food

Eat & Drink like a Roman

In my last post, I hit upon some lovely places to rest your weary head and what to do when in Rome. As I've mentioned before there's literally so much to see that you could keep busy for weeks on end. With all that seeing and doing, you need some sustenance, obviously, but you really need some cultural balance. Some wonderful ways to experience what Rome really has to offer is to take part in aperitivo, eat some local dishes, wander off the main roads, and for the love of God ditch the picture menus! After all, indulging in local cuisine and cocktails is why most of us travel (and if it isn't, then you're doing it all wrong and we need to change that!)

Fantastic Food, Fizzy Wine & Fast Cars in Modena

modena_spritz.jpg

As I mentioned in my last post, the Italian region of Emilia Romagna is not necessarily on every tourist's radar and it should be for good reason. If you decide to drop on in, and you should, the small city of Modena is a perfect spot for your home base. Its piccolo size makes Modena very walkable in about 15 min max from one end to the other and it is full of lively piazze and cute places to stop and have a spritz.

Modena is only a 30-min drive from Bologna and reachable by regional train (although the car will come in handy for venturing outside the city). Its location is somewhere in the middle of Milan, Venice and Florence making it an easy, less-touristy stop on your vacation to the larger cities. The most convenient airport to fly into is Bologna's Guglielmo Marconi Airport (BLQ) but visitors can also opt to fly into Milan's Malpensa Airport (MXP), Florence's Peretola Airport (FLR), or Venice's Marco Polo Airport (VCE) depending on what else is on the agenda. We flew into Bologna and made Modena our homebase for exploring Emilia Romagna but you could also fly into one of the larger cities and make your way through the region, stopping in places along the way. An Italian road trip...the best kind! Regardless of how you do it, make sure Modena is on your list. Here are my recommendations for a magical and memorable stay:

SEE & DO

Piazza Grande

Piazza Grande

Piazza Grande - As the name suggests, this is the largest of the piazze in Modena and where you'll find il duomo. Perfect for grabbing a cappuccino and watching the world go by.

Piazza della Pomposa - This lively square in the northern corner of the city is a little more quaint and a great place for aperitivo or post-dinner drink.

Acetaia Pedroni - Venture about 30 minutes outside the city center to experience one of the best balsamic vinegar producers in the region. This family-run acetaia offers guided tours to learn about the intricate details of producing this "liquid gold." After the tour, dine in their osteria where you'll have the chance to taste the thick, syrupy substance (*note: NOTHING like we Americans know) with your yummy dish of pasta. After having actual aceto balsamico di Modena, I'm convinced what we've been getting here in the States is not real! (Via Risaia, 6, 41015 Castelfranco Emilia)

Museo Enzo Ferrari - If you're into fancy cars and nice things, then this is the museum for you. Learn about the man behind the brand and admire these works of art in the area where the sports cars were born. For those interested, there are shuttle buses that bring you to the 2nd museum in Maranello (about 30-min away) which is where the factory is located. For those looking to splurge a little, it is possible to take a Ferrari for a drive from both locations. (Via Paolo Ferrari, 85, Modena & Via Alfredo Dino Ferrari, 43, Maranello)

EAT

Osteria Francescana - This 3-Michelin starred restaurant run by chef Massimo Bottura was named the Best Restaurant in the WORLD in 2016. Dining here will not be cheap but will be memorable to say the least. Be sure to reserve your table at least 3-4 months in advance or risk disappointment! (Via Stella 22, Modena)

Franceschetta 58 - Located on the outskirts of the city is this contemporary little cousin of Osteria Francescana. This place is a perfect way to experience amazing food from talented chef Bottura if gastronomy and fine dining is not really your thing (or if you simply cannot get a table at Osteria Francescana). Not a bad choice on the menu. Be sure to go with an empty stomach and make a reservation. (Strada Vignolese, 58)

Ristorante Da Danilo - A great place to experience the typical food and drink of the region like tortellini in brodo (ricotta-stuffed pasta in broth), tortelloni di zucca (pumpkin-stuffed pasta in a butter and parmesan "sauce") and lambrusco. Great wine list. (Via Coltellini, 31)

Mon Cafè - A lovely place to have coffee and breakfast, and reminiscent of a stylish Parisian cafe. The owners, who also own a B&B in-town (info below), are extremely welcoming and accommodating. Excellent coffee and pastry and a sophisticated outdoor terrace make this place a must. (Corso Canalchiaro, 128)

DRINK

La Bicicletta Caffe & Salumi - Located in a quaint piazza, this lively salumeria is a great place to be for aperitivo (happy hour) sipping on an Aperol spritz. There is a large, outdoor patio for when the weather's nice and yummy snacks to go along with your drinks. (Via Sant'Eufemia, 26)

