Does anyone ever compose an evening out any more?
My friend Piero does. He’s DOCG Florentine.
Unlike Piero, I guess at restaurants, perusing menus with a critical eye until I convince myself that I should spend my dwindling resources in one of them. I am sometimes disappointed. At times I’m even tempted to write the same lies lazy writers scribble, something like “it’s all tourist glop in Florence” or “you can’t eat well in Venice.”
Piero, though, shows me the way. He is a maestro. He composes an evening like Bach composed intimate chamber music. It is a bit of a lost art. There is an anticipatory stroll, a bit of this, a bit of that, a contrast worth contemplating, a surprise, a fine ending—until you can’t help replaying bits in your mind for days.
After a stroll which included a stop in a very old pharmacy, we slide into a place called La Ménagère, a glass and steel industrial remake softened by the antique and woody accoutrements left by the flower shop that used to grace the space where the bar is now. It’s trendy. Various levels float you into defined spaces; this level for eating, a step below for drinking, and a descent into the underground where an intimate jazz boite promises late night Italian bebop.
I play the village idiot in our little group which includes Piero, his main squeeze Louisa who owns a little village of rural bliss you should visit for a few days or a month called Montestigliano, my Martha of Martha’s Italy and Susan Van Allen of 50 Places in Rome, Florence and Venice Every Woman Should Go who will be leading “her ladies” through the labyrinth of Florence’s feminine pleasures in a few days.
We all order drinks. Mine is a fine Americano. Everyone else gets all traditional by ordering prosecco except for Martha, who asks for something non-alcoholic and non-sweet. A smile flashes across the waiter’s face as he writes.
She gets this:
Intriguingly bitter, fruity, frothy and frosty, its resemblance to a witch’s brew is enhanced by the pewter mug that holds it. She’s suddenly taken on the role of the bad girl at a Pilgrim’s party.
After drinks we don’t take the expected step up to the dining space illuminated from the light of the glassed-in kitchen.
Here comes the swerve.
Piero leads us out the door into the cool night. In minutes we are in a different space. We are taken back in time, to a joint that’s been around since the time of Mussolini. It’s called Cafaggi.
Smiling faces greet us as we head to the right into the dining room where they put Italians. Our contingent heads to a reserved table while I can’t resist sticking my camera into the little opening into the kitchen, hoping to catch of fine photo of the pans hanging all in a row. Suddenly a man scurries into the frame. “Take a picture of me, I am the chef!” he says. He announces himself as Cafaggi. (Imagine—the village idiot thinks—he’s named after the restaurant! What mother would do that to her child!)
He is quick to point out his mother, daughter and all the other folks schlepping fine food; they are all family, 4 generations of it, Cafaggis.
It quickly became obvious that this was the place to eat serious Italian. Nobody at the other tables spent their time trying to focus their phone cameras on the food. What was on the plates in front of us was not art—it was food, well prepared and without enhancement. Food prepared with love and the understanding of food as comes with nearly 100 years of family experience cooking it. No squeeze bottles with colorful dreck were used to place ribbons of color on the plates. No droplets of precious Balsamic vinegar “enhanced” the experience.
It was brown, beige, and white. Like cooked food tends to be.
And it was glorious.
But if the food wasn’t embellished to modern “standards” what is the attraction of Cafaggi? It is the opera, the work, the actors in the wings. It is, in fact. your waiter, who is not just a person who writes what you want on a pad of paper…
The man is a master storyteller. He spins stories, tells jokes, and comments on the wine—which the Cafaggi have been involved with purchasing for nearly a century. He is part of an ingenious plot to assure you of an interesting evening without your 226 channels of cable television.
Now for the ending. A surprise ending. My “dolce” ending. Thus:
A tart green apple sorbetto, like the kind you might find in France only…you know, better with a gash into which was filled with a copious pour of calvados.
Between the tasty house wine and the calvados, it took us quite a while to find the way to our hotel.
I give you this composed evening so that you might replicate it if you wish. Piero would be proud.
And speaking of Piero, he indicated a desire to become a Florence Food Blogger. I think he’d be great at it. His English is exceptional, as is his knowledge of the nooks and crannies of Florence. What do you think?
Mentioned in This Article
Where We Stayed
Hotel Goldoni offered a convenient location and a very good value. Room 27 is in the back with a balcony that overlooks a garden courtyard.
Another Foodie Idea for Florence
You can have an experience eating with a home chef in Florence for a different kind of “night out.”