Thursday, March 17, 2011

Garantito IGP - San Frediano's Trattoria Sabatino: As We Were (And Still Are) In An Old Florentine Neighborhood

This time i take the stage:

When I first moved to Florence in 1982 I was a student, and like most students, lived on a shoestring budget. Which means I didn't eat out often. And would have eaten out considerably less than I did had it not been for the Trattoria Sabatino, an elongate hole in the wall in Borgo San Frediano, whose walls were an improbable glossy pea green, while the floor, I remember, was of uneven terracotta and the window in the back was rather small. But it was open day and night on weekdays, and Valerio and Laura, who took care of the serving, always greeted me (and everyone else) with a smile, and ushered me to a place. As I said, a place; if the trattoria was already full you could find yourself sitting next to an old-age pensioner, someone from a nearby office, or a traveler from much further away. It added a touch of adventure, and I had many interesting conversations.

The cooking? Casalingo, which in Italian means home cooking, and in restaurants often means local cooking with chefly touches that may introduce creative variations (some brilliant and others odd), and generally includes oversight and attention to presentation that go beyond what you'll find in a home. Not at Sabatino's; here the cucina casalingo was the real deal, of the sort that some of the old age pensioners and locals could likely have just as easily cooked up at home, except if they had they'd have had to cook, and wouldn't have enjoyed the banter in the trattoria.

The place had a lived in feel, and for many was a second home. And had been for a while; it was founded in 1956, by Sabatino and Fidalma Buccioni, who realized they couldn't go it alone, and drafted the help of other family members, in particular their 12-year old son Valerio, who quit school and began to wait tables and do whatever else was necessary while his parents worked in the kitchen. Florence was very different then, with (for many) a slower pace of life, and they stayed open afternoons, with the many of the patrons who had finished their meals staying on to play cards, talk and drink wine. With time Valerio met Laura, the two married, and she joined him in helping serve their patrons.

And life at the trattoria continued to follow the ebb and flow of life in Florence, both good and bad; in November 1966 they watched with helpless frustration from their apartment above the trattoria as the flood waters raced down the street; when they receded the bandone (the hinged metal shutters of the storefront) was stove in, but Sabatino managed to lift them, to devastation and ruin -- the waters had risen almost to the ceiling, and they found their two cats cowering on one of the high shelves where they put their wine bottles. It took them two weeks to dig out, during which time many of their suppliers brought them -- by boat, because the roads were impassable -- food and other necessities, including a demijohn of drinking water. When they reopened, the 16th day after the flood, there were 6 inches of sawdust on the floor to absorb the mud the patrons tracked in.

And so life continued, with Valerio and Laura's daughters (whom I recall coming in after school in the 80s) joining them, Ilaria in the hall and Letizia in the kitchen, until a sad day in 1998, when the landlords decided not to renew their lease -- people protested, and the city government met (and ate) in the trattoria, but to no avail: Sabatino closed, to be replaced by a laundrymat.

Fortunately Valerio had somewhere to store their things, because they soon found a new place, one that is considerably larger and airier, in Via Pisana next to the Porta San Frediano. Painting -- there is still green on the walls, though not as much -- hanging the menu box (the menus are still typed up daily on a manual typewriter) outside the door, placing the Bancone da Mescita (the marble bar from which they once sold wine) by the entrance, arranging their tables and chairs, remounting the shelves, which aren't quite as high as they used to be and putting new bottles of wine on them, and all of their old clients came hurrying home.

To enjoy the same dishes they always have, simple soups and pasta al sugo or al pomodoro, a variety of roasts including beef (with potatoes), veal, pork, chicken, and guinea hen, steak, if you want it, fish on Fridays, seasonal vegetables, cheese, and seasonal desserts -- the last time I went was Carnevale, and there were cenci and schiacciata alla fiorentina. And a jar of brandied cherries on the bancone, with a sign saying "don't help yourself," because people did.

The wheel of life continues to turn; Ilaria has married Massimo, who waits tables with her, while their daughters, who are still little, will soon begin to stop by after school. A slice of one of the old Florentine neighborhoods as it once was, and that I hope will never change.

Trattoria Sabatino
Via Pisana 2/R (by the Gate)
Tel 055 225 955
Prices: Reasonable!

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

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