Photo by Corby Kummer
Airport food is evidently improving, or so I keep reading though I see little evidence of it. And in Italy, where small regional airports used to have branches of local caffès where you could get a locally roasted coffee, and even Rome's Fiumicino had a variety of coffee brands and shops, now it's all the same dismal Autogrill, of the greasy croissants and ridiculous, low-flavored muffins.
Recently, though, I had more than an hour to kill at Fiumicino, and found that the whole place had improved in the past two or three years, when the nonstops from Boston, where I live, had all landed at Milan's Malpensa, speaking of irredeemably dismal (that green!). I wrote of the amusing "My Name Is Bagel" at the typically maladroit, though in this case charmingly so, Autogrill.
But I neglected to mention my real find: an oasis at the end of a long, fairly hidden corner up a ramp to a mezzanine in Terminal A, in what I see in online references as the "MyChef Food Court." If you have any time to kill yourself, follow signs to that terminal, which will likely be a bracing walk from wherever you are, and look for the elegant caffè serving Illy, with what looked like they might be decent cornetti, though I couldn't be entirely sure they weren't Autogrill in disguise.
And then a glorious exception: an outpost of San Crispino, one of the best gelaterie in Rome. I first learned of it from our own Faith Willinger, who, knowing of my gelato obsession, sent me by foot way way behind the main train station to find the original shop--about a half-hour walk through not particularly enchanting neighborhoods.
But of course the trek was worth it, for the freshness of the fruit flavors and the exemplary consistency (texture is crucial in gelato) and integrity of the ingredients. "Try the pistachio," she told me. "That's always the test. Theirs isn't chemical green." Like true pistachio, it was barely green-tinged white. As the years went by and more people listened to Faith, San Crispino prospered, and opened two locations in extremely central neighborhoods, one tucked behind the Trevi Fountain and one behind the Pantheon, epicenter of gelato and caffè.
Now the world is used to top-quality, even heirloom ingredients in gelato, mostly thanks to Grom, with two shops in New York. I'm not much of a Grom fan--it's too rich, with too little "overrun," or air whipped in while the ice cream is churning, resulting in something much too close to Haagen-Dazs and not what I'd consider real gelato. But the flavors, many of them using Slow Food-protected ingredients, are first-rate.
San Crispino doesn't make the same cult out of its ingredients, but they're a good deal better than most. Most important, it's at Fiumicino! Time for one fond but reluctant farewell--and a reminder of why you'll have to get a plane back at the earliest possible opportunity.