see far fewer tourists. It is a pleasant place for a walk where you will see typical Florentine buildings, small stores, artisan workshops, and small neighborhood squares. In Piazza Santa Spirito there is a small morning market and in the Santo Spirito Church, designed by Brunelleschi in the 15th century, you will find a wealth of art work. Santa Maria del Carmine Church has a beautiful Renaissance fresco in Cappella Brancacci (open 10AM–5PM, Sunday 1PM–5PM, closed Tuesdays).

16) CASA GUIDI: ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING HOME.

Just down the street from Palazzo Piti on the Altarno side of the river, Casa Guidi is located on the first floor (second floor to Americans) of a historic palazzo. There is an engraved stone marker above the massive door indicating where she lived and a brass nameplate above the buzzer outside with details about operating hours. There is also a single brass button below the rest that merely says “Elizabeth”.

The apartment consists of just three rooms that you can visit, but they are spectacular and contain furniture of hers and from the period as well as photos, paintings, busts, and other memorabilia. Her husband study is small, but has elaborate frescoes on the walls and ceilings. The dining room is large, but not extremely interesting. The living room, off of which are the bedrooms and kitchen (not open to the public, but apparently you can rent them for lodging). is massive and contains a large library of her works, more artwork, and some beautiful period furniture as well as some of her possessions.

The visit is self-guided and FREE, but you must visit on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday (April to November) between 3PM and 6PM only. Just ring the buzzer for Casa Guidi, though the giant door and a gate, then go up one flight of stairs to her apartment on the left.

Address: Piazza San Felice 8, 50125 Florence, Italy
Phone: +39 055 354457


17) PONTE VECCHIO


Ponte Vecchio, or the “old bridge”, was built in 1345 and was Florence’s first bridge across the Arno River. It’s the only surviving bridge from Florence’s medieval days (the others were destroyed during World War II). Following a flood in 1345, the bridge was reconstructed, adding rows of shops to the bridge where many of the city’s butchers were located. More shops were added later and Ponte Vecchio became a place for gold and silver shopping in Renaissance Florence. It is still lined with shops selling gold and silver jewelry, a good place for window shopping or people watching …
18) PASTAFICIO CHELUCCI: PASTA FACTORY TOUR

Hand-crafted pasta since 1912, the owner Giuseppe has been in the family business since 1950, is extremely friendly and informative, and made us feel welcome for our free, private tour.

During World War II, the Nazis took over the building, a villa, making it their headquarters in 1942. The family had to walk for two days to Florence while the Germans occupied their home. Once the Nazis fled from Allied Forces in December 1942, they returned home and were the first pastificio (pasta factory) of 36 in Pistoia to resume operations after the war. They are the only remaining pastificio of the original 36 in Pistoia.

The valley in which the villa sits is quiet, green, lush, and much cooler than smoldering Florence, so it was a breath of fresh air, literally, after a month in 100 degree Florence and its wall-to-wall tourists. If visiting Tuscany and tell him CombatCritic sent you!

Read my full review now!

Pastificio Chelucci
Via di Valente, 7
51100 Pistoia, Italy

Phone: +39 0573 42011 for free tour reservations
Email: info@pastificiochelucci.it

Web: pastificiochelucci.it

19) APRITI INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL


Free entry to the outdoor Apriti cinema, an international film festival, held from the end of June to late July, is located in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, just east of the Accademia Gallery and Piazza San Marco.  Films are from all over the world and are in their native languages with Italian subtitles. Starting at 21:30 nightly, there are hamburgers (€5), french fries (€2.50), and artisan beers (€4) available for purchase when available.


20) IF YOU ARE LIKE ME, PEOPLE-WATCHING IS “THE BOMB”


The best free activity in Florence may very well be people-watching. While you peruse the jewelry and souvenir shops on Ponte Vecchio (the medieval stone bridge over the Arno River), get off the beaten path and head to Oltrarno, the neighborhood on the far and less touristy side of the Arno. Get lost on the narrow cobblestone streets, wander in and out of artisan workshops, and rub shoulders with locals at the daily morning market (closed the second and third Sundays of the month, when artisan and antique markets are held) in Piazza Santo Spirito.

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Title: 20 FREE THINGS TO DO In And Around Florence, Italy (Firenze)

Key Words: free, things, to, do, Florence, Firenze, Italy, Italia, Ponte Vecchio, Duomo, piazza, signoria, ponte, vecchio, santa, maria, novella, Oltrarno, market, mecato, walking, baptistery, Santa Croce, travel, Value

Free in Florence: Apriti Cinema International Film Festival – 29 June through 21 July 2015


Free entry to Apriti cinema, an international film festival from 29 June to 21 July 2015. Films start at 21:30 nightly and there are hamburgers (€5), french fries (€2.50), and artisan beers (€4) available for purchase.
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Title:  Free in Florence (Italy): Apriti Cinema International Film Festival – 29 June through 21 July 2015

Key Words: Free, Florence, Italy, Apriti Cinema, International Film Festival, Apriti, cinema, international, film, festival, Firenze, movie, outdoor, food, beer, travel, value, CombatCritic

A Slightly Underwhelming, Inexpensive. Light Meal Option In Central Florence


Lo SchiacciaVino
Via Giuseppe Verdi 6R
50122 Florence, Italy
Santa Croce Area
Phone: +39 055 2260133
Prices: $$$$$

A moderately charming, clean option for an inexpensive sandwich and glass of wine, this small shop lies less than a block north of famous Piazza Santa Croce and its historic church which houses the remains of such famous Italians as Marconi, Galileo, Michelangelo and and many more.

Their sandwich, “schiaccia” in Florence, comes on fresh, toasted focaccia bread and your choice of several meats, cheeses and spreads, all for €4 each. I had the “Bomba”, a mixture of ground sausage and soft cheese served warm and was not overly impressed. The cheese and ground sausage were mixed together then thinly slathered on the toasted focaccia. The taste was good, but the contents were overwhelmed by the bread and it was not very filling. My wife ordered the “Goloso” with local salami and a soft “squacquerone” cheese also served warm on toasted focaccia. It was better than my schiaccia, but lacking enough contents to make it worth the €4. A bit more salami and a little lettuce and tomato would have been welcome additions.
Goloso


They have some inexpensive wines, a vino rosso locale at €2 per glass that was not very good, so I ordered a Chianti for €3.50 that was much better. They have several options available escalating in price up to €8 per glass.
Bomba
They speak decent English and the service is friendly and fast. There are only two small tables outside on the sidewalk where you can sit comfortably, otherwise the bars with stools on opposite sides of the entryway are the only eat-in options and not very cozy. If you want a quick, decent, light meal and a glass of wine for less than €10, this is a good option, but there are better values in town for a quick, inexpensive meal.

CombatCritic Gives Lo SchiacciaVino A Solid 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!





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Italian



Title: A Slightly Underwhelming, Inexpensive. Light Meal Option In Central Florence


Key Words: Lo SchiacciaVino, schiacciavino, schiaccia, vino, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Florence, Firenze, Italy, Santa Croce, croce, sandwich, wine, travel, value, review, menu, CombatCritic

Abondanza…Simpatico…Buonissimo…La Vinaina is a Bargain and Treat in Residential Florence!



La Vinaina

Via dell’Agnolo, 48r, 50122 
Florence, Italy
Phone: +39.055.234.4120

Prices:    € €  

Around the corner from the wonderful Mercato Sant’Abrogio, my wife and I visited La Vinaina on several occasions with the students of the University of Kansas attending the study abroad program in Florence. Our apartment was just around the corner and we enjoyed the proximity, warm welcome, fresh ingredients, and very reasonable prices for lunch.

Being an amateur chef and restaurant critic, and having traveled to 49 countries around the world, I have eaten at few restaurants with the impeccable quality and value as we found at La Vinaina.


The pasta and bread…always fresh; the meat and fish…always prepared to perfection; the service…always attentive and friendly. I would recommend this restaurant to anybody…on a budget, like students, to more EXCLUSIVE and seasoned travelers alike. There is something for everyone at La Vinaina!

Watch my video collage dedicated to our friends at La Vinaina on CombatCritic TV:



Watch My Video of La Vinaina and Surrounding Area on CombatCritic TV!

or read more about this wonderful cucina tipica toscana in The CombatCritic Chronicle: 

http://www.CombatCritic.com

I have also posted reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Fousquare…search for “CombatCritic” and send a Friend request.







CombatCritic gives La Vinaina 7 BOMBS OUT OF 10…bombs in this case are good!

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Title: Abondanza…Simpatico…Buonissimo…La Vinaina is a Bargain and Treat in Residential Florence!

Key Words: La Vinaina, vinaina, restaurant, trattoria, pasta, menu, Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, mercato, sant’ambrogio, ambrogio, food, Florence, Italy, Firenze, travel, value, CombatCritic


See What 250 KPH On Italy’s High-Speed Train From Naples to Florence Looks Like!


Italo, Italy’s private, high-speed train … this is what 250 kliks (150 MPH) between Rome and Florence looks like …


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Title: See What 250 KPH On Italy’s High-Speed Train From Naples to Florence Looks Like!

