It wasn’t until after my (life changing) meal at Dario’s in Panzano (small town in the Chianti region of Tuscany), upon doing a quick google search back at my apartment that I realized the man running the show, Dario Cecchini, is pretty much a legend in the contemporary food world. His website does a great job reflecting the empire he has created in this off the beaten path, small Tuscan town. The man does it all: runs a world renown meat shop, restaurant, lunch spot, is clearly loved by locals, has been interviewed by international food magazines and foodies including one of my crushes: Anthony Bourdain.
This clip shows heart-throb Bourdain and another Italian/New York restaurant playboy, Cesare Casella visiting Cecchini at his meat shop. If you watch the clip, notice around the fourth minute, how effortlessly Cecchini scoops up an alarming amount of lard to slab on to some crostini. Have you ever seen anything sexier??
These connections may not be that exciting to you, but as I have spent many hours of my life scouring the internet reading restaurant reviews and trying to keep up with my father, brother and cousin, Christian Petroni talking about New York restaurants, chefs, cooking and ingredients, markets, what’s in what’s out, who’s closing and opening, etc etc, I was psyched by this epiphany of the greatness that is Dario Cecchini.
I have felt like a sponge over the past year, between my friends living in New York like Leandra who also lives to talk about food. Sometimes we’ve found ourselves acting like giggling school children over pupusa’s at the Brooklyn flea market or cupcakes in the West Village. There are just some of us who LIVE TO EAT. And I, for better or for worse, am one of those people, and clearly surround myself with other food junkies who feel the same way.
So, now let’s get down to business. Two weeks ago, knowing that Robert was coming to visit for a few days, I thought I should plan a little something special for us to do. We already decided on an overnight trip to Bologna so I wanted to come up with an easy day trip – maybe a wine tour, hike, bike ride. The great thing about Tuscany is that there are SO many options for places to explore outside the city centers and with a little effort (you’ll see below) such excursions could be easy to plan. So anyway, my school sends us a monthly email from the Director with updates on events such as soccer games, festivals, and suggestions for excursions. It was here I read about day trips to the Chianti region and a cute lunch spot in Panzano.
In the email provided, I noticed that lunch at this place only included two options, with the first one being:
10, 00 €
half pound burger in a crisp crumb crust
garlic and sage roasted potatoes
vegetables and sliced onions
water with or without bubbles
For those of you who don’t know, Robert is German, born and raised in a small town outside Stuttgart, (whose dear father eats questionable pale greyish/pinkish sliced meat for breakfast…guten morgan!), and when I read that this place was a Macellaria-restaurant serving half pound burgers, the decision was made! There’s only one way to a German’s heart and that is through the promise of a delicious meal centered around meat! Andremo a Panzano!
Since Robert is effortlessly cool about getting us to and fro on our Euro trips, I wanted to show him that I was a functioning human being who could plan a “last minute” casual excursion for us. The email I received about Panzano mentioned that SITA buses headed to Panzano. After visiting SITA’s (useless) website I realized I needed to get out on the town and search for this rogue bus station. Since the only thing I knew was that it was near the Florence train station it took me a good forty minutes to finally find the SITA bus terminal tucked away discreetly behind a cafe. Obviously, the guy in the Information Booth was on his lunch break (which could last up to 2 hours in this part of the world), so I tried to get some information from the Ticket guy. But the Ticket guy said that he would only sell me tickets, not tell me about schedules because it is the Information Guy’s job to tell me about schedules. DO YOU SEE WHERE I’M GOING WITH THIS? It is nearly impossible to get information out of anyone in this town without poking and prodding and getting aggressive (and turning into the obnoxious American that everyone knows and loves). In this instance, I gave up on my hope to have some human contact with a SITA employee, and found the schedule of Departures and Returns on the wall. Just using this resource always makes me a little nervous since it seems like every day, the schedule is a little different. But anyway, such is life and it was a start.
Finally, on the day of the proposed excursion, (an excited) Robert and I headed to the bus station, bought our tickets (only 6 euros roundtrip) and confirmed our return time (which WAS actually different than what was written on the schedule board, so there ya go).The ride was a little over an hour and besides the fact that we happened to be on a bus full of screaming hormonal tweens after they were let out of school, it was an easy ride though through the Tuscan hills.
We passed the larger town, Greve, of Chianti and then arrived at Panzano. On the way out of the bus we asked the driver if he knew of Dario’s, he pointed to a street and mumbled incoherently before closing the door. So we followed the direction he pointed towards and within 2 minutes found the front of the Macelleria. I wish I had a picture of the entrance but I have to admit, I was so HUNGRY and EXCITED and couldn’t wait to get inside. We enterd the Macelleria and at that moment there was no one around. To be honest, my first impression was simply, “well, they have lots of meat!” Then a small boy (probably 12 in an apron) came by and motioned to the back, opened a secret door that led to a flight of stairs. He said something like “su le scale” or “up the stairs.” At this point my heart was pounding as I thought how cool this secret passage was! (I guess I’m entertained easily?)
We get upstairs and find a small, brightly lit room with some people sitting around. Standing sheepishly at the top of the stairs for a moment we had a chance to take it all in. The decor was simple and clean with a long communal wooden table down the center, some kitsch lights and one brightly painted wall.
The waiters were hustling around as there was also outdoor seating. Since it was a cloudy, potentially rainy day, Rob and I decided to sit inside and get to business. The decision of what to eat was simple and we ordered 2 burgers. Our waiter Dante, first spoke to us in Italian, then after hearing my response, switched to English, then after I requested we speak Italian “perche vorre imparare,” he happily entertained us for two hours. Speaking in rapid, simple Italian, after two glasses of wine I was convinced that I was practically fluent since I was easily following the flow of the conversation. In retrospect, he was probably speaking to me like a 5th grader, but whatever, it felt great to shoot the shit with some locals and not feel insecure about my jumbled tenses and placement of my pronouns.
I think I’ve said enough. Writing this post has left me exhausted and with a hankering for some beef.
Just remember, next time you’re in Tuscany, make a day trip to Panzano, appreciate the fact that there is barely any sightseeing you may typically feel obligated to do, and allow yourself the pleasure to sit at Dario’s for two hours one afternoon and enjoy the pleasures of life: simple food, good wine, and warm hospitality.