By Valerie Mcguire
The Piazza Santo Spirito area in the Oltrarno – across the Arno from the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria – is the most popular area of the city for nighttime carousing. Young people loiter around the square, buy beer and wine from local trattorias and drink on the steps just below the plain facade of the Brunelleschi church.
At the fountain at the center of the piazza, people gather for the after-work apperitivo and due chiachiere, literally “two chats.” Next to the fountain sits “Pop Cafè,” the cheapest of the many restaurants and cafès lining the piazza. By eleven at night, the rowdy crowd of young bohemians ensures that the piazza stays noisy.
Despite some reports of crime (the church itself is only open for visits in the morning to cut down on damages to the interior), the Santo Spirito area is still by far the best place to head for a taste of the city and to sample Tuscan wines, cheeses and local salamis.
When looking for a classier, more expensive meal, there are restaurants slightly off the piazza that offer a more interesting ambience and menu. They are also perfect for entertaining visiting parents or splurging while abroad.
Il Santo Bevitore
A delicious corner of the Oltrarno offers a true insider’s experience of new cuisine in Florence. Il Santo Bevitore provides enough style and interesting food to make the restaurant worth the trip across the Ponte Carraia, even after a full day of taking in art at the Uffizi. The wood benches and large paned windows that open brasserie-style onto Via Santo Spirito display one of this restaurant’s peculiarities: a large selection of French wines in addition to Italian ones, served by both the glass and bottle to complement a menu of culinary inventions like the delicate zucchini soufflè, duck tenderloin with orange zest, or steak tartar evenly seasoned with salt, pepper and parsley. The menu changes every three months, but some staple dishes, such as the antipasto of Umbrian salume, pasta garganelli with red onion and zucchini with pacchino mozzarella, ensure the restaurant has classic Florentine cuisine, too. On Friday nights, Il Santo Bevitore offers as a specialty antipasto of cheese from Bergamo with house-made marmalade, polenta and local salamis, accompanied by a select glass of red or white wine. The Italian preference for the rare combination of simple, homemade ingredients and innovation can quickly turn into a favorite. The bill is usually about twenty euros per person and reservations are recommended for first seating on weekend evenings.
Trattoria Sant’Agostino, on the far end of Piazza Santo Spirito, just a short distance away from the piazza itself, offers a steak tartar to rival the one at Santo Bevitore. The restaurant is sure to please those in search of some old-fashioned elegance and class. Slightly pricier than its more youthful competitor on the other side of the piazza, the Trattoria Sant’Agostino offers some standard classics of Florentine cuisine. The calamari di inzimina, squid cooked to tenderness in a black broth with collard greens, has the right balance of sea salt and bitterness. The cheese tortelloni are delicate and, when lightly sauced with butter and fresh sage, melt in the mouth. The Florentine steak, a definite must, is nicely done here. In fact, with Sant’Agostino’s eclectic décor, green visor-style lamps, diverse paintings by local artists and the restaurant’s phone number posted on an old marquee in refrigerator magnet letters, this restaurant is exactly the kind of place where one feels enough at home to enjoy a proper steak. Sant’Agostino also offers – for the homesick American – a large and hearty hamburger served on a baguette. The bill with wine is usually between sixty and seventy euros.
Via Sant’Agostino 23r
The Osteria dell’Ardiglione is tucked away in a small alley off of Via dei Serragli. Its slightly retro atmosphere makes for a cozy place to put up your feet after sightseeing, a welcome change from the well-trodden path around the Duomo. You will be treated well by the extra-courteous service; staff will help you select the right wine for your dish. And at least one thing about the food presentation will amuse. For example, the spaghetti with tomato and “Pienza stagionato” (aged Pienza cheese) is placed in the center of a radicchio flower. Other house specialties include the pigeon and, for antipasto, the salami of wild boar served with rocket and pinenuts. The Osteria dell’Ardiglione is the ideal restaurant when you are in the mood for a full five-course meal, with an ample selection of both primi and secondi piati. The cost for two people with wine is around seventy-five euros.
Via dell’Ardiglione, 47 r Firenze