Take Five: Dining in Florence, Italy

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Take Five: Dining in Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy is the capital of the Tuscany region, known for simple classics made from simple, hearty ingredients. So, it’s safe to say the food’s going to be unbeatable. But, as with many popular tourist destinations, there’s the chance that the overflow of visitors may have sustained eateries that might otherwise have succumbed to competition. That said, you can find eateries in Florence that are rightly popular with locals and offer fresh takes on Italian classics, made from the freshest ingredients and served up in hip, eye-catching surroundings. Follow your appetite to these worthy Florence eateries.

Emma Jacobs is a multimedia journalist and podcast producer based in Paris. @ECJacob

1. Gesto

Gesto is a tapas restaurant with a creative, eco-conscious vibe in the Florence's food scene. You won't receive a menu or have to try out your Italian pronunciations on one of the wait-staff. Instead, diners write their selections on the same little wood-framed chalkboard on which their food will be served later. With high ceilings and modern fixtures, it's still cozy with a dark wood bar and lively evening crowds and is friendly enough for some families to bring their children, who will be charmed by the tiny hamburgers. The food items are cheap (usually under five euros), so you can try several items. Meals also come with a side of crunchy bread "chips." Gesto has a long list of drink options, and of course everyone will appreciate finishing off the meal with a tiny cheesecake or panna cotta.
Photo courtesy of Gesto

2. Amblé

Amblé is impossible to stumble across—it will take some wandering (see what we did there?). It's tucked into a tiny courtyard just off the Arno River, reachable by a narrow alley. Those who find their way to this secret eatery will discover a trendy, very affordable spot for lunch. Amblé serves simple but tasty sandwiches made from local ingredients and topped with homemade mayo. Check off your preferences on paper menus and hand them in at the counter—there are hostesses but no wait staff. Amblé is extremely environmentally minded, recycling, they say, 90 percent of the material they use. There are no water bottles or even plastic straws and the chefs avoid ingredients like white sugar in their desserts. The colorful seating out front is made from recycled woods and other materials and is also for sale.
Photo courtesy of Emma Jacobs

3. La Ménagère

La Ménagère is perhaps the concept shop to end all concept shops, opened in 2015 in the increasingly hip San Lorenzo neighborhood of the city. This spot is packed with atmosphere thanks to stonewalls and floor-to-ceiling glass facing the street letting in lots of daylight. The address once housed a housewares store by the same name dating back to 1896. The enormous space now has a coffee shop, a more traditional-looking restaurant, a boutique selling home goods, a florist and a cocktail bar, with a few tables out front for those who prefer street-side dining. As if that weren't enough, the space also hosts music shows at night. All these options keep La Ménagère busy from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., and the food menu turns from full plates to aperitivo (appetizer sized dishes similar to tapas) after 6 in the evening.
Photo by Olga Makanrova/La Ménagère

4. Ditta Artigianale

Italy is so bound to coffee drinking it's hard to imagine Florence isn't filled with specialty caffeine. Ditta Artigianale has brought the kind of gourmet coffee culture preoccupied with exacting bean preparation and filtered coffee to espresso country. Since started by a champion Italian barista in 2014, it has become an extremely popular spot with locals, tourists and ex-pats, and not just for the coffee. Their lunch and special menu of gin and tonics are equally appealing. The gin is paired with specially selected tonic water. Their coffee is somewhat more expensive than you'll find elsewhere in Florence but the prices for food and drinks are quite reasonable. You can also take home a bag of their roasts, made from East African and South and Central American coffee beans.
Photo courtesy of Ditta Artigianale

5. Mercato di San Lorenzo

The food market also known as the Mercato di San Lorenzo is housed in an impressive, glass-roofed building that dates back to the 1870s. The downstairs is the more traditional sort of food market you'll find in many cities, though of course in addition to the fresh produce, here you'll find local specialties like truffle honey and Italian sausages and cheeses. In 2014, a new section of the market was inaugurated on the second floor. In addition to views of the busy floor below, this level now features both a sleek food court with seating for several hundred and a cooking school. The stands upstairs offer more of an education, with food preparation often taking place behind windows. While the stalls downstairs close in the afternoon, the first floor Mercato Centrale stays open much later, closing at midnight.
Photo by Federica Di Giovanni/Mercato Centrale