Recently, Steve and I had the rare opportunity to spend a couple of kid-less days in Florence. Besides some train stopovers, I hadn’t truly visited Florence since 1995 and Steve needed to get some cross-pollinate work done – visit with some owners and inspect some new properties. With the help of our good friend, Toni, who offered to stay with our three young daughters, we were able to have a couple of precious days away on our own.
We stayed at a cross-pollinate property, Ponte Vecchio Suite apartment. It’s a cute and well-maintained property just a 5 minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio bridge in the Oltrarno neighborhood. I immediately took a liking to this area which is the artisan neighborhood of Florence. Just around the corner from Ponte Vecchio Suite we found Caffe degli Artigiani, a bar on a small, quiet piazza that I immediately dubbed “our bar” and knew we would be going there every day for our morning cappuccino.
While the apartment has a kitchenette, Steve was on holiday from cooking and I was on holiday from washing dishes, so we knew we would be eating out for the two days we were in Florence. Our family is vegetarian, so traveling offers an opportunity to check out the veggie offerings in the place we are visiting. One of the on-line sources I check when going to a new city is Happy Cow, an on-line guide (they also have an app) that lets you find vegetarian, vegan, vegetarian friendly restaurants and natural food shops in that town.
Our first food break was lunch and we headed to Steve’s favorite which he discovered on a past trip to Florence, 5 e Cinque, Piazza della Passera, 1 – coincidentally in the same piazza as my new favorite coffee bar. 5 e Cinque is an organic restaurant, mostly vegetarian, but they do have meat options. Their food is inspired by traditional dishes and ingredients from the region of Liguria. Steve and I usually try to get two different dishes so we can share. I got the curried chickpea polpette (polpette usually, meat, but means anything ground and then formed into balls) served on basmati rice and Steve got a farro (spelt) dish made with radicchio and a walnut pesto. As you can see from the photo, it was so delicious that we had nearly cleaned our plates before I considered taking a photo of them! I highly recommend – definitely a restaurant to include on any vegetarian (or even non-vegetarian) tour of Florence.
After lunch, Steve had a cross-pollinate appointment and so I decided to take a walk around the city. I ended up heading toward the synagogue of Florence which is a beautiful building with a gorgeous green copper dome. On my way, I had an urge for a little something sweet and a hot drink and ended up at Caffelatte also known as La Latteria which uses organic milk and offers fair trade coffees and teas. Nothing fancy here and the place seems a bit run down, but I was excited by the cakes and treats in the cabinet and so I ordered a slice of a type of pound cake and a caffe latte. Unfortunately, I left unimpressed. The cake fell in that realm of many Italian pastries – looks great to the eyes, but a different story when you actually put it in your mouth. The cake was stale and hard, but at least the caffe latte was good.
Dinner that night was at BVeg which I found out about through Georgette Jupe’s great blog, Girl in Florence. I had a dish with polenta with layers of pureed broccoli and Steve had a soup with chickpeas and algae. Both were delicious.
The next day, our last day in Florence, we tried to have lunch at Cuculia, via dei Serragli, 18r, but after sitting down and ordering some water, were told that there was a problem and a delay in the kitchen with the stoves lighting and since Steve had an appointment and didn’t have loads of time for lunch – we decided to pay for the water and find another place to eat. Lucky for us, just around the corner was Vivanda, via Santa Monaca, 7r. We both had the lunch special which was a soup and pasta dish. We started off with a mushroom, cannellini and cabbage soup followed by a spaghetti alla chitarra pasta with a kale pesto. We had some great organic wine to go with it.
Our final night we went to a non-vegetarian specific restaurant, il Santo Bevitore, via di Santo Spirito, 66 for dinner. About a year ago, Steve had been on an excellent Context Travel tour which features the artisans in this area and the docent who led that tour had told him about il Santo Bevitore and had highly recommended it. It was a Friday night and we hadn’t made a reservation, but we arrived around 7:30pm and with our assurances to the staff that we would not be occupying the table all night and could be out by 9pm, we managed to get a table. We started with some vegetables preserved in oil – sundried tomatoes, onions, eggplant, etc. We had a great meal – my ribollita was not really that soupy, but tasted great. The wait staff were all very accommodating and pleasant – we got into a great conversation with a waiter who is originally from Togo who has lived in Florence for 20+ years. The meal was our priciest in Florence though – we paid double what we had at the other restaurants, but it was a nice little splurge our last evening there.
The next day, our train back home didn’t leave until 3pm, so we decided to try one last veggie place for lunch. We had been visiting with Moraq – originally from Chicago who has been living in Italy for the past 18 years. She’s the owner of the homey Casa di Barbano property on cross-pollinate and having two children, she was able to make some great suggestions of where I could get colored wigs for carnevale for our daughters.
With that errand under our belt, we headed to Libreria Brac, via dei Vagellai, 18r for lunch. There is no signage for this bookstore/artistic space/cafe so keep an eye out for the number and the books out front. The cafe is in the back. Because of the size and popularity of this space, reservations are a definite must. We didn’t have them and had to assure once again that we would be out quickly as we had a train to catch. We decided to go with a couple of the specials they had off the menu. Steve had soy polpette with cannellini beans in a tomato sauce and I had a buckwheat pasta with cream of peas and kale sauce. Both were absolutely excellent and very filling. Steve went to the kitchen afterward for a chat with the chef to see how his dish was made. The great thing about Italy is that for the most part there isn’t this sense of secrecy in the kitchen. You won’t get a written down recipe, but if you ask the right questions, the chefs will generally tell you what they used and how it was made. It’s up to you to deal with portions and how to put it together
We were pleasantly surprised by how well put together both in terms of interior design and menus the vegetarian restaurants were that we visited in Florence. Each restaurant that we went to was always packed with people and had great atmospheres. All in all we had some wonderful meals and no complaints. While every Italian restaurant has vegetables available (contorni) or pasta dishes that are meat-less – eating at a specifically Italian vegetarian restaurant will provide an excellent opportunity for anyone – vegetarians and non-veggies alike – to try interesting and creative dishes using the excellent produce that is available here in Italy.
For many more recommendations on where to eat and drink in Florence I highly recommend Elizabeth Minchilli‘s smartphone app Eat Florence.
Linda maintains her own blog for our hotel, The Beehive, at http://www.the-beehive.com/blog with practical and irreverent information, observations and musings on Rome.