Key Words: Italy’s, Italy, High-Speed, Train, Naples, Florence, Firenze, Napoli, Italo, kliks, MPH, kilometers, high, speed, trains, rail, station, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

Once Home To "Shroud Of Turin", Now Houses Famous Byzantine "Madonna"


Santuario di Montevergine
Mercogliano, Avellino, Italy

Mercogliano, a hillside town about 30 miles (50 kliks) east of and a world away from Naples, Italy, sits below the famous mountain-top abbey: Santuario di Montevergine. The abbey of Montevergine has been the site of religious orders dating back to the 12th Century and sits almost 5,000 above the base of Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples. It was reportedly the hiding place of the Shroud of Turin during World War II (behind the massive altar) and is home to the massive and celebrated Byzantine painting on wood of the “Madonna” (Blessed Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus).


Entry to the abbey is free and the highlight is the Byzantine Madonna which consumes one wall of the chapel in which it is housed at the back of the main church. The church itself is unremarkable, but the exterior of the abbey is picturesque and the view of Avellino and the valley below is breathtaking.

CombatCritic Gives Santuario di Montevergine 8 Out Of 10 Bombs





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Title:  Once Home To “Shroud Of Turin”, Now Houses Famous Byzantine “Madonna”

Key Words: CombatCritic, Italy, Mercogliano, Montevergine, santuario, santuario do montevergine, monte, vergine, virgine, TravelValue, travel, value, hilltop, mountain, abbey, free, 

Superb, Inexpensive Local Cuisine In A Countryside Setting


La Cantina di Baffone
Contrada Palombaro
Montecalvo, Irpino, Province of Avellino, Campania
Phone: +39-334-182-5144

Prices: $$$$$

Woman In Traditional “Montecalvese” Dress

An agriturismo in my paternal grandfather’s hometown, we discovered La Cantina di Baffone when my relatives took us their for dinner one night. Not far from Montecalvo, a small, hillside town 60 miles east of Naples, the restaurant seems to be far from civilization in a relaxed and peaceful setting surrounded by olive and cherry trees. My cousin Gino called ahead for a table and we arrived at 9:30pm, not very late by Italian standards.

It did not take long for the attentive staff to come by to greet us and give us menus, we quickly ordered mineral water and the local wine with four of six in our party ordering their legendary pizza while Gino and I decided to try the local specialties.

Bruschetta

My grandmother, although she and my grandfather met in the States, was born in Trevico, a small mountaintop town just 20 miles from Montecalvo, so her cooking was very similar to the dishes found in this region. The server, one of two twins that own the agriturismo, quickly brought out two platters of bruschetta (€1.50 each – FYI: the “ch” in Italian is pronounced like our “k’, so it is pronounced brew-sket-ah, not brew-shet-a). Montecalvo is renowned for its bread in the Irpino region and it is said that there are so many ovens baking bread in town that it melts the snow on the streets in winter. The toasted slices of pane (bread) Montecalvese were rubbed with garlic and topped with juicy tomato chunks then sprinkled with diced basil and extra virgin olive oil.

Patane e Pupini

The pizzas, none over €5 and the cheapest I have seen in recent memory, were huge and perfectly cooked, the dough thin, but firm (not chewy, not burnt) with abundant ingredients. With the ability to have fabulous pizza around every corner back in Naples, my focus was on the cucina tipica (local cuisine), Montecalvese in this case.

For our first courses (primi), Gino and I both had the Cicatielli e Broccoli (€5). Cicatielli is the local pasta and is used almost exclusively in homes and restaurants. With just the right amount of perfectly cooked pasta, the broccoli was not overwhelmed by the light, creamy sauce holding the pasta together … Buonissimo!

Gino ordered the Patane e Pupini (€5), a traditional combination of roasted sweet sausage, red and green bell peppers, and potatoes. It was as good as my grandma’s with just a little char on the slices of sausage, potatoes, and peppers and delicious along with the local bread. I love veal and when I was told that the Spezzatino Montecalvese (€5) was a “veal stew”, I had no other choice. Simmered for hours in its own juices, a little fresh tomato, olive oil, and salt were all I could detect being added to the sauce. The veal was tender, literally melting in my mouth, and the sauce sublime, a perfect yet simple combination of fresh ingredients. My Italian-born wife always tells me that it is “frowned upon” in public, but I could not resist to “fare la scarpetta” (to do the little shoe) with the leftover sauce, using a small piece of local bread to mop up the wonderful sauce I could not possibly have left behind. 

Although thoroughly stuffed, we could not resist the cheesecake (€2.50), a house specialty, coming either plain or drizzled with chocolate, caramel, or in our case a fresh fruit sauce with strawberry, raspberry, and cherry from trees in the adjacent grove. The graham cracker crust was thick and crisp and the filling rich and decadent, a dessert easily fetching more than twice the price in most stateside restaurants.

Cantina di Baffone is one of those hidden gems you come across rarely in life and we would have never gone there if it were not for my cousins, but am I glad we did! For a party of six, we ate extremely well for less than €10 per person, including drinks, making this restaurant an exceptional value. We only see my relatives every couple of years, but the next time we are in Montecalvo we will return to di Baffone for another delicious and inexpensive meal.

CombatCritic Gives Cantina di Baffone 10 Out Of 10 Bombs … Value Does Not Get Better Than This … More Bombs Are Better!


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Title: Superb, Inexpensive Local Cuisine In A Countryside Setting

Key Words: La Cantina di Baffone, cantina, baffone, Contrada, Palombaro, Montecalvo Irpino, Avellino, Campania, agriturismo, restaurant, Italian, Italy, review, menu, CombatCritic, travel, value

I Have A "Hunch" You Will Like "Il Gobbetto"


Il Gobbetto
Via Sergente Maggiore 8
80132 Naples, Campania, Italy
Phone: +39 081 2512435

Prices: $$$$$

I had read the favorable reviews of Il Gobbetto, literally “The Hunchback”, so we decided to have a look inside as we happened by. It is a cute little place just off Via Toledo and a stones throw from the infamous Teatro San Carlo, but a bit cramped with too many tables for the small room. It seems as though they cater to tourists as foreigners made up most of the clientele. We were squeezed into a corner table by the owner who speaks a little English, making maneuvering the elbows a little difficult.
As is usually the case, our eyes were, metaphorically speaking, bigger than our stomachs and we ended up ordering antipasti (appetizers) and primi (first courses). For my wife’s antipasto she ordered the Pacchero Fritto (€3), four deep fried ??? cheese squares that were rather uninspiring. I on the other hand had l’insalata Caprese (Caprese salad – €6), sliced, ripe, juicy cherry tomatoes on a bed of rucola, and thick slices of mozzarella di bufala (mozzarella cheese made from milk of water buffalo, a specialty of Southern Italy’s Mediterranean coastal region) topped with fresh basil leaves. You would easily pay $8 to $15 for a dish like this in the states, so the $6.75 price tag was not difficult to swallow … yuk-yuk.

For our primi and final courses of the night we decided to go with pasta. My wife had the Gnocchi del Gobbetto (€6), handmade gnocchi (potato dumplings) in a creamy cheese sauce with sliced zucchini and topped with fresh basil. The gnocchi were perfectly cooked, not too soft, not too hard, and the sauce perfectly complimented the lightness of the thinly sliced zucchini. The portion was perfect with just enough to fill you without bursting and the price extremely fair compared to U.S. restaurant standards.
My Orecchiette Salsiccia e Provola (ear shaped pasta in a tomato sauce with ground sweet sausage and melted provolone cheese – €6) was exquisite. Again, handmade pasta, as is the case in most restaurants in Italy, was in just the right proportion to sauce, sausage and provolone, and was perfectly “al dente”. One of my all-time favorite dishes is orecchiette salsiccia e friarielli (sausage and broccoli rabe sauteed in olive oil and garlic) and this was the first time I tried a version with tomato sauce. It may not become my favorite, but I will definitely be playing with this recipe at home and would order it again in a flash … HOOAH!

Cover charge (coperto) is just €1 per person, the service was excellent, and things moved quickly even though they were rather busy.  The owner even took time to dance with a couple of pretty young lady customers in the middle of the room while his wife slaved away in the kitchen (I hope she doesn’t read this or I might get him in trouble). Their house red (or white) wine, which is very good, comes in at a paltry €3 per bottle (compare that to a half-liter of inferior house red at Pizzeria Sorbillo – €9) and a liter of mineral water is just €1.50 (€1.50 for a half-liter at Sorbillo). Our bill came to just €28.50 for two courses, wine, and water (plus tip), a tremendous bargain and worth feeling a bit claustrophobic.

CombatCritic Gives Il Gobbetto A Very Solid 8 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better



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 Menu (English)
Title: I Have A “Hunch” You Will Like “Il Gobbetto”
Key Words: Il Gobbetto, gobbetto, hunchback, hunch, osteria, restaurant, pasta, antipasto, Caprese, salad, menu, review, Naples, Napoli, Italy, Italia, CombatCritic, travel, value, critic, combat

A Bit Dated, But Otherwise Excellent Value If Visiting Montevergine


Hotel Mercurio
Viale San Modestino, 7
83013 Mercogliano, Italy
Prices: $$$$$
Wanting to visit the Santuario di Montevergine, we found a good price on a “Booking” website and made a reservation for a Friday night at just €40 for a double room, including breakfast, at the base of the mountain in the town of Mercogliano and a 20-minute drive to the Abbey of Montevergine.
Mercogliano is a quaint, quiet hillside town about 30 miles (50 kliks) and a world away from Naples, Italy, very close to the famous abbey. Montevergine has been the site of religious orders dating back to the 12th Century and sits almost 5,000 above the base of Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples. It was reportedly the hiding place of the Shroud of Turin during World War II and is home to the massive and celebrated Byzantine painting on wood of the “Madonna” (Blessed Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus).
Hotel Mercurio is clean, but a bit dated in architecture and furnishings, reminiscent of the 1970s. The staff were friendly and very helpful, giving excellent directions and recommendations for meals and shopping. The restaurant next door, Pizzeria La Tavernetta, was outstanding and very reasonably priced, garnering 10 out of 10 “Bombs” by this critic. We were given a nice size room with a balcony and a view of the valley below, nearby Avellino, and the mountains in the distance. The bathroom, on the other hand, was small and a bit cramped, making it somewhat difficult for a moderate sized person to shower and use the toilet.
The only complaints I have were the surprise parking charge that I later found out was hidden in the small print on the booking website’s confirmation and the “indoor pool” which was actually a community pool a half-block’s walk from the hotel. There is no street parking nearby and the lot across the street is free, but only for two hours, so we paid the minimal fee of €5 for the convenience and security of indoor parking under the hotel.

