Go ahead, take the kids
Piazzetta delle Erbe
Via S. Gabrielle dell’Addolorata
Lunch and dinner served.
The score: Charming little trattoria, simple, good food.
I knew I was going to love this place on my first visit the week they opened (probably six years ago now). I sat down and started reading the English translations for the menu (I often amuse myself like this: in Prague once my husband ate a soup made of Fish, Frog, and Various River Creatures, which was even funnier in the Italian translation: Bestiaccie di Fiume – “river beasts”. I cracked rat jokes for days.), and immediately came upon Fresh Egg Pasta Pockets with Recooked Cheese, Little Rockets, and Cool Tomatoes (Ricotta e Arugula Ravioli con pomodori freschi). I loved that.
This is a lovely spot with a great atmosphere and wonderful pasta dishes. The menu is mostly pasta dishes and meat on the grill, and everything is fresh and well prepared. Not ostentatious, just a satisfying meal at a good price. NOTE: I just found out that this restaurant has recently changed hands, and I haven’t been under new management.
Piazza IV Novembre
Lunch and Dinner served.
The score: Who says old dogs can’t do new tricks.
This is an old Perugian stand-by. The place is crowded with regulars who are looking for what they know: traditional Umbrian cooking. But who says tradition is bad? The food here is excellent and, as a member of the Slow Food movement, the owner serves it with the respect it deserves. If you’re looking for innovation, this is probably not the place. But if you are interested in discovering why Umbrians are so proud of their little corner of the world, sit down for a meal of local specialties here.
They have outdoor seating in the Piazza in summer, and the back room of the restaurant looks into the glass faced kitchen, so there’s always something interesting to watch. Anything on the menu is bound to be good (and hearty)…we especially like their tagliatelle and torta al testo. The various grilled meats are also excellent. It’s just like lunching at my mother-in-law’s house, except they’re not insulted when you don’t stay for dinner as well.
Agriturismo La Locanda dell’Angelo
Loc. Mora, 24
Serves only with reservations, only lunch on Sunday.
The score: The view alone is worth the price of your meal.
Okay, got your pith helmet, map and compass? Because you may have a hard time finding this spot in the hills above Assisi. But once you do, you’re in for a treat. The view (you eat on a terrace outside in summer) is fabulous and the food worth the trip. At EUR 25 a head, it is a bargain. The menu is fixed, the antipasto went on so long we thought we were through with our meal. Then came the tagliolini with truffles, grilled meats and potatoes, and dessert. Despite the wonderful view and food, the atmosphere is decidedly casual, with the house hounds doing the rounds for stray bones under the table.
The young owner of this spot is vegetarian himself, so when knew he had a fellow veggie coming he made his entire menu that evening vegetarian (accept for the standard grilled meats, of course). And I didn’t hear any complaining from the carnivores amongst us. Beg him to make you his leek salad when you go.
Via Patrono d’Italia, 48
Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi
Lunch and dinner served.
The score: Whodda thunk you could get a good meal right next to the train station?
This local eatery has been around since the 1960’s though was completely remodelled a couple of years ago. Easy to find, convenient to the Basilica in Santa Maria degli Angeli and the Assisi train station, right along the main thoroughfare, one would assume the worst. But the locals flock here, and for good reason. The food is excellent and the ambience relaxed. They have a small outdoor patio (complete with kitschy fountain) and indoor seating in the winter. You’ll find the place packed most nights, so it’s better to call ahead.
The food is pretty classic Umbrian, but fresh and well prepared. I especially like their tagliolini in herb sauce and a fabulous pear and pecorino salad with a tangy mustard dressing that’s out of this world. The portions are generous and the prices low, so this is good option when budget is tight but belt is loose.
Osteria di Pinocchio
Via Tazio Nuvolari (Pian di Massiano)
The score: Leave your smug hipster attitude at the door. Right next to the table with the complimentary funny hats.
If I were given two choices, and the choices were a) rip my beating heart from my chest with my bare hands or b) spend an evening in a children’s theme restaurant wearing a silly hat and participating in a “guess how many beans are in the jar” competition at the prodding of a microphone-wielding MC dressed as a cricket, I would, of course, choose b).
But only after thinking about it long and hard.
Which is why, when my dear friend Barbara, a bubbly blond mother-of-two-up-for-anything-anytime Aussie (That’s how they are Down Under. Mostly because eight of the ten most lethal animals on the planet call Australia home, and you get very Carpe Diem and No Worries, Mate when you know a simple trip up the walk to retrieve the morning paper may end in meeting your Maker.) called me up to say, “Hey, did you hear about the new Pinocchio restaurant for kids in Perugia?!? They wear costumes! They have games for the kids! Let’s take the boys on Saturday!” (At least, that’s what I think she said. I’ve known her since 1993 and I still find myself struggling with that strange language she claims is English on the phone. We often revert to Italian.), she was greeted with a long silence. So she gave me a tongue lashing, which she is wont to do when I act like a bludger, need to get off my fat date, stop being a dill and/or drongo and/or knocker, because really, sometimes I make her spit the dummy. Since I don’t really understand any of that, but none of it sounds very good, I offered to call and reserve before she called me a whacker for good measure.
