By Hanna Daboul
Trattorias are one of Florence’s best attributes. Found around every corner and on almost every street, they offer a delicious taste of traditional Tuscan cuisine and culture. Most of them are family owned and operated, and have been in business for at least a couple of generations, sometimes more. I love everything from their comfortable, laid-back atmosphere to their fresh, piping hot dishes.
One thing that sets trattorias apart from a lot of other restaurants is their hand written menus. Most trattorias use fresh ingredients that they buy on a daily basis, so the menu is constantly changing depending upon what’s available on a daily and seasonal basis. If nothing else, trattorias serve to bring people together to share one of Italy’s favorite things: food. This food wouldn’t be complete without their second favorite thing, wine. The house wine in trattorias and pretty much anywhere in Italy never fails, and is a somewhat necessary and inexpensive addition to any meal, although that could be a matter of opinion. Another defining characteristic is their modest décor. Paper place mats, broken in furniture, random artwork and photos on the wall, and a paper menu are all typical.
Florentine trattorias have similar menus for the most part. Some of them might have a dish that the others don’t or one might prepare one a little bit differently than the others, but for the most part they all stick to tradition. So what can you expect to see on a menu? Bistecca Fiorentina (t-bone steak), ribollita (vegetable-bread stew), trippa alla Fiorentina (tripe), zuppa di fagioli (bean soup), tortelli di patate al ragu (pasta with meat sauce), peposo di manzo (beef stew), and bollito misto (boiled beef)are the usual fare. They also offer side dishes such as cannellini beans, boiled potatoes and sautéed spinach with garlic.
Walking into some of the trattorias there is a feeling of timelessness because some of them haven’t changed in 20 years, and none of them are in perfect condition. The place mats and napkins are disposable, the furniture is broken in, the walls probably haven’t been painted in forever, but the families that own them genuinely seem to want to deliver a good authentic meal and friendly, helpful service, making the experience that much better.
Trattoria Mario in San Lorenzo is without a doubt my favorite trattoria that I’ve been to. Mario’s has been around since 1953, and is still owned and operated by the same family. They only serve lunch, so it’s almost always packed and there’s usually a wait. The atmosphere is one of the things I love the most about Mario’s. They literally try to pack in as many people as possible even if that means seating four strangers at the same small table. It’s loud and oddly exciting watching the servers rush around. The bio on their website says, “If you stand across the street at 8:00 in the morning watching the butcher carry in a days supply of bistecca over his shoulder it could be 50 years ago and it would look the same.” I love this because it shows Mario’s commitment to buying and preparing the freshest ingredients, and to maintaining authenticity. When I went for lunch they were literally crossing things off of the handwritten daily menu as the ingredients/dishes ran out. I ordered the pepose di manzo, a beef stew in a red sauce.
Another favorite of mine is Trattoria Sostanza. It’s been around since 1869 and Sostanza is known for their bistecca alla Fiorentina. I love Sostanza’s white tile walls and white marble table and counter tops.
When I went for dinner there were actually mostly Italians eating, which definitely says something about the food. Sostanza is known for two of their own signature dishes in addition to the traditional dishes and their bistecca alla Fiorentina: tortino carciofi (artichoke tart) and pollo al burro (chicken in butter). A lot people around me were eating the bistecca Fiorentina, which is enormous and easily shared by three or four people depending on how hungry you are. I ordered the veal chop and didn’t regret it. I highly recommend what I’m pretty sure is their signature dessert. I don’t know what it’s called because I saw the people next to me eating it and asked for whatever it was, but it was amazing. Here it is:
I absolutely love eating at La Marione, off of Via Tournabuoni, because it’s so homey and warm, and the waiters are the nicest. They’re always willing to answer questions about the menu and they’re super accommodating and helpful. No complaints about the food either. I love their ribollita and their beef stew is also really good.
Trattoria da Giorgio is literally a hole in the wall. Its brick walls and broken in tables and chairs set with paper place mats all contribute to its casual, relaxed environment. The best part about Giorgio is its fixed price, three-course menu that includes a half-liter of house wine. You choose a first course, second course, and side plus wine and water all for 13 or 14 euro…great deal. I ordered the ribollita as my first course and then pork with a creamy truffle sauce for my second course with a side of spinach followed by an amazing chocolate dessert.