Breakfast was decent, your typical Italian selections, including choice of coffee (cappuccino, caffe latte, espresso, Americano, etc.), yogurts, cereals, juices and water, bread rolls, salami and cheese, and cornetti, a Southern Italian croissant filled with various crèmes and jams. They have a large dining room, but being a beautiful early-June morning we chose to sit on the veranda overlooking the tennis courts, valley, and mountains. Breakfast is served from 7am (although the server was a little late that morning) to 10am, a reasonable period to expect breakfast.
Hotel Mercurio is an excellent value, providing clean accommodations and very good service at a very reasonable price.
CombatCritic Gives Hotel Mercurio 7 Bombs Out Of 10 With Deductions For The Hidden Parking Charge, Community Pool, and Dated Look … More Bombs Are Better!



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Title: A Bit Dated, But Otherwise Excellent Value If Visiting Montevergine

Key Words:  Hotel Mercurio, hotel, albergo, Mercurio, Montevergine, abbey, mountain, Avellino, Viale San Modestino, 83013, Mercogliano, Italy, CombatCritic, TravelValue, review

IT’S "THE BOMB" … Great meal, superior service, outstanding value … as good as it gets for the price!


Pizzeria La Tavernetta
Viale San Modestino, 5
83013 Mercogliano, Italy
Phone: +39 0825 787020
Prices: $$$$$

Santuario di Montevirgine
My iPhone decided to go on the fritz again while my wife and I were spending the night at a hotel in Mercogliano, a hillside town about 30 miles (50 kliks) east of and a world away from Naples, Italy, after visiting the famous mountain top abbey called Santuario di Montevergine. The Abbey of Montevergine has been the site of religious orders dating back to the 12th Century and sits almost 5,000 above the base of Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples. It was reportedly the hiding place of the Shroud of Turin during World War II and is home to the massive and celebrated Byzantine painting on wood of the “Madonna” (Blessed Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus).

Baked Scamorza and Porcini Mushrooms – €10
Anyway, back to my crappy iPhone. We were searching for a place to eat on TripAdvisor (because there was a dearth of reviews in the area on Yelp) and found an excellent option, Pizzeria La Tavernetta, which appeared to be in close proximity to our hotel, Hotel Mercurio. However, when I clicked on “Directions”, both Google Maps and Waze could not pinpoint my location even though “Location Services” was enabled on my iPhone. So, we decided to do it the old fashioned way and ask the hotel desk clerk. He took us outside and pointed to the restaurant next door and sure enough, it was La Tavernetta … HOOAH!
As we entered, we were greeted warmly by the pizzaiolo and one of the owners apparently. There was a smattering of occupied tables in the large dining room and a party of about 35 celebrating a birthday at the long table next to ours. I began to become concerned after 10-15 minutes of being mostly ignored by the waiter and thought about going elsewhere, but I knew he (the only waiter) was overwhelmed by the large group and decided to wait.  Am I glad we did!
Antipasto San Valentino – €8
The owner came over and apologized shortly thereafter and the young waiter was nothing less than superb from that point forward. We started with a bottle of mineral water, the local red wine, and the antipasto San Valentine (€8), a massive plate (plates actually) filled with various salamis, prosciutto, guanciale, two medium balls of mozzarella di buffala, two bruschette (plural of bruschetta, which is prounounced brew-sket-ah, not brew-shet-ah as most Americans do), black and green olives, as well as marinated and roasted mellenzane (eggplant), mushrooms, and carrots. Accompanied by a basket of bread, it was a feast in itself, well worth the €8, and we nearly filling before our main courses arrived.
My family comes from a town about ten miles away and the wine was a bit drier than the local wines made there, but it was dark, fruity, and robust, an excellent value at less than $5 a bottle.
Sausage and Frierielli Pizza – €6
I had been craving my favorite frierielli (broccoli rabe) and sausage pizza for over a month and seeing it on the menu had no other choice even though they have a nice selection of primi (pastas), secondi (meat dishes), and contorni (side dishes – potatoes, vegetables, etc). The pizza was as big as any I have had in Naples, the home of the best pizza in the world, and one of the best sausage and frierielli pizzas I have had, including Naples. The crust was perfect, thin yet firm and slightly crispy (unlike Roman pizza which is like eating a cracker with tomato and cheese) and was well covered with fresh mozzarella, broccoli rabe, and large chunks of fresh, sweet sausage. The waiter read my mind and offered “olio piccante” (a spicy olive oil flavored with peperoncini) before I could get the words out of my mouth, adding just the right amount of spice to accompany the perfect pizza.
My wife had the baked scamorza, a stronger tasting cousin of mozzarella found mostly in Southern Italy, and porcini mushrooms (€10) and again we were not disappointed. Two large melted balls of cheese topped with just the right amount of sauteed porcini mushrooms was filling and delicious.
We stopped to talk to the owners, brothers I take it, on the way out and were treated to a small complimentary glass of “digestivo”, in this case a local green liquore reminiscent of absinthe, but made by the abbey monks from herbs found on the mountain slopes near Sanuario di Montevirgine – a perfect ending to an outstanding meal!
Unlike many reviewers, I give the maximum number of “bombs” (stars) rarely (as you can see from my rating distribution here and on Yelp combatcritic.yelp.com and TripAdvisor). My ratings are based strictly on “bang for the buck” and for €33 plus tip, this was a meal deserving my five-star rating and I can safely say that Pizzeria La Tavernetta is “THE BOMB”!
CombatCritic Gives Pizzeria La TavernettaThe Coveted 10 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!
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Menu
Menu

Title: Great meal, superior service, outstanding value … as good as it gets for the price!

Key Words: Pizzeria La Tavernetta, pizzeria, la, tavernetta, Apple, iPhone, pizza, pasta, antipasto, frierielli, broccoli, rabe, sausage, scamorza, Viale San Modestino, montevergine,

83013, Mercogliano, Italy, CombatCritic, TravelValue

Rocco Provides The Knockout Punch To Naples Take-Out


Rocco e Suoi Fratelli
Via San Giacomo dei Capri 155 
80131 Naples, Italy
Telephone: 081 5465302 

Rocco e Suoi Fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers) is a pizzeria not far from my in-laws house in Naples. After my mother-in-law’s surgery and half a day at the hospital, we did not feel much like cooking, so we ordered from Rocco’s to be delivered. You do not get food as good as this delivered in the States.

We started with antipasto (appetizers), a mix of arancini di riso (fried rice balls), fried calamari, potato croquettes, zeppoline (a deep fried puff of dough with bits of algae inside that I can only imagine got its name because of a resemblance to a zeppelin, e.g. the Hindenburg) battered and fried shrimp (gambaretti) and other deep-fried Neapolitan favorites. There went my cholesterol!

My sister-in-law ordered far too much food for three people, so we had lunch, dinner that night, and still had leftovers. Our primo (first course), gnocchi alla Sorrentino (il mio cognome – my surname), was too much to eat with firm, not too hard, not too soft, balls of potato goodness, infused with fresh mozzarella and baked in a light tomato sauce. With just the right consistency of gnocchi to mozzarella to sauce, it does not get much better than this. Delicioso!

For reasons unknown, we also ordered a pizza quattro formaggi (four cheese pizza) that did not even have a dent put in it at lunch. I did have a piece for dinner and for being hours old, the crust was still firm yet pliant and the cheeses gooey and savory. It is well known that I love frierielli (broccoli rabe sautéed in olive oil and garlic), so it was also on the menu. I had some by itself at lunch but having missed my favorite sausage and frierielli pizza for too long, I added some to the pizza quattro formaggi and threw it in the microwave for thirty seconds … buono … yum … scrummy!!!

For take-out, Rocco’s cannot be beat and I am sure that dining-in is likely as good if not better, so I am a fan and as Arnold Schwarzeneggar would say: “I’ll be back”.

CombatCritic Gives Rocco e Suoi Fratelli 8 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!