This is how it went:
Hello, this is the Talking Cricket. Can you please hold?
Uh, ok. (I hold.)
Hello, sorry about that. How can I help you?
Um, did you just say that you’re the Talking Cricket?
Uh, ok. I need to reserve for Saturday night. Four adults and four kids.
And will the children be eating on Pleasure Island?
I was beginning to rethink my choice of b).
But here I am, a few months later, not only about to endorse this place as one of the funnest evenings to be had for a family with kids under about 8, but openly admitting to becoming a bit of a regular. To explain why, let me tell you what Osteria di Pinocchio isn’t.
It isn’t garish
I had formed a mental picture of an aesthetic which hovered in that nightmarish land between Disneyland ca. 1972 and Chuck E. Cheese ca. 1987. Lots of formica in primary colors, industrial stain-camouflaging carpet, neon lights, and those swivel chairs that are hooked directly onto the table so that both fat people and children can’t use them (which, as fate would have it, comprises about 92% of Disneyland and Chuck E. Cheese’s combined customer demographic.).
I had forgotten that Pinocchio did not, in fact, originate from a mid-western strip mall, but instead from Tuscany. Lovely, understated, natural wood and period details Tuscany. Really, if you ignore the immense wooden Pinocchio suspended above your head along the length of the ceiling, you could imagine yourself being in any warmly furnished large restaurant in central Italy. Well, you have to ignore the maitre-d’ with the cricket antennae headband, as well, but we’ll get to him.
Where the interior decorating takes it up a notch is in the separate children’s dining room, where the walls are covered with lovely Pinocchio-related reliefs in stained wood and matching child-sized stained wooden tables and chairs. But the effect is both fun and tasteful.
It isn’t video-game loud
Okay, I admit that if you are looking for a quiet candle-lit bistrot to stare into each other’s eyes for a romantic tête–à–tête, this may not be the place. It’s a relatively big restaurant, and most nights the place is hopping.
However, conversation loud is one thing—screaming children and flashing and buzzing arcade game loud is another. As I mentioned above, there is a separate dining room for children (they can choose to eat there or in the main dining room…my kids love the separate dining room, though some shyer types might balk at you being out of sight during dinner), which cuts out the lion’s share of screaming and running children, a common sight at most other children-themed places. Also, in keeping with the muted decor, there are no video games in sight. Kids are kept busy by the staff in the children’s dining room, who organize sing-alongs, games, story-telling, dancing, and all sorts of stuff to keep them engaged and entertained for the evening. Which means that you are free to enjoy the Holy Grail of any parent’s dining experience: an uninterrupted conversation.
The only distraction that can border on annoying is the roughly five minutes of game playing (see bean game above…we have also witnessed trivia quizzes and riddle-solving) led by a loudly mic-ed Pinocchio in the main dining room. But even he grew on me after I actually won the competition one night and took home a nice bottle of Sagrantino di Montefalco for my effort. My hipster smugness goes right out the window when prizes are involved.
It isn’t crap food
Your average 6 year old is no gourmand, and most restaurants catering to kids know that. Timeless favorites like greasy pizza, hot dogs, tater tots, and soft-serve ice cream feature prominently on the menu. Your average 6 year old is also no credit card holder and likely won’t be footing the bill, however, and–since I am–I would like to eat something resembling something edible (and, to be frank, have my kids eat something that isn’t a gateway drug into childhood obesity).
The food here is good. I mean, not life-changingly awesome, but solidly good. Fine pizza (fired in a wood-burning oven), inventive antipasti, nice primi, big honking hunks of meat roasted over wood-coals secondi. A nice selection of fixed menus (I’ve seen vegetarian, traditional Umbrian, fish and seafood, among others) if your brain has been so fried by parenting that you’d rather not ponder pages of dishes in a foreign language.
The best menu by far is over in the children’s room. The kids get a fixed menu, but whoever cooked up the piatto del giorno sure had a lot of fun (and an amazing amount of creativity). My kids have had parmeggiano boats filled with tortellini floating on a green bean sea with a corn sun and a cricket’s face made of mashed potatoes with asparagus antennae and a meatball bow-tie. Fun stuff, and they actually ate the asparagus. Makes you want to take up food styling at home.
It isn’t a money black hole
So, for your kids to have a healthy meal (ok, with an occasional french fry and some ice cream), unlimited kiddie bar access, and a good three to four hours of awesome fun, it will cost you a whopping €15. Which is pretty much the same thing a regular pizza + drink + dessert will cost you in any run-of-the-mill restaurant in Umbria, but with no entertainment. The price/quality ratio for the regular menu is more than fair: the fixed menus with four courses run €25 (I couldn’t finish my vegetarian menu the last time we went) and the alla carte is more than in line with average trattoria prices. The lack of arcade machines or tacked-on entertainment extras means that it’s easy to keep an eye on your budget for the evening.
Oh, I forgot to mention the funny hats. They’re free.