Get a break from the crowds in the neighborhood of San Frediano
In all the years I’ve been going to Florence, starting in the 1980s as a backpacking teenager, one thing has not changed, and that’s the inundation of tourists. The bummer is, visitors to Florence get so overwhelmed by the crowds that they end up not liking Florence.
My clients, when I ran my wedding business in Italy, often had this compliant about Florence. What I explained to them and what I still suggest to people is that a respite from river of tourists can be found by heading to the Oltrarno–(The other side of the river)– to the areas of Santo Spirito, San Frediano and San Niccolo.
While the Oltrarno is not undiscovered, it feels markedly more local and quiet in comparison to the area between the Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo.
So if the crowds on the main side of the river bother you, head over to San Frediano, where there are a plethora of new trendy eateries, and some long-time traditional ones, all with a decidedly local vibe.
The area I’m talking about is to the west of Piazza Santo Spirito, starting at Via Serragli and heading west to the gigantic Porta of San Frediano.
This is a pizza and craft beer place that opened in 2014 and it blew my socks off.
Their pizze are organic, made with stone-ground organic flour— “never double zero flour” the waitress was quick to tell me.
They also have specialty doughs such as spelt, kamut and ancient grains.
Their wine menu is titled, “your daily glass of biodynamic wine.” Love it!
The beer I had was exquisite. I requested a beer called Giglio, which the waitress brought me, but then she said it was not amaro enough for my asparagus pizza so she brought me the birra speciale called Morning Glory. Both were made for Berberè. My God they were good.
My pizza, apart from asparagus, contained spring onions, fresh mozzarella, and pecorino romano. The ancient grains dough had a healthy sourdough flavor and the inside of it almost had the texture of of a croissant, while the outside had a perfect crunch.
The sweetness of the spring onions combined wonderfully with sourdough, and the cheese was ultra soft, melting buttery in my mouth.
I never wanted to eat pizza anywhere else again.
Have a look at this video on their site and you’ll get a feel for how innovative they are.
Berberè rocks and people know it so you need a reservation. It’s on the corner of Piazza de’ Nerli and Borgo San Frediano. They are open every evening and on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday also at lunch. Phone: 055 2382946
Contrary to Berberè, this place has been around for ever and there’s nothing innovative about it. Rather, it’s a rustic traditional worker’s hangout that stays true to simple Florentine cuisine. I ate here alone, next to long tables full of local blue-collar men.
One couple provided a token other woman—so she and I, and at least twenty men in the noisy room. Most were eating 1-kilo slabs of Florentine steak.
In one room there are color photos of the calico storico (the crazy medieval soccer match that happens in Florence every June) and in other room are black and white photos of times gone by in Florence— such as the Ponte all Grazie before the Germans blew up when it had those adorable little nuns convents on it.
If you want a really local place, this is it.
While I appreciate the seriousness of Bistecca Fiorentina, it is not my thing. I had Pappa al Pomodoro, which had a flavor of real garden tomatoes. It had the right amount of salt and was heart warming, and then sausage and beans which was very simple, like a dish you’d throw together in your kitchen when you want something hearty and can’t be bothered with any fuss.
A word of caution, not only is the house wine cheap monetarily but the quality is probably rather cheap too— I had a headache from it the next day.
Once upon a time a basic local trattoria like this would never had required reservations but these days it’s necessary to reserve at Brindellone.
Located in Piazza Piatellina. Open for both lunch and dinner. Closed Monday. Phone: 055 217879
This tiny pizza place opened in 2012. It is not just tiny—it’s minuscule, so don’t even consider it if you’ve got a group over four. The menus are on the walls as there is no room on the tables.
Be advised, you’ll have an easier ordering experience if you can understand pizza menus in Italian.
I had the Contadina—it was good but not spectacular. However, a bite of my friend’s convinced that the Nduja is the one to order, as long as you like spicy. (Nduja is a spreadable spicy pork salami from Calabria.)