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Title: Rocco Provides The Knockout Punch To Neapolitan Take-Out


Key Words: Rocco e Suoi Fratelli, Rocco, suoi, fratelli, Napoli, Naples, Italy, Italian, pizza, pizzeria, delivery, menu, pasta, gnocchi, Sorrentino, zeppoline, arancini, calamari, CombatCritic, TravelValue

CombatCritic’s “TravelValue”: Italia (Italy)


Sicilia (Sicily)
Arriving in Rome after an uneventful plane ride across the Atlantic, I found the Easy Jet counter for my leg to Palermo, Sicily. Easy Jet is anything but, with extra charges for everything, my €49 fare quickly became nearly double at €90.
Not So Easy Jet’s Rome (Fiumicino) check-in counter was chaotic and I stood in line unnecessarily for 10 minutes before realizing that there was a bag check counter for those smart enough to print their boarding passes online. Even then, the short line took forever as the large family in front of me took items out of their bags to meet the 20 kg weight limit (44 lbs). Finally checking my bag 30 minutes later, I made my way to.the terminal and in to Palermo.
Trapani and Erice
Upon arrival at Palermo’s new Falcone-Borsellino Airport for my bus ride to Trapani, not quite my final destination, my wife’s picturesque, medieval hometown of Erice, I took the Segesta bus straight from the airport to downtown Trapani where my wife and her cousin were waiting for me. There are trains to Trapani, but the Italian train system is sometimes unreliable and I would have had to travel 20 kilometers back to downtown Palermo to catch the Trapani train, so the bus was faster and cheaper (€9.60).
Trapani is a medium size city that sits on the Mediterranean Sea in the northwest corner of the island of Sicily and Erice sits atop a nearby mountain, easily visible for 20 miles in any direction. Trapani is fairly clean and beautiful, but Erice is the gem of this area and a medieval delight.

 

 
You can take the cable car from Valderice at the bottom of the mountain (€2.80 per person round trip) or if you have a car, you can drive to the top where parking is liberal and inexpensive. Erice is a walled city and quite small, easily walked in 2-6 hours depending on your pace, how many of the quaint shops you want to stop in, or if you want a leisurely lunch or dinner in one of a small selection of restaurants. If you arrive at the right time, June through August, you can try the unique and delicious jasmine gelato (ice cream). You have not had ice cream until you habeas eaten gelato, and jasmine is a variety and delicacy found nowhere else in the world. Spend time enjoying the stroll over the cobblestone streets, but be sure to wear shoes with soles that will not slip on the shiny rocks, which can be quite treacherous, particularly when wet.
 
There are many wonderful things to see in and around Trapani, including Basilica della Madonna di. Trapani, the town of Marsala, the Egadi Islands of Favignana, Marettimo, Levanzo, the Greek ruins at Segesta, the island of Mothia, San Vito Lo Capo, and Agrigento’s expansive Greek ruins, about an hour and one half south of Trapani.
 
The people and food of Trapani must be enjoyed, with the people passionate and friendly, and the food robust and unique. The local cuisine has a definite Arab influence, having occupied Sicily for several centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire. CousCous can be found as a staple in many dishes in exchange for pasta, and is a delicious and unique change of pace from many ‘primi piati’ (first dishes) found elsewhere in Italy.
 
Summers are quite hot in Sicily, so make sure you dress appropriately, luring sunglasses and sunscreen, and book a hotel with air conditioning unless you enjoy sticky nights.
 
Firenze (Florence)
 
IL DUOMO
 

 

 
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers) is the center of Florence. Begun in 1296, it was completed in 1436 with an exterior covered elaborately with polychrome marble in shades of green and pink bordered by white. 
 
The second largest and most beautiful cathedral in Europe, “Il Duomo” and its equally impressive baptistri (baptistry), dominate this large piazza surrounded by medieval pallazzi (palaces). Crowded during peak seasons, watch out for gypsies and pickpockets, and DO NOT sit on the church steps (it is now illegal), but enjoy this “awe inspiring” scene with a drink. , a gelato (ice cream), or meal at one of the many bars and restaurants in Piazza del Duomo.
 

 
In Tavola (Cooking Course in Florence)
Phone: 39.055.217672
Email: info@intavola.org
 
For those who love to cook and always wanted to attend a Tuscan cooking course, In Tavola is a small Tuscan cooking school across the Arno via Ponte Vecchio from centro storico (the historical center) and down an ally across from Palazzo Piti. The school has offerings from a 3 hour pasta making class on Saturdays at noon during the tourist season (April to November), as well as 2, 4, 9, and 17 lesson courses (beginner and intermediate), all the way up to the 25 lesson advanced course. Here are just a few of the many courses offered:
 
Home-style Pizza and Focaccia
This course is dedicated to the preparation of Pizza and Focaccia. Participants learn how to prepare, knead and cook pizza, breads, bread sticks and Focaccia.
 
Regional First Courses
This course is dedicated to the wealth and variety of Italian Regional cuisine, from the North to the South of the peninsula. Typical dishes from each region will be prepared, including Spaghetti Carbonara, Trennette al Pesto and Linguine alla Viareggina.
 
Tuscan Cuisine
This course is dedicated to the cuisine of Tuscany. Participants learn how to prepare traditional recipes such as Ribollita soup, Baccala’, Spelt soup, Crostini and typical desserts.
Professional Course I level
4 Week Course (Total 9 lessons / 27 hours)
2 lessons per week ( 3 hour each lesson)  + 1 exam
Participants learn the basics of the Italian culinary arts as taught by an expert Chef.
 
 
Fabrizio, the school’s owner and resident expert teaches classes with zest and humor, making all participants comfortable and left feeling included, no matter their level of expertise. We attended a 2 1/2 hour course where students made an antipasto, melanzani pizzaiola (eggplant smothered with fresh tomato and mozzarella cheese, then drizzled with olive oil and baked in the oven), looking like a miniature pizza and tasting delicious when done. The antipasto was followed by a primo (first course), gnocchi pomodoro, which consisted of hand made potato gnocchi in a fresh and simple tomato, garlic, and parsley sauce. The course, and the subsequent meal, concluded with a chocolate souffle, first frozen after preparation, then baked to perfection and sprinkled with cocoa powder and powdered sugar. A nice compliment would have been a dollop of fresh whipped cream, but the souffle was delicious nonetheless. 
 
Finally, the meal is enjoyed as a group in the schools medieval wine cellar, a cool, arched brick structure immediately behind and below the school’s kitchens. The meal is accompanied by an abundance of water and local wine, for those who wish to imbibe. We were there with the University of Kansas Italian Department’s “Study Abroad” Italian total immersion program, so the students, mostly underage by American standards, could not enjoy the vino…and neither could the instructors. Fabrizio and other staff members make their way around the tables to chat and answer questions and the course concludes with the distribution of menus including all of the recipes attempted, successfully in this case I might add, during the 3 1/2 hour class. 
 











Coming Soon

 

Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo    
Vecchio, Galleria degli Uffizi        
 


                                       Ponte Vecchio

Galleria dell’ Accademia


Palazzo Pitti



Bargello



Fiesole



Lucca and Pistoia by Train

Venezia

Roma

Verona

Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast

Capri, Ischia, and Procida

Sardegna

Cinque Terre

and many, many more …

Title:  CombatCritic’s TravelValue: Italia (Italy)
 
Key Words: Italy, Italia, Florence, Firenze, duomo, ponte vecchio, ponte, vecchio, destination, cooking, class, course, piti, palazzo, Bargello, Fiesole, Lucca, Venice, Rome, Capri, Naples

LiMESTONE: Strange Name, Fair Neopolitan-ish Pizza … Pastrami Sandwiches?


  • LiMESTONE
  • 814 Massachusetts St
    Lawrence, KS 66044
  • Phone number(785) 856-2825
  • Business websitelimestonepkb.com

Prices: $$$$$

Having lived in Napoli (Naples, Italy), being married to an Italian, not the “American” variety, and descended from Italian immigrants, I appreciate a well made wood oven Neapolitan (Napolitana) pizza. Many have tried to duplicate pizze Napolitane, but few have succeeded and I said to myself “speriamo” (“let’s hope so”) as I entered Limestone for the first time.

I tell you up front that I am comparing, somewhat unfairly, Limestone to the pizzerias of Napoli because they claim to offer Neopolitan pizza, so I may seem harsh. However, my comments are meant to be constructive, offering Charlie (the very friendly owner who happened to be making pizzas next to me while we chatted about Italy) the opportunity to enhance his restaurant as they grow and flourish.

Arancini di Riso (Fried Rice Balls – $2)
I had heard rave reviews from fellow Yelp Elite Scott T and others during their short time in existence, so I had to give Limestone a go. The name gives zero indication of the cuisine and I would never have known that this was a pizza place had my friend Scott not told me about it. Busy for a Thursday night, as a single I was able to be seated right away at the bar where I could watch the pizzas being made and placed in the ornate wood-fired oven.

The space is modern, not my favorite as you probably know by now, with an abundance of stone, wood, glass, and steel, and bright, almost too bright for my sensitive eyes. The center attraction is the large stone-encased wood pizza oven blazing away while pizzas are being hand tossed and decorated for a quick dip inside. The staff all seemed sincerely friendly and helpful, although the tattoo clad bartender had a bit of an attitude, but not so much that it was off-putting, and service was fast and efficient.

Arancini di Riso
Offering an “arancini” (“little oranges”) appetizer (“bites”) special for just $2, the two Neopolitan style deep fried saffron infused rice balls complete with fresh mozzarella inside sat atop a small plate of tomato sauce. Aranicni di riso are a pizzeria antipasto staple in Naples along with crocchette di patate (potato croquettes) and other deep fried delights and the only way to start a night in a traditional pizzeria. Limestone’s arancini were very well done, crunchy outside and moist inside, perfectly seasoned with saffron and other seasonings and a small ball of fresh mozzarella inside. I asked Charlie if they made their own mozzarella and much to my surprise he said “yes, about 600 pounds of curd per week”.

