Wandering through the San Lorenzo street market, dodging overly insistent stall owners and tacky tourist wares, one could easily miss Casa del Vino. With marble counter tops and beautifully carved woodwork, the small wine bar is usually filled with locals despite its touristic location, due in part to its rich and long history, but undoubtedly also because of the typically Florentine couple who run it, Gianni and Nicoletta. The two keep a lively discussion going with the flow of customers while serving up freshly made panini, crostini, salads and, of course, plenty of wine.
If you come alone, make sure you stand up at the bar and join in the conversation: bar talk can range from politics to travel, from the best trippaio, gelato or millefoglie in town to local history. Casa del Vino is also a good place to get to know local artists and artisans as many of them, including contemporary painter Max Rohr, congregate there. A couple of decades ago, when Florence was less crowded with snap-happy tourists, local painters even used to sit and paint in the corner of the bar. Gianni still has many of the works that were painted there.
Casa del Vino was founded in 1880 and Gianni’s grandfather bought it in 1920. At the time, Gianni recounts, the panini and crostini that are today eaten for lunch were instead a second breakfast at 9am, after first breakfast at around 5am, and dinner was our current mid-afternoon merenda. When Gianni was younger and ran the shop with his father, the place was primarily an enoteca, and he used to travel the country seeking out the best vintages to serve customers in Florence as well as to export abroad. Now, trading wines has become too technological: ‘I hate computers and e-mail. I prefer to chat face to face with customers,’ he admits. While Gianni may have scaled down this part of the business, he still stocks a wide selection of Italian wines, available by the glass, to be enjoyed while sitting and chatting at the counter.
The food served at Casa del Vino is traditionally Tuscan, loved by the locals and looked at rather askance by the tourists wandering in. However unsure they may appear, Gianni always encourages them to try Florentine specialities like trippa in insalata fredda (a cold tripe salad; see TF 147 for a recipe), frattaglie (a mixture of organs, viscera and trimmings) or pesce povero, fish that used to be thrown back into the sea, such as herring, mackerel and anchovies. According to the owner, Americans usually turn up their nose at these dishes, but the Japanese and English will try anything.
For the less adventurous, Casa del Vino also offers classic crostini and made-to-order panini. Gianni cuts the prosciutto by hand. Prosciutto with the bone still in, however, which cannot be cut by machine, lasts longer and is of better quality, he notes. Newcomers to Casa del Vino may be surprised to see a bowl of boiled eggs behind the glass counter, next to the usual meats, cheeses and roasted vegetables. These are eaten plain, with salt and pepper, or on crostini. Gianni attests that his boiled eggs have been popular for years as hangover food on Saturday mornings.
Whether for conversation, a glass of wine or some traditional Florentine fare, Casa del Vino is well worth a visit. And after that first visit, you’re sure to go back!
CASA DEL VINO
via dell’Ariento 16, Florence
Monday to Saturday, 9:30am to 7pm
Closed in August, and on Saturdays in July and September.
Lunch from midday.