Welcome this month’s edition of the Italy Blogging Roundtable tackling the theme of “flavor”! Take a look at posts by Georgette Jupe, Jessica Spiegel, Melanie Renzulli, Alexandra Korey, Gloria, Laura Thayer, and Michele Fabio. (If you missed the previous months, take a look here.) Welcome back to our table…come pull up a chair and join in on the conversation!
Last month, the Italy Roundtable blogged around the theme of “move”, and the obvious choice would have been for me to write about moving from the countryside, where I had lived for most of last two decades, to the center of Assisi. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a fraught and complicated topic and since we seem to be living in a moment in history in which everything is fraught and complicated, I just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm for it. So I talked about hiking, which is my salve when things get fraught and complicated, and left it at that.
This month the theme is “flavor”, and in a surprising twist of events, it turns out that the move from country to city – well, ok, town – is related in an indirect way. For the years that we lived outside of Assisi, we almost never ate in the restaurants in the center of town for two reasons: one, if we were going to all the trouble to shower and get in the car, it seemed more fun to make an evening out of it and head further afield into Perugia (for the window shopping), Bevagna or Montefalco (for the great food), or Lake Trasimeno (for the sunsets); two, the restaurants in Assisi simply weren’t very good. So we would just toodle past town on our way to better cooking and more interesting nightlife.
Now that we live on the main square, with so many paint-and-sip franchises around, the car stays parked most days. My sons can walk to school and about 90% of their activities, and I have all the grocery store, butcher, pharmacy, post office, and pretty much anything else I need just downstairs. It takes a bit more motivation for me to pull the car out now than all those years when I was driving back and forth into town at least four times a day, which means that we have started to try out eateries withing walking distance from the Piazza del Comune, and discovered some real winners.
If you’re looking for a good meal in the center of Assisi, here are my picks:
Osteria Piazzetta delle Erbe
Via San Gabriele dell’Addolorata 15/A
This is our hands down favorite place to eat in Assisi, especially in the summer when they have tables set up outside in the tiny square just a block from the crowded Piazza del Comune and you can linger over your meal in peace. Gourmet without being pretentious, local without being boring, friendly without being overbearing…the Piazzetta is a little on the hipster side with bearded waiters and whimsical plating, but Matteo’s food is genuinely excellent. A local favorite, this is one of the few places that doesn’t close down for a month or two after New Year’s and is almost always full, so be sure to reserve a table in advance. In the winter, space is limited to the few tables they have in their indoor dining room with vaulted stone ceilings and tables set elbow to elbow. When the weather warms up, you can choose to eat inside or out. They menu changes every few months or so, but is always an interesting selection of surprising combinations…which almost always work. The latest dessert menu had a chocolate and olive oil dish that we dared each other to order, but ended up with the mascarpone and espresso mousse, which was probably a better choice. We usually order a two courses and wine, and it ends up around €30 a person.
Hosteria La Terra Chiama
Via San Rufino 16
When the Piazzetta is booked full or when we are up for more traditional cooking, we walk one block further up Via San Rufino to the charming La Terra Chiama, where Annarita prepares rustic local specialties in a contemporary, almost art gallery-esque atmosphere. Though there is limited seating, the high ceilings, colorful artwork, and raised area in front of the large arched window make if feel less oppressive than most local restaurants tucked into Assisi’s Medieval center. The dishes are traditional, but the ingredients are all Umbrian DOP certified or authentic and heirloom local products, including the charcuterie, cheeses, olive oil, and legumes. There is no outdoor seating, but the dining room stays cool in the summer so you can get some respite from the heat. We especially like the handmade tagliatelle egg pasta, often served with local truffles, or the classic Umbrian meat dishes featuring lamb, rabbit, and squab. They also serve a nice selection of Umbrian wines and craft beers, and a meal of two courses and wine usually costs around €25 a person.
Via Macelli Vecchi 1
This is a new place which opened up about a year ago and has gained a loyal following pretty quickly among locals and visitors, despite being tucked into a nearly hidden pedestrian back alley just off the main Piazza del Comune. We’ve eaten here a couple of times and the food has always been very good – updated versions of classic Umbrian dishes and some innovative surprises – but somehow it doesn’t have the je ne sais quoi to knock Piazzetta delle Erbe out of our top spot. The decor is a little fussy for my taste, and the service slightly formal for the space with its exposed stone walls and vaulted ceilings. That said, they do serve fish and seafood, which is not common in this landlocked region, and the location guarantees a quiet respite when the crowds take over restaurants with more foot traffic. If Piazzetta is booked and you want something more gourmet than Terra Chiama, this is a good option. Our meals here cost about the same as La Piazzetta, though the fish and seafood dishes are a bit more expensive.
Trattoria degli Umbri
Piazza del Comune 40
Let’s say you find yourself in Assisi’s main piazza at mealtime and you are hot, tired, hungry, and just need to tuck into a plate of lasagne or a nice pork chop before your blood sugar level drops to DEFCON crabby. Ignore all the touristy cafès that line the square and head to where Via San Rufino starts heading uphill and the Trattoria degli Umbri. Here you’ll find a no-frills, checked tablecloth and paper napkin eatery that has classic dishes, quick service, a great location, and competitive prices. There is a small deck with a few tables in the summer, which is perfect for a meal overlooking the fountain and the bustling piazza, or cool off indoors in the air-conditioned dining room. The prices here are quite inexpensive, and you can probably have a meal for around €20 a person.
Via Arnaldo Fortini 10
Sometimes you just want pizza. Unfortunately, Umbria doesn’t do pizza very well, but this pizzeria is run by a transplanted Neapolitan family, so you get the real deal. About a 5 minute walk from Piazza del Comune, I Monaci is informal and family-friendly; they also serve pasta and meat dishes, though we only order pizza when we dine here. You can easily spend less than €15 a person for a pizza and drink.
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