Al Goblet Birroteca - If you need a break from wine or are simply curious what local craft beers are like, head here. Its location in Piazza della Pomposa makes this place perfect for aperitivo or post-dinner drinks when you can expect the crowd to be congregating out in the piazza. (Via Castelmaraldo, 41)

Caffeteria Giusti - This tiny little hole in the wall makes a great spritz served with some salty nibbles and is great for a more intimate, quieter aperitivo. When the weather is nice, there are a couple tables outside under the loggia. (Via Luigi Carlo Farini, 83)

STAY

B&B Quartopiano - Unlike the larger hotels in this city which are limited and nothing special, this stylish 2-bedroom bed and breakfast run by owners of Mon Cafè is a cozy place to rest your head and bellies. The decor has a warm, charming, farmhouse feel to it with neutral linens and vintage furnishings and the owners are very welcoming, offering their local recommendations. You can opt to have breakfast at their cafe too which was lovely...and included in your room rate. Rooms from 100eur/nt including breakfast. (Via Bonacorsa, 27)

If you're looking for fantastic food, fizzy wine and fast cars then put Modena on your next Italian itinerary. I promise you will not regret it! Buon viaggio!

The adorable reception area at the B&B Quartopiano

The adorable reception area at the B&B Quartopiano

Cozy room Guerriero

Cozy room Guerriero

Eclectic, vintage decor 

Eclectic, vintage decor 

A cute farmhouse kitchen at the B&B Quartopiano

A cute farmhouse kitchen at the B&B Quartopiano

Lovely little dining table for breakfasts

Lovely little dining table for breakfasts

Aperitivo....our favorite time of day!

Aperitivo....our favorite time of day!

The Italian Foodie Region of Emilia Romagna

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As you all are probably aware by now, I am obsessed with Italy and there is just so much of the country that I want to see. So. For our 1-year wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided to go back to where we got married in Tuscany. We have collectively spent a bit of time in this popular Italian destination and we admit we've neglected other regions of the boot so while we love Tuscany and felt the need to visit our wedding venue, we also wanted to take the opportunity to see other parts of Italy as well including the delicious region of Emilia Romagna.

Emilia Romagna is located just north of Tuscany and while the region may not sound familiar to you, I'm sure you've heard of Bologna, which is its capital city. This region is known for its filled pastas, meat sauces, Ferrari's and lambrusco. This is Italy off the beaten path for those who love to eat and take it easy. It has arguably some of the best food in Italy (the world's best restaurant is located in Modena) and being the foodies we are, it was the perfect place to indulge in some local specialties. We only spent a few days in this area before continuing south to Tuscany so we only got to experience a little but what we did experience was fantastic. Here's just a sample of the goodness to be had in Emilia Romagna.

Lambrusco Wine - This red bubbly got a bad rep in the 80s and 90s and it's a shame because the real stuff is delightfully fruity yet dry and perfectly effervescent. Served chilled, it is refreshing and very easy to drink. It comes in various shades of red but no matter the color it will go great with just about everything you eat in this region. There's no better place to try it than at local winery Cantina della Volta where you can do a tasting free of charge and learn about their unique method to fermentation for wines of this area. Closed Sundays. (Via per Modena, 82, Bomporto)

Bologna - The city, not the meat, is the capital of this region and is worth visiting for a day or so. It is home to the oldest university in the world which gives it a young, college-town feel. The main square is Piazza Maggiore where you will find Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune's Fountain). Another landmark is Le Due Torre (two towers) but the highlight is the area surrounding Mercato di Mezzo and Via Pescherie Vecchie, which is full of places to eat all with their homemade tortellini on display. Stop at Zerocinquantino for a piadina, a warm sandwich native to this region on thin flatbread, and a glass of lambrusco. If it's nice, grab a table outside and dine with the locals. (Via Pescherie Vecchie, 3/e)

Prosciutto di Parma & Parmigiano Reggiano - Perhaps the most well-known of the local specialties comes from the city of Parma, about an hour Northwest of Bologna. Parma is an obvious place to indulge in these yummy foods and happens to be a quaint city that you can see in half a day. Get your bearings at the Piazza del Duomo where the baptistry overshadows the church and then stroll through the charming streets stopping along the way for a bite. But if you want to visit the real-deal, where they make the cheese and cure the ham, visit Antica Corte Pallavicina where you can have a tasting and take a tour of the cellars. It's technically located outside of Parma but the visit will be worth the drive. (Strada Palazzo due Torri, 3, Polesine Parmense)

Modena - If there's only one city you see in Emilia Romagna, make it this one. Located about 30 minutes from Bologna, this is where balsamic vinegar originates from. There are several acetaie to tour if you prefer or you can find the liquid gold sold in specialty stores throughout the city. Regardless you must try it because what we have in the States is not anything like the real thing which is thick and syrupy and amazing. Aside from the vinegar, Modena is a lovely place to experience with quaint piazze that come alive during aperitivo, delicious cafes, and of course the best restaurant in the world. More on that in my next post!