Now for the pizza … dun-dun-dun. With only six offerings (seven if you include the special), there is not nearly the variety one would find in a pizzeria Napolitana. I ordered the sausage pizza, a simple and traditional choice and normally not something I would choose, only because it and the Margherita (fresh tomato and mozzarella with fresh basil leaves on top – named after Queen Margherita’s favorite pizza), were the only two traditional Neopolitan pizza options available. I normally order pizza capricciosa (fresh tomatoes, ham, mushrooms, artichoke, fresh mozzarella cheese – fior di latte – and basil) or my all-time favorite, the friarielli e salsiccia (broccoli rabe and sausage), so I was a bit bummed that there was so little variety. Bacon and eggs on pizza? … bacon and potatoes? … Hollandaise sauce? … Gruyere cheese … NEVER IN NAPLES!

The Spud – $9

My wife, shortly after her return from two months in Naples visiting family and enjoying the “best pizza in the world” ordered “The Spud”, with “thin sliced, crème fraiche, house­recipe bacon, and rosemary” ($9). Her first comment was that the pizza was “too dry”, needing more crème fraiche, which was lightly drizzled across the top in an attempt to look “gourmet” rather than contributing to the consistency and flavor of the pizza. It could have also been lightly brushed with olive oil to enhance the flavor and moistness. Again, the toppings were so sparse that there was more dough visible than ingredients. The flavor was decent with a nice ratio of potato to bacon, but the toppings could be more evenly distributed across the pizza in order to ensure there is at least some potato, bacon, crème fraiche, and rosemary in every bite.

The pizza was a bit small ($10 for a 12 incher), one to two inches in diameter less than pizza Napolitana (for comparison, a sausage pizza in Naples would cost around 6 Euros, a little over $8). The consistency of the dough was close, but it was a little thicker than the original, particularly around the edges. Neopolitan pizza is soft on top, a little crisp on the bottom, with a couple burnt spots and thin enough as to not overwhelm the semi-abundant toppings. The tomato sauce was a tad too spicy and excessively visible due to the lack of mozzarella and sausage atop my pizza. Italians do not overload a pizza with toppings as is customary here in the US, but there is normally enough fresh mozzarella cheese to nearly cover the baked pastry completely after it has melted. That was not the case here and twice as much cheese (and sausage) still would not have sufficed. Although not nearly as good as the worst pizza I have eaten in Naples, it was good and surely better than anything I have eaten in Lawrence thus far. If compared to an $8 Neopolitan pizza, my pizza (based on size and abundance of toppings) should have probably been priced at $6 max, so it was not a great value.

But what do I know? Limestone has quickly become a popular spot on Mass Street and from the looks of it, doing extremely well … BRAVO! In a town void of a decent Italian restaurant, – people voted 715 “BEST FINE DINING IN LAWRENCE” in this year’s Best of Lawrence competition – Limestone is a welcome addition. I will return to see if they improve and to try other dishes (including hamburgers and pastrami sandwiches for some odd reason). Charlie seems like a nice guy and I wish him well … good luck Limestone!


CombatCritic Gives Limestone A Respectable 6 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBE SONO BUONE








Limestone Pizza Kitchen Bar on Urbanspoon

Follow CombatCritic On Yelp (An Elite ’14/’15 Member) And  TripAdvisor (“Top Contributor”) Where You Can Read His Latest Reviews, Try His Favorite Recipes, And More!

Key Words: Limestone, pizza, kitchen, bar, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, Massachusetts Street, downtown, menu, pasta, wine, arancini, rice, Naples, Napoli, Italy, Italian, restaurant, CombatCritic, TravelValue

Gli Ristoranti di Firenze, Italia … The Restaurants of Florence, Italy




Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori
Via dei Magazzini, 3R
50122, Firenze (Florence, Italy)
Tel: 39.055.293.045
Prices:  € €  €  
We, literally, stumbled upon Vini e Vecchi Sapori while heading for the Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria, the busiest and most famous square in Florence. The streets in Florence are made of large stones, not so evenly laid and sometimes causing tourists to stumble. I had heard of this restaurant through word of mouth and reviews on Yelp, but was not sure where it was. We almost missed it if not for my clumsy feet, hurling me toward the menu outside the door.

The menu says, in English, “NO PIZZA NO STEAK  NO ICE” and consisted of five to seven each of the antipasti (appetizers), primi (first courses), and secondi (second courses) followed by a few contorni (side dishes) and dolce (desserts). The menu changes each day depending on what the chef feels like cooking and the fresh ingredients available. The choices on our first visit were enticing, so we asked if we could get a reservation that night…WRONG!

Tomaso, the 3o something owner and front man, is thin with Harry Potterish glasses and wavy brown hair. He was extremely nice as he explained that the restaurant was sold out for the next week, so we asked for the first available table, which was seven days away on the following Saturday at 9:00PM (fairly early by Italian standards). We snatched the reservation quicker than turtle tucks his head and waited, and waited, and waited…

When Saturday rolled around, we arrived at the appointed hour and Thomaso greeted me at the door…Signor Sorrentino, welcome! Impressed that he remembered my name after only one encounter, the festivities began. The restaurant is very small in a very old building with tall (18 foot) ceilings and tile floors. Beside the five or six tables, there is only a glass refrigerator case, like you would see in a deli, a small counter, and the door to the bathroom and to the kitchen (different doors). The walls are smothered, but tastefully so, with an eclectic variety of original art and prints, making the small room, I mean restaurant, warm and inviting.

Pappardelle con Ragu di Anatra
The restaurant sits on a short, narrow, quiet street just north of the Piazza della Signoria and has five tables or so, holding about 20 people. It reminds me of my favorite Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, Palermo, run by my old friend Tony, an immigrant from Palermo, Sicily and a warm, wonderful person. When Palermo opened back in the late 1970’s, it was just as small and quaint. Now Palermo is huge and packed every night of the week, a few blocks west of its old location. I hope that the same does not happen to Vini e Vecchi Sapori for it will lose much of its charm.

Paccheri con Fiori di Zucca e Zafferano
Thomaso sat us, then sat with us to explain the night’s menu. My wife’s dear friend Maddalena was with us and we were celebrating her birthday. We had visited Pistoia and Lucca by train that day, and had eaten foccacia con mozzarrella, prosciutto cotto, e carciofi (thin, herb covered bread with mozzarella, cooked ham, and artichoke inside) in Lucca that was larger than expected, so we decided to skip the antipasti and save room for the wonderful selection of primi and secondi. We started with the pappardelle con ragu di anatra (pappardelle are very wide fettucini-type pasta and they were covered in a rich minced duck sauce – €9) and paccheri con fiori di zucca e zafferano (yellow zucchini flowers and saffron – €8). The papparedelle con ragu di anatra was out of this world, just enough to satiate the palate for the time being, but never to be forgotten.   The paccheri con fiori di zucca e zafferano was delightfully done in a rich, creamy sauce and the pasta was thick and al dente, just firm enough to hold all of the wonderful sauce. I had never had saffron, a spice used mostly in the Middle East, in an Italian pasta sauce before, but it was creamy and dreamy. I hinted to Thomaso about obtaining the recipe, but will wait until we establish ourselves as regulars to make such a proposition.

Ossobuco con Piselli
Having trouble deciding whether to have the scaloppine alla pizzaiola (similar to veal parmigiana, but much better – €14) or the ossobuco con piselli (veal shank – slow cooked with peas), Thomaso decided for me, it was the ossobuco (€14) and I was not disappointed! The veal shank was cooked to perfection, not huge by American standards, and falling off the bone with a hint of marsala wine sauce. It was delicious, the best ossobuco I have eaten and I have had a few. My wife had the torta ai carciofi (artichoke omelette – €8), but she wolfed it down while I was talking to the couple from Shang Hai at the table next to us, so I did not have the opportunity to get a taste.

 Friends from Shang Hai & Jordon…Tomaso
Our meal was accompanied by a litre of sparkling water (€2) and a litre of Chianti wine (€14), which was dark, rich, and flavorful with hints of berry and chocolate. Being so small, you easily fall into conversation with the table next to you. The first diners were a couple from San Francisco, she a teacher on break, and very nice, he a silicon valley marketing executive, seemingly very impressed with himself and eager to end the conversation. The next couple was from Shang Hai and it turns out that his family was from Glendale, California where I spent much of my childhood and college years, moving to Hacienda Heights after his graduation, where I had spent all of my school years. What a small world! Emma is Chinese, a native of Shanh Hai, and extremely engaging and sweet. The couple on their other side, I thought were from Holland by the accent, turned out to be from Jordon and were equally as warm and engaging. It was one of the most delightful dinners I have experienced in a long time.

Front Door & Tall Ceilings

Finally, the dessert was ordered, while I was talking to Emma about her soon to be baby (due on Christmas day), so I did not have a choice in the matter. We tasted the tiramisu (€5), which was light and refreshing and minus the coffee, which by this time in the evening would probably have kept us awake all night, and the meringato (“big meringue” with cream and chocolate – €5), which was good, but not outstanding.

The bill came to €86, but Thomaso rounded it off to €80 even, so we left a generous tip, which usually is not required in Italy. On the way out we met the chef, Thomaso’s mother, and congratulated her on her wonderful meal, telling “ritorniamo prossima Sabato” (“we will return next Saturday”) and the Saturday after that, and the one after that …


HOOAH … It’s the “BOMB”!



Vini e Vecchi Sapori gets 9 BOMBS OUT OF 10 (“bombs” are good) from CombatCritic…my highest rating yet!