It’s a warm intimate space with soft light from wrought iron lamps and the heat from the wood burning pizza oven and the nearness of the other diners makes it a good place to come in winter.
One improvement is needed. They should change their knives. The ones they provide don’t cut the pizza.
Da Gherardo is open daily from 7:30 to 1:00 in Borgo San Frediano 57r. Since it’s so tiny it is a good idea to reserve. Phone: 055 282921
Opened in 2010, this small restaurant was the first in Florence to be dedicated to organic wine. The menu changes monthly and labels which dishes are vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free.
The organic pasta is made daily at their organic pasta-making shop around the corner from Vivanda. The dishes use such a creative combination of ingredients, they piqued my curiosity and it was hard to choose.
How about Spaghetti with nettles, sausage, cream and ground coffee beans? Or hemp flour penne with a marigold flower pesto?
I chose risotto with daisies, apple, and mint.
They have over a hundred labels of organic wine and the owners produce their own organic wine. (You can sign up for a tasting excursion to their winery.)
Vivanda is located in Via Santa Monaca 7 R. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily. Reservations are a good idea. Phone: 055 2381208
To buy their fresh organic pasta go to their shop: Dalle Nostre Mani in Via dei Serragli 32 R.
Here everything tastes like it’s made from scratch in mamma’s kitchen.
The quality along with the vintage repurposed style and local vibe drew me in daily when I spent ten days recently staying half a block away.
You can see them baking on site, which is cool because most places that sell bread in Florence are baking it off site. The first morning I went in there I got a large slice of quiche–unfortunately they don’t do coffee but I was so hungry, I ate the quiche there and then walked elsewhere for coffee. The semi roasted cherry tomatoes in the quiche were super delicious. Another morning I had their yogurt and musli breakfast.
Here you are not stuck with the plain unsalted Tuscan bread that none of us foreigners are partial to. Just ask for any non-Tuscan bread and you’ll get something good. Their cakes are fabulous and so is the decor. I couldn’t help taking pictures on more than one occasion.
S’Forno is open daily 7:30 to 7:30. Even open on Sundays! Located in Via Santa Monaca. There is no sign outside.
Florence is crazy for new hipster places right now. Gesto opened a year ago in 2015. Martina Lucattelli, the young owner, had already opened one in Perugia and she recently opened one in Milan—all this at under 30 years old. Her age is one thing that makes the restaurant hipster. What else? She’s committed to sustainability. Diners write what they want on small chalk boards. The staff places plastic over the same chalk board, and serves the food on top. The chalk board is later wiped off simply with a damp cloth, eliminating the need for detergent. Martina chose to keep portions small (like tapas) to reduce waste. The lights are LED, and food is zero kilometer. It is open daily for dinner and located in Borgo San Frediano.
Vico del Carmine
Come here for authentic pizza Napoletana. It’s quite cute—set up to look like a street in Naples, complete with clothes hanging on the line. It is open evenings only on weekdays, while on weekends it’s open both for lunch and dinner, and it is closed on Mondays. Reservations on the weekends are a good idea. On Via Pisana, after you go through the big Porta. Definitely off the tourist track.
This tiny trattoria shaped like a tram goes back to the 1980s. It is not as cheap as it once was, but still serves reliable Tuscan food and it’s way off the tourist track in Piazza Torquato Tasso. The menu on blackboard, all in Italian. They provide gluten free options on request.
This excellent gelateria, next to the above location, in Piazza Torquato Tasso, is one of the best in Florence. They make it fresh daily and continue to invent new flavors, some gluten and sugar free.
La Vecchia Bettola
Almost 18 years ago, the night before my wedding in Florence my guests and I had a jolly time around one long table here. We never forgot how exuberant our waiter was and how, when I asked him why he was so happy, he replied, “Ma, mi chiamo Felice!” (But my name is Happy!) The prices have gone up quite a bit, but it’s a still a very local place, with good quality Tuscan dishes. Way off tourist track, beyond Piazza Torquato Tasso, in Via Vasco Pratolini.