And lastly, just a few words of advice:

  1. I would recommend hiring a car so you can drive out to the many wineries, dairies, ham cellars, etc. but if driving is just not your thing, the regional train does run between the major cities. You just won't have as much freedom.
  2. While Bologna might seem like the obvious place to stay, opt for one of the smaller cities or towns instead. Bologna is worth seeing but the ambiance does not compare.

Even though we were only there for a few days, we left Emilia Romagna with full bellies and big smiles. Yet somehow, and as Anthony Bourdain likes to say, we're "hungry for more." This area should be way more touristy than it is given what it has to offer and I highly recommend not overlooking this slice of Italy on your next trip. Its location geographically makes it easy to tack onto other destinations like Venice, Milan & the Lakes, and Florence & Tuscany as we did. Aim to spend a few days (at least) and you're guaranteed a delightful food fest. Buon appetito! :)

Cantina della Volta

Cantina della Volta

The fermentation tanks at Cantina della Volta

The fermentation tanks at Cantina della Volta

The city of Bologna

The city of Bologna

The streets of Parma

The streets of Parma

Il Battistero di Parma

Il Battistero di Parma

Waiting for lunch on the patio in Parma

Waiting for lunch on the patio in Parma

Bici everywhere in Parma!

Bici everywhere in Parma!

Benvenuto a Boston, Eataly!

Being the Italophile that I am, of course I had to get to Eataly as soon as it came to Boston. Well technically I gave it a couple of weeks to "thin" out, which I'm not sure if that's even possible yet seeing as it opened about a month ago. But going on a weekday in the morning seemed to be okay and crowds were manageable. The verdict? Loved it. I mean it's not the same as going to Italy and picking up all of those goodies while you're there but it is the next best thing to hopping on the plane. And when I'm missing Italy it's a good place to go and get a little taste (which let's be honest is most days...) While many are there for a dish of ravioli (nothing wrong with that), I am looking for the more obscure things that are tough to find outside the boot. Incase you're wondering, here's what I think makes a trip to Eataly worthwhile:

  1. The coffee. Finally, a good macchiato around here. And I love that they will do a single macchiato (meaning just 1 shot of espresso). Most local coffee shops drop 2 shots and that's 1 too many for this caffeine-sensitive lady. I mean why does America have to supersize everything? In Italy it's always a single shot unless you specify you want a doppio. But I digress....
  2. The cracker section. Sounds stupid, right? I mean how exciting can crackers get? Actually, very exciting and you know what I mean if you've ever had taralli (or the baby version known as tarallini). Nope, can't really find those guys around here unless you're very lucky to catch the Whole Foods River Street on the right day. I'll let you in on a little secret--it's not often that happens. So, thanks Eataly.
  3. The marinated anchovies, known in Italian as alici. I can see you making that disgusted face right now but have a plate of these bad boys while dining on a cliff on the Amalfi Coast watching the fishermen pluck them out of the Mediterranean and you'll understand. Granted they're not as fresh coming out of a refrigerator in Boston but...air travel is amazing these days.
  4. The pizza. What makes it good is the wood-burning oven its cooked in. This is how its done in Napoli, where pizza was born, and in Boston there are few places that do it that way (it's mostly brick oven in these parts). Also, you have the option to have your pie with mozzarella di bufala imported from Campania. Molto delizioso!
  5. The olives. Along with my favorite bright green Castelvetrano variety, I was also able to find the enormous green Cerignola olives that I snacked on from a lounge chair on the Amalfi Coast. While the Castelvetrano olives are not exclusive to Eataly (Whole Foods actually carries them), I have yet to find the Cerignola variety anywhere else.
  6. The booze. I loved that I had a variety of amari and grappe to choose from along with an extensive wine selection that is very well organized by Italian region of origin. Oh and how amazing when there are multiple kinds of aperitivi liqueurs for a spritz beyond the usual Aperol or Campari. The hubs appreciated the Italian craft beer section too.

In the few hours I've spent in Eataly I've barely chipped away at the surface. There is just so much to see and do and buy and eat. It's glorious. While I would prefer to hop the pond (or just live there!) this place gave me a quick Italy fix. And it's nice to know that when I run out of my olive oil a quick stop at this place will hold me over until the next Alitalia sale :)

I don't have many pictures to feed you with but I think this photo of the enormous Parmigiano Reggiano wheels is enough to give you an idea of what you're getting yourself into. Buon appetito!