Trattoria da Giorgio

Via Palazzuolo 100r, 50123 Firenze 
Tel: 39.055.28.43.02
Fax: 39.055.28.43.02 
Email: info@trattoriadagiorgio.it
http://www.trattoriadagiorgio.it
Prices:  €  € €  

A hidden gem! At €13 for a 3 course, excellent dinner (€12 for lunch), wine and water included, Trattoria da Giorgio is a terrific BARGAIN! 

Diners select from a primo (first course, usually pasta or soup), second (secondo…that wasn’t so hard! – usually a meat dish, but not necessarily), contorno (side dish – vegetables, salad, french fries – accompany the secondo), 1/4 litre of wine or a can of Italian beer, and 1/3 litre of water…ALL INCLUDED IN THE PRICE…NO TAX…SERVICE INCLUDED (although you should always leave a little something extra if the service was good).

Primi
Pasta and risotto dishes are moderate in size, just large enough to allow room for your secondo and maybe a little dessert. The ravioli with butter & salvia (sage, not something to smoke) was perfectly cooker light with a hint of sage and the ravioli slightly al dente as they should be.  The bigoli tartufo nero (thick spaghetti with black truffle cream sauce) were also excellent, thick and rich as you would expect from a truffle sauce. The risotto (rice) with asparagus and radicchio (not, radish, but a red cabbage-type vegetable) was of a perfect consistency and delicious while not overwhelming. The farfalle (butterfly) pasta bolognese (creamy meat sauce originating in Bologna…where else) with peas and mushrooms was outrageous and the pasta, again, cooked to perfection. 

Secondi
On our first visit, my wife and I both had the scallopini al tartufo (pork tenderloin in a cream and black truffle sauce) and it was WONDERFUL!  The pork tenderloins were medium in thickness and the sauce rich and creamy, softening the somewhat stale bread as I sopped-up what was left on my plate…not much! On our second visit, my wife had the prosciutto e melone (thinly sliced, cured (not cooked) ham, usually from Parma and white melon, similar to a cantaloupe in size and consistency, but not quite as sweet). The prosciutto was a bit dry, but delicious and the melon perfectly ripe. I, on the other hand, could not make up my mind between the insalata caprese (sliced tomatoes and mozzarella di buffala with freach basil and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil) or the scallopine marsala (thin veal medallions covered in a rich marsala wine reduction with walnuts). I love caprese and it rarely varies much in Italy, so I went for the scallopine…I was not disappointed! The veal was thin and tender as it should be and the marsala sauce was the best I have had in an Italian restaurant, and I have ordered it in many restaurants all over Italy, thick and rich….YUM! 

Dolce (Desserts)
The tiramisu, €3, was icing on the cake on our first visit, an excellent mixture of mascarpone cheese, savoiardi cookies, coffee, cocoa, sugar, egg, amaretto…and two spoons of course! We tried the pear tort, all desserts are €3, smothered in warm chocolate sauce on our second visit and were not disappointed. The tort was warm and fresh, fresher than the bread unfortunately, and the chocolate sauce equally so, tasty and not overwhelming.

Service
The service on our first visit was excellent and friendly, even though the place was packed (the place seats only around 50 diners at a time) and when the bill (conto) arrived, the extra 1/4 litre of wine we ordered and the service charge (servizio or coperto) were missing, so we left a generous tip. On our second visit, we arrived very early (by Italian standards), around 7:00 PM, and the trattoria was basically empty. The tattoo covered waiter seemed a bit overwhelmed by our arrival and spent more time surfing the internet than taking care of customers. We had to ask the chef for wine and my wife had to get up to get the dessert menu becaise our waiter had mysteriously disappeared. The chef seemed embarrassed by all of this, as he should be, but it really did not detract from our wonderful meal.

Trattoria da Giorgio – Florence, Italy

The only other disappointment remains to be the bread, while tasty, is obviously leftover from lunch, possibly yesterday’s.  In any event, we will be returning again over the next month and will add menu items as we go…buon appetito da Giorgio!


Trattoria da Giorgio gets a very respectable 8 BOMBS (bombs are good) out of 10 from CombatCritic:











Abondanza…Simpatico…Buonissimo…La Vinaina is a Bargain and Treat in Residential Florence!

La Vinaina Firenze

Via dell’Agnolo, 48r, 50122 
Florence, Italy
Phone: +39.055.234.4120

Prices:    € €  


My wife and I visited La Vinaina on several occasions with the students of the University of Kansas in July 2012. Our apartment was just around the corner and we enjoyed the proximity, warm welcome, fresh ingredients, and very reasonable prices for lunch.

Being a chef and food restaurant critic, having traveled to 46 countries around the world, I have eaten at few restaurants with the impeccable quality and value as we found at La Vinaina.


The pasta and bread…always fresh; the meat and fish…always prepared to perfection; the service…always attentive and friendly. I would recommend this restaurant to anybody…on a budget, like students, to more EXCLUSIVE and seasoned travelers alike. There is something for everyone at La Vinaina!


Watch my video collage dedicated to our friends at La Vinaina on CombatCritic TV:



Watch My Video of La Vinaina and Surrounding Area on CombatCritic TV!

or read more about this wonderful cucina tipica toscana in The CombatCritic Chronicle: 


http://www.CombatCritic.com

I have also posted reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Fousquare…search for “CombatCritic” and send a Friend request.







CombatCritic gives La Vinaina 7 BOMBS OUT OF 10…bombs in this case are good!

LIKE La Vinaina on Facebook!



Trattoria Lounge Bar Il Girasole

Via dell’Agnolo, 91R
50122 Firenze
Phone:  39 348 8768071
Web: www.trattoriagirasole.it
Email: info@trattoriagirasole.it
Prices:  € € € €  


Bring your fan…it’s hot, and I am not talking about the food. Beside the lack of AC, the pizza was good, although a bit overpriced and the house wine (della casa) not inexpensive (7 Euros/Half litre), but as hot as the room.


We had a pizza with prosciutto, walnuts, and gorgonzola cheese (7 Euros) and another with salame piccante (similar to American pepperoni, but much better), mozzarella, and tomato sauce. The salame pizza was very good, reminding me of pizza napolitana (Naples style) and the pizza prosciutto was dry and crisp, not all that great.


The owner told us he is Egyptian and the staff were mostly Eastern European. Considering the heat, and the great amount of sweat emanating from the owner, the service was good, not great. Thankfully, the owner did not bend over our table and our pizza was served senza (without) sweat!

Trattoria Il Girasole gets a very mediocre 4 BOMBS (bombs are good) out of 10 from CombatCritic:



Osteria Santo Spirito
Piazza Santo Spirito, Firenze
Phone: 39 055 2382383
http://www.osteriasantospirito.it/
Prices:  € €  €  

Osteria Santo Spirito is a small osteria with outdoor (covered) patio on the Piazza Santo Spirito, varied menu, and fairly reasonable prices.

The Spezzatino Di Manzo (beef stew) was HUGE and delicious (€15) with big, tender chunks of beef and potatoes in a gravy much like you would find it the US. The gnocchi in salsa di formaggio gorgonzola e tartufo (€10 – cheese and truffle sauce) al forno (baked) was scrumptious and plentiful. The ravioli in cream and walnut sauce looked delicious and was also also huge (€12). The insalata mista (mixed green salad) came in a bowl the size of a cooking pot and was fresh and colorful.

The crostata di mirtilli (blackberry tort) was warm and tasty, and the accompanying caffe Italiano completed the meal nicely. The service was fair and the staff spoke English well. In all it was a nice lunch at moderate prices. Smaller portions and prices are also available on some dishes.

CombatCritic gives Osteria Santo Spirito 6 bombs out of 10.













Buon Appetito … A Presto!

