A Food Lover's Guide to Florence's Left Bank

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Faith Willinger


In 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 town. 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 ambiance and the company.

The décor is homage to its previous existence, with original workbenches, tools, photos, and wood-art.

But nearby, things are different. My son Max's favorite restaurant is La Casalinga, around the corner, for true Florentine trattoria cooking with a vast, classic menu. And 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 snack bar-lounge-gallery that's replaced a wood-working studio (it began crafting hat-blocks and moved onto art). The décor is homage to its previous existence, with original workbenches, tools, photos, and wood-art. The gelato and granita are thrilling (from Carabé, 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, and there is live blues on Thursdays. They don't have a website yet (but have a Facebook page) so here's the address—piazza Santo Spirito 5R.

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Faith Willinger

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 there's the 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 workstation 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 it has lost its 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.

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Faith Willinger is a chef, author, and born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and has spent over 30 years searching for the best food from the Alps to Sicily. More

Faith Heller Willinger is a born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and was seduced by Italian regional cooking. Faith has spent more than 30 years searching for the best food and wine, as well as the world beyond the table from the Alps to Sicily. She has no regrets about mileage or calories. Faith was awarded the prestigious San Pellegrino award for outstanding work as an ambassador of Italian cooking. She lives full-time in Florence with her Tuscan husband, Massimo. Her son Max lives in Milan. She's the author of the bestselling (9th printing) guidebook Eating in Italy, the cookbook Red, White & Greens, and the narrative recipe book Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Faith teaches in her kitchen in Florence on Wednesdays, supplied with freshly picked produce from her favorite farmers. Check out her web site at www.faithwillinger.com.
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