The Left Bank of Florence
I live in the Oltrarno (beyond the Arno, the un-Duomo side of the river--think Left Bank), near piazza Santo Spirito, my favorite piazza in Florence. Unfortunately, restaurants directly in the piazza are a sad story. Caffe' Ricchi has changed hands and although I still love to have an espresso (food, pastry and gelato aren't worth the calories) in the side room with fanciful Santo Spirito façade elaborations or at a table outside when the weather is nice, it's for ambience and the company. My son Max's favorite restaurant is La Casalinga, around the corner, for true Florentine trattoria cooking and a vast, classic menu. I'm in love with Palazzo Guadagni, a beautiful and inexpensive hotel (rare in Florence) with stupendous views of the piazza and the city from the altana (open gallery) that wraps around two sides of the building. Volume is a just-opened, a snack bar-lounge-gallery that's replaced a wood-working studio (it began crafting hat-blocks and moved onto art). The decor is homage to its previous existence, with original workbenches, tools, photos and wood-art. Gelato and granita are thrilling, from Carabè (true Sicilian, one of the best gelaterie in the city), savory or sweet crepes and galettes are made to order, cocktail hour is a scene, with live blues on Thursday. On nearby via Santo Spirito there's Il Santo Bevitore, a restaurant with innovative Tuscan cooking, great wine selection, always crowded with Florentines, and next door snack bar Il Santino, for salumi, cheese and wine. I'm crazy about the decor at Munaciello, a pizzeria that feels like Naples, clusters of (fake) cherry tomatoes hanging from the walls, clothesline of laundry with Neapolitan soccer jerseys, live Neapolitan music on Wednesdays, and most importantly, pizzaiolo Carmine Candito presiding at his work station in front of the wood-burning oven in the corner. The menu is brief, with a few Neapolitan dishes and salads, and some of the best pizza in the city. Mama's Bakery makes American muffins, cookies, cheesecake, bagels, sandwiches and snacks and there are tables for dining. Relais Cestello in piazza Cestello is another inexpensive neighborhood hotel where friends frequently stay. The fish restaurant in the piazza used to be a favorite but they've lost their greatest asset, the best fishmonger from the city's central market and I haven't had the heart to go back. But there's still enough excitement in my neighborhood to make me happy.
-July 2010 link to article published in The Atlantic Magazine
The Left Bank of Florence