I Ristoranti di Firenze…The Restaurants of Florence, Italy



Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori
Via dei Magazzini, 3R
50122, Firenze (Florence, Italy)
Tel: 39.055.293.045
Prices:  € €  €  
We, literally, stumbled upon Vini e Vecchi Sapori while heading for the Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria, the busiest and most famous square in Florence. The streets in Florence are made of large stones, not so evenly laid and sometimes causing tourists to stumble. I had heard of this restaurant through word of mouth and reviews on Yelp, but was not sure where it was. We almost missed it if not for my clumsy feet, hurling me toward the menu outside the door.
The menu says, in English, “NO PIZZA NO STEAK  NO ICE” and consisted of five to seven each of the antipasti (appetizers), primi (first courses), and secondi (second courses) followed by a few contorni (side dishes) and dolce (desserts). The menu changes each day depending on what the chef feels like cooking and the fresh ingredients available. The choices on our first visit were enticing, so we asked if we could get a reservation that night…WRONG!
Thomaso, the 3o something owner and front man, is thin with Harry Potterish glasses and wavy brown hair. He was extremely nice as he explained that the restaurant was sold out for the next week, so we asked for the first available table, which was seven days away on the following Saturday at 9:00PM (fairly early by Italian standards). We snatched the reservation quicker than turtle tucks his head and waited, and waited, and waited…
When Saturday rolled around, we arrived at the appointed hour and Thomaso greeted me at the door…Signor Sorrentino, welcome! Impressed that he remembered my name after only one encounter, the festivities began. The restaurant is very small in a very old building with tall (18 foot) ceilings and tile floors. Beside the five or six tables, there is only a glass refrigerator case, like you would see in a deli, a small counter, and the door to the bathroom and to the kitchen (different doors). The walls are smothered, but tastefully so, with an eclectic variety of original art and prints, making the small room, I mean restaurant, warm and inviting.
pappardelle con ragu di anatra
The restaurant sits on a short, narrow, quiet street just north of the Piazza della Signoria and has five tables or so, holding about 20 people. It reminds me of my favorite Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, Palermo, run by my old friend Tony, an immigrant from Palermo, Sicily and a warm, wonderful person. When Palermo opened back in the late 1970’s, it was just as small and quaint. Now Palermo is huge and packed every night of the week, a few blocks west of its old location. I hope that the same does not happen to Vini e Vecchi Sapori for it will lose much of its charm.
paccheri con fiori di zucca e zafferano
Thomaso sat us, then sat with us to explain the night’s menu. My wife’s dear friend Maddalena was with us and we were celebrating her birthday. We had visited Pistoia and Lucca by train that day, and had eaten foccacia con mozzarrella, prosciutto cotto, e carciofi (thin, herb covered bread with mozzarella, cooked ham, and artichoke inside) in Lucca that was larger than expected, so we decided to skip the antipasti and save room for the wonderful selection of primi and secondi. We started with the pappardelle con ragu di anatra (pappardelle are very wide fettucini-type pasta and they were covered in a rich minced duck sauce – €9) and paccheri con fiori di zucca e zafferano (yellow zucchini flowers and saffron – €8). The papparedelle con ragu di anatra was out of this world, just enough to satiate the palate for the time being, but never to be forgotten.   The paccheri con fiori di zucca e zafferano was delightfully done in a rich, creamy sauce and the pasta was thick and al dente, just firm enough to hold all of the wonderful sauce. I had never had saffron, a spice used mostly in the Middle East, in an Italian pasta sauce before, but it was creamy and dreamy. I hinted to Thomaso about obtaining the recipe, but will wait until we establish ourselves as regulars to make such a proposition.

ossobuco con piselli
Having trouble deciding whether to have the scaloppine alla pizzaiola (similar to veal parmigiana, but much better – €14) or the ossobuco con piselli (veal shank – slow cooked with peas), Thomaso decided for me, it was the ossobuco (€14) and I was not disappointed! The veal shank was cooked to perfection, not huge by American standards, and falling off the bone with a hint of marsala wine sauce. It was delicious, the best ossobuco I have eaten and I have had a few. My wife had the torta ai carciofi (artichoke omelette – €8), but she wolfed it down while I was talking to the couple from Shang Hai at the table next to us, so I did not have the opportunity to get a taste.
 Friends from Shang Hai & Jordon…Thomaso (back)
Our meal was accompanied by a litre of sparkling water (€2) and a litre of Chianti wine (€14), which was dark, rich, and flavorful with hints of berry and chocolate. Being so small, you easily fall into conversation with the table next to you. The first diners were a couple from San Francisco, she a teacher on break, and very nice, he a silicon valley marketing executive, seemingly very impressed with himself and eager to end the conversation. The next couple was from Shang Hai and it turns out that his family was from Glendale, California where I spent much of my childhood and college years, moving to Hacienda Heights after his graduation, where I had spent all of my school years. What a small world! Emma is Chinese, a native of Shanh Hai, and extremely engaging and sweet. The couple on their other side, I thought were from Holland by the accent, turned out to be from Jordon and were equally as warm and engaging. It was one of the most delightful dinners I have experienced in a long time.
Front Door & Tall Ceilings

Finally, the dessert was ordered, while I was talking to Emma about her soon to be baby (due on Christmas day), so I did not have a choice in the matter. We tasted the tiramisu (€5), which was light and refreshing and minus the coffee, which by this time in the evening would probably have kept us awake all night, and the meringato (“big meringue” with cream and chocolate – €5), which was good, but not outstanding.

The bill came to €86, but Thomaso rounded it off to €80 even, so we left a generous tip, which usually is not required in Italy. On the way out we met the chef, Thomaso’s mother, and congratulated her on her wonderful meal, telling “ritorniamo prossima Sabato” (“we will return next Saturday”) and the Saturday after that, and the one after that…

HOOAH…it’s the “BOMB”!


Vini e Vecchi Sapori gets 9 BOMBS OUT OF 10 (“bombs” are good) from CombatCritic…my highest rating yet!


Trattoria da Giorgio

Via Palazzuolo 100r, 50123 Firenze 
Tel: 39.055.28.43.02
Fax: 39.055.28.43.02 
Email: info@trattoriadagiorgio.it
http://www.trattoriadagiorgio.it
Prices:  €  € €  

A hidden gem! At €13 for a 3 course, excellent dinner (€12 for lunch), wine and water included, Trattoria da Giorgio is a terrific BARGAIN! 

Diners select from a primo (first course, usually pasta or soup), second (secondo…that wasn’t so hard! – usually a meat dish, but not necessarily), contorno (side dish – vegetables, salad, french fries – accompany the secondo), 1/4 litre of wine or a can of Italian beer, and 1/3 litre of water…ALL INCLUDED IN THE PRICE…NO TAX…SERVICE INCLUDED (although you should always leave a little something extra if the service was good).

Primi
Pasta and risotto dishes are moderate in size, just large enough to allow room for your secondo and maybe a little dessert. The ravioli with butter & salvia (sage, not something to smoke) was perfectly cooker light with a hint of sage and the ravioli slightly al dente as they should be.  The bigoli tartufo nero (thick spaghetti with black truffle cream sauce) were also excellent, thick and rich as you would expect from a truffle sauce. The risotto (rice) with asparagus and radicchio (not, radish, but a red cabbage-type vegetable) was of a perfect consistency and delicious while not overwhelming. The farfalle (butterfly) pasta bolognese (creamy meat sauce originating in Bologna…where else) with peas and mushrooms was outrageous and the pasta, again, cooked to perfection. 

Secondi
On our first visit, my wife and I both had the scallopini al tartufo (pork tenderloin in a cream and black truffle sauce) and it was WONDERFUL!  The pork tenderloins were medium in thickness and the sauce rich and creamy, softening the somewhat stale bread as I sopped-up what was left on my plate…not much! On our second visit, my wife had the prosciutto e melone (thinly sliced, cured (not cooked) ham, usually from Parma and white melon, similar to a cantaloupe in size and consistency, but not quite as sweet). The prosciutto was a bit dry, but delicious and the melon perfectly ripe. I, on the other hand, could not make up my mind between the insalata caprese (sliced tomatoes and mozzarella di buffala with freach basil and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil) or the scallopine marsala (thin veal medallions covered in a rich marsala wine reduction with walnuts). I love caprese and it rarely varies much in Italy, so I went for the scallopine…I was not disappointed! The veal was thin and tender as it should be and the marsala sauce was the best I have had in an Italian restaurant, and I have ordered it in many restaurants all over Italy, thick and rich….YUM! 

Dolce (Desserts)
The tiramisu, €3, was icing on the cake on our first visit, an excellent mixture of mascarpone cheese, savoiardi cookies, coffee, cocoa, sugar, egg, amaretto…and two spoons of course! We tried the pear tort, all desserts are €3, smothered in warm chocolate sauce on our second visit and were not disappointed. The tort was warm and fresh, fresher than the bread unfortunately, and the chocolate sauce equally so, tasty and not overwhelming.

Service
The service on our first visit was excellent and friendly, even though the place was packed (the place seats only around 50 diners at a time) and when the bill (conto) arrived, the extra 1/4 litre of wine we ordered and the service charge (servizio or coperto) were missing, so we left a generous tip. On our second visit, we arrived very early (by Italian standards), around 7:00 PM, and the trattoria was basically empty. The tattoo covered waiter seemed a bit overwhelmed by our arrival and spent more time surfing the internet than taking care of customers. We had to ask the chef for wine and my wife had to get up to get the dessert menu becaise our waiter had mysteriously disappeared. The chef seemed embarrassed by all of this, as he should be, but it really did not detract from our wonderful meal.

The only other disappointment remains to be the bread, while tasty, is obviously leftover from lunch, possibly yesterday’s.  In any event, we will be returning again over the next month and will add menu items as we go…buon appetito da Giorgio!
Trattoria da Giorgio – Florence, Italy
Trattoria da Giorgio gets a very respectable 8 BOMBS (bombs are good) out of 10 from CombatCritic:






Abondanza…Simpatico…Buonissimo…La Vinaina is a Bargain and Treat in Residential Florence!

La Vinaina Firenze

Via dell’Agnolo, 48r, 50122 
Florence, Italy
Phone: +39.055.234.4120

Prices:    € €  


My wife and I visited La Vinaina on several occasions with the students of the University of Kansas in July 2012. Our apartment was just around the corner and we enjoyed the proximity, warm welcome, fresh ingredients, and very reasonable prices for lunch.
Being a chef and food restaurant critic, having traveled to 46 countries around the world, I have eaten at few restaurants with the impeccable quality and value as we found at La Vinaina.

The pasta and bread…always fresh; the meat and fish…always prepared to perfection; the service…always attentive and friendly. I would recommend this restaurant to anybody…on a budget, like students, to more EXCLUSIVE and seasoned travelers alike. There is something for everyone at La Vinaina!

Watch my video collage dedicated to our friends at La Vinaina on CombatCritic TV:

Watch My Video of La Vinaina and Surrounding Area on CombatCritic TV!

or read more about this wonderful cucina tipica toscana in The CombatCritic Chronicle: 

http://www.CombatCritic.blogspot.com

I have also posted reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Fousquare…search for “CombatCritic” and send a Friend request.






