Ristorante Il Casalingo

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The name says it all. This is “cucina casalinga” home style cooking. This tiny sliver of a restaurant, deep in the heart of one of Florence’s few remaining authentic neighborhoods, is the type of place many tourists dream of finding – and as authentic as they come.

Enter through a small front door, just beyond the local down-town shopping district, the room is minimal and spare, recently redone in pale neutral tones for a shabby not-quite chic décor, which is still bright, open and clean. Pass by the large virtually untouched bar, and the small kitchen into the main dining room. On nice days a few small tables are squeezed onto the narrow table overlooking the stream.

Come at 1 pm and you will already see older retired regulars sitting at the tiny two-top tables in front; or you may see grandma finishing off her lunch and snoozing in the corner. Grandma used to run the kitchen, now her daughter has taken over at the stoves, and her granddaughter runs the dining room.

A simple handwritten photocopied menu comes to the table. Yes, there are some standards on a printed menu including crostini, but nobody considers these. The back page has the handwritten specials of the day. Pasta con Ragu (meat sauce), funghi (mushrooms), or allo Scoglio (mixed shellfish) on Fridays or Saturdays. A list of classic Tuscan home cooking follows: Arista (roast pork loin), Polpettone (meatloaf), Baccala alla Livornese (fried cod in tomato sauce), or Coniglio (rabbit) depending on the day.

Prices at lunch can’t be beat. 7 euros for a pasta, bottle of water, ¼ liter of wine and fruit; 10 for a meat course with side dish, water, wine and fruit; or 13 euro for pasta, meat, side dish, bottle of water, ¼ liter of wine and fruit for dessert. You won’t find prices this good, or such authentic home cooking anywhere in the historic center – and you’d be pressed to find it anywhere.

Pasta is either spaghetti or penne, the success depends on the sauce. The “Scoglio” is first rate with bright and flavor fresh shellfish including tiny clams, mussels, shrimp and chopped calamari; as is a recent Pasta alla Norma with silky fried eggplant, smooth tomato sauce and a generous heaping of shaved salty Ricotta Salata. Amatriciana with tomato and sautéed pancetta is less remarkable.

Seconds are a sure thing: richly flavorful tender rabbit in its own jus, fatty roasted spareribs simply seasoned with salt and pepper so the pork flavor shines, delicate meat loaf with mild flavor cloaked in a simple tomato sauce. All come with side dishes which if you’re lucky will include sautéed artichokes or even better Fagiolini in Umido (stewed green beans in tomato sauce) which looks like an overcooked disaster, but tastes just like a Tuscan grandmother would make them.

It all comes followed with just washed fresh fruit. This is how Tuscans eat at home. For the tourists who seek out the authentic, it is a dream come true, for locals who work in the neighborhood, it could be too.

Signature Dishes: Penne with Ragu, Polpettone (Meatloaf)
Get It!: Spaghetti allo Scoglio (Spaghetti with Shellfish and Tomato), Coniglio in Umido (Rabbit), Fagiolini in Umido (Green Beans in Tomato Sauce)

Via Boccaccio 57r. Tel: +39 055 576003. Closed Sunday. Lunch Monday – Saturday.

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