CombatCritic gives La Vinaina 7 BOMBS OUT OF 10…bombs in this case are good!

LIKE La Vinaina on Facebook!


Trattoria Lounge Bar Il Girasole

Via dell’Agnolo, 91R
50122 Firenze
Phone:  39 348 8768071
Web: www.trattoriagirasole.it
Email: info@trattoriagirasole.it
Prices:  € € € €  


Bring your fan…it’s hot, and I am not talking about the food. Beside the lack of AC, the pizza was good, although a bit overpriced and the house wine (della casa) not inexpensive (7 Euros/Half litre), but as hot as the room.

We had a pizza with prosciutto, walnuts, and gorgonzola cheese (7 Euros) and another with salame piccante (similar to American pepperoni, but much better), mozzarella, and tomato sauce. The salame pizza was very good, reminding me of pizza napolitana (Naples style) and the pizza prosciutto was dry and crisp, not all that great.

The owner told us he is Egyptian and the staff were mostly Eastern European. Considering the heat, and the great amount of sweat emanating from the owner, the service was good, not great. Thankfully, the owner did not bend over our table and our pizza was served senza (without) sweat!

Trattoria Il Girasole gets a very mediocre 4 BOMBS (bombs are good) out of 10 from CombatCritic:




Osteria Santo Spirito
Piazza Santo Spirito, Firenze
Phone: 39 055 2382383
http://www.osteriasantospirito.it/
Prices:  € €  €  

Osteria Santo Spirito is a small osteria with outdoor (covered) patio on the Piazza Santo Spirito, varied menu, and fairly reasonable prices.

The Spezzatino Di Manzo (beef stew) was HUGE and delicious (€15) with big, tender chunks of beef and potatoes in a gravy much like you would find it the US. The gnocchi in salsa di formaggio gorgonzola e tartufo (€10 – cheese and truffle sauce) al forno (baked) was scrumptious and plentiful. The ravioli in cream and walnut sauce looked delicious and was also also huge (€12). The insalata mista (mixed green salad) came in a bowl the size of a cooking pot and was fresh and colorful.

The crostata di mirtilli (blackberry tort) was warm and tasty, and the accompanying caffe Italiano completed the meal nicely. The service was fair and the staff spoke English well. In all it was a nice lunch at moderate prices. Smaller portions and prices are also available on some dishes.

CombatCritic gives Osteria Santo Spirito 6 bombs out of 10.







Buon Appetito…A Presto!

Paravicini’s – An Old Colorado City Favorite … Great Food, Reasonable Prices


 Paravicini’s Italian Bistro

Authentic Foods – Great Service – Quality Atmosphere
2802 W Colorado Ave, 
Colorado Springs, CO 80904-2444
(719) 471-8200 

Hours: Sun-Thu 11:30am – 9:00pm
Fri-Sat 11:30am – 10:00pm


Paravicinis.com

I have been eating at Paravicini’s since they opened in 2003 and have not been disappointed once. Ted Sexton and Franco  Pisani, the owners, opened their doors, just minutes from our Old Colorado City home, to rave reviews and Franco, the head chef, deserves every one of them. The food is and always has been consistent, reasonably priced, and made with quality ingredients and the wine list robust and reasonable as well.

Appetizers include many of the Italian specialties you would expect, including calamari, fried mozzarella, mussels, bruschetta (pronounced bru-ske-ta, not bru-she-ta as many Americans mistakenly do), and assorted meats, cheeses, and marinated vegetables among others. I stopped ordering appetizers a long time ago because you can expect an abundance of food from ordering the main course including pasta (full meals or as sides), meats (veal, chicken and steak prepared in an abundance of sauces), salad (served family style – Ceasar is $2 extra per person) and fresh baked bread (keep bringing it!).


Pastas include many regulars including spaghetti and meatballs (a dish you will never see in Italy), manicotti, lasagna, ravioli, rigatoni, and gnocchi (small potato dumplings) in portions even the biggest eaters will not be disappointed by, but the meat dishes are not to be missed!

The veal dishes are the best value on the menu, just a buck or two more than the pastas and chicken dishes, served in a variety of sauces second to none. My favorites, not on the menu but available nonetheless, are the Veal (vitello in Italian) Saltimbocca (veal scallopini – medallions – covered with prosciutto and mozzarella, then baked and served in a lemon butter and sage sauce over angelhair pasta) and the Veal Capricosa (veal medallions covered with mozzarella then baked and served with sauteed prosciutto, mushrooms, and onion over angelhair). Other favorites are the Veal Toscano (veal scaloppini sautéed with garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and artichoke hearts, finished in a roasted garlic cream sauce), Veal Porcini (sautéed veal scaloppini in a porcini mushroom brandy cream sauce), and for those who enjoy hot and spicy, the Veal Giuseppe (veal scaloppini sautéed with spicy Italian sausage, onions, hot and sweet peppers, capers, olive, garlic & olive oil). All veal dishes are between $16.95 and $18.95 and served with salad, fresh, hot bread, and pasta, very reasonable for the quality of the milk-fed veal and portion sizes.  


The wine selection is moderate and varied, with glasses or bottles available at a fair price. A full bar is available for those who wish to partake.

Desserts, which I have been able to order only on a few occasions because of the robustness of the meals, are excellent and include classic tiramisu and delicious cannoli (tubular stuffed with a sweet ricotta cream), a specialty of the island of Sicily, my wife’s original home.

Paravicini’s, a name that is actually a bit redundant due to the fact that words ending in “i” are always plural in the Italian language, is a Colorado Springs treasure. Located in historic Old Colorado City, offers a wonderful American-style (Italians would never think of eating meat and pasta together) Italian meal with the opportunity to stroll through the historic district after dinner to digest before going on your way…buon appetito!







CombatCritic gives Paravicini’s a whopping nine out of ten bombs for quality, value, and consistency … BOMBS ARE GREAT!

An "Old Colorado City" Favorite – Consistency, Quality … Paravicini’s


 Paravicini’s Italian Bistro

Authentic Foods – Great Service – Quality Atmosphere
2802 W Colorado Ave, 
Colorado Springs, CO 80904-2444
(719) 471-8200 

Hours: Sun-Thu 11:30am – 9:00pm
Fri-Sat 11:30am – 10:00pm


Paravicinis.com

I have been eating at Paravicini’s since they opened in 2003 and have not been disappointed once. Ted Sexton and Franco  Pisani, the owners, opened their doors, just minutes from our Old Colorado City home, to rave reviews and Franco, the head chef, deserves every one of them. The food is and always has been consistent, reasonably priced, and made with quality ingredients and the wine list robust and reasonable as well.

Appetizers include many of the Italian specialties you would expect, including calamari, fried mozzarella, mussels, bruschetta (pronounced bru-ske-ta, not bru-she-ta as many Americans mistakenly do), and assorted meats, cheeses, and marinated vegetables among others. I stopped ordering appetizers a long time ago because you can expect an abundance of food from ordering the main course including pasta (full meals or as sides), meats (veal, chicken and steak prepared in an abundance of sauces), salad (served family style – Ceasar is $2 extra per person) and fresh baked bread (keep bringing it!).


Pastas include many regulars including spaghetti and meatballs (a dish you will never see in Italy), manicotti, lasagna, ravioli, rigatoni, and gnocchi (small potato dumplings) in portions even the biggest eaters will not be disappointed by, but the meat dishes are not to be missed!

The veal dishes are the best value on the menu, just a buck or two more than the pastas and chicken dishes, served in a variety of sauces second to none. My favorites, not on the menu but available nonetheless, are the Veal (vitello in Italian) Saltimbocca (veal scallopini – medallions – covered with prosciutto and mozzarella, then baked and served in a lemon butter and sage sauce over angelhair pasta) and the Veal Capricosa (veal medallions covered with mozzarella then baked and served with sauteed prosciutto, mushrooms, and onion over angelhair). Other favorites are the Veal Toscano (veal scaloppini sautéed with garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and artichoke hearts, finished in a roasted garlic cream sauce), Veal Porcini (sautéed veal scaloppini in a porcini mushroom brandy cream sauce), and for those who enjoy hot and spicy, the Veal Giuseppe (veal scaloppini sautéed with spicy Italian sausage, onions, hot and sweet peppers, capers, olive, garlic & olive oil). All veal dishes are between $16.95 and $18.95 and served with salad, fresh, hot bread, and pasta, very reasonable for the quality of the milk-fed veal and portion sizes.  


The wine selection is moderate and varied, with glasses or bottles available at a fair price. A full bar is available for those who wish to partake.

Desserts, which I have been able to order only on a few occasions because of the robustness of the meals, are excellent and include classic tiramisu and delicious cannoli (tubular stuffed with a sweet ricotta cream), a specialty of the island of Sicily, my wife’s original home.

Paravicini’s, a name that is actually a bit redundant due to the fact that words ending in “i” are always plural in the Italian language, is a Colorado Springs treasure. Located in historic Old Colorado City, offers a wonderful American-style (Italians would never think of eating meat and pasta together) Italian meal with the opportunity to stroll through the historic district after dinner to digest before going on your way…buon appetite!
Paravicini's Italian Bistro on Urbanspoon






CombatCritic gives Paravicini’s a Whopping 9 out of 10 Bombs for quality, value, and consistency … BOMBS ARE GREAT!











Key Words: 80907, Colorado, Colorado Springs, CombatCritic, critic, fast food, Paravicini, Paravicini’s, restaurant, TravelValue, veal, wine