Back in 2011, I wrote a blog called Five Top Abruzzo Restaurants, quickly followed-up with another entitled Another Five Top Abruzzo Restaurants. I then rested on my culinary laurels for a year, before bringing out Five More Top Abruzzo Restaurants.
After a two year gap, high time for another gourmet gallop across the landscape, so welcome to Five Additional Top Abruzzo Restaurants, which might well be the last in the series unless anyone can suggest another way of saying ‘more’, or ‘another’, as even ‘additional’ is stretching artistic licence a bit..
Usual small print disclaimer that a much more accurate – but much more cumbersome – title would be Five Top Restaurants in Southern Abruzzo, but the fact that this series has now ratcheted-up 20 singularly good places to eat and drink all within a reasonable distance of Villasfor2, indicates that wherever you might be living/holidaying in the region, you’ll find similarly enjoyable eating experiences close at hand.
In alphabetical order, let’s start with Amore Mio in San Biase, which is quite simply the nicest agriturismo we’ve found round here. In the kitchen is Tony and front-of-house is his wife Giusy, who’s usually to be found in traditional Abruzzo costume. As with all agriturisimi, the food is lavishly presented: cold antipasti of salami, prosciutto and cheeses followed by typical hot Abruzzese antipasti like cace e ove. Then a couple of pasta dishes: chittara with a meat or tomato ragu and probably also gnocchi cooked in a broth. Char-grilled meats come next, a mix of steak, lamb and pork. Finally dessert. House wine gets replenished until you’ve had enough. Two things stand out. Tony’s skill in the kitchen is way above that of the usual agriturismo; and the decor and setting are delightful.
In the highly scenic village of Pescocostanzo high on the Cinquemiglia Plateau on the fringes of the Majella National Park, you’ll find Da Paolino, run by brothers Paolo and Roberto Castellani. If you were to sit down and list the must-have attributes for a typical Italian trattoria, you’d find them all here – plus a few you hadn’t thought about. It’s busy, bustling and charming. The welcome is warm and the food is good. Lunch is fun and slightly manic; evenings are a little more relaxed. It’s genuinely good and genuinely recommended – but nb a couple of caveats: In both summer and winter, Pescocostanzo is much-visited. Sometimes over-visited. Da Paolino’s reputation as the best place to eat means that it can get too busy, so booking at any time of year is a must. If you can avoid the height of the winter ski season and the summer peaks, you’ll get a better meal and enjoy your visit more. One other point, the restaurant has a downstairs area which you need to avoid at all costs. It’s outer darkness. When you book, insist your table’s in the main restaurant. And if that means a little wait – then wait.
Abruzzo’s Adriatic coast is lined with seafood restaurants of wildly differing standards. Earlier in this series, I mentioned La Sirenella and its prime position right on the beach at Fossacesia Marina. But it’s really a summer-only place as its big plus point is its big, umbrella-shaded terrace overlooking the sea. The restaurant area inside is unremarkable. We like it a lot, but given a choice, we much prefer La Kantina in San Vito Marina. No views, as it’s tucked away down a side-street near the beach, but perhaps because of this you need a real reason to visit – and that reason is the food, which is absolutely terrific. No menu – whatever’s available is recited to you by friendly (and, when it comes to non—Italian speakers, patient) staff. But there’s usually an oven-baked fish (sea bream on our last visit was delicious); the fritto misto is good; and the pasta dishes are inventive and uniformly excellent. And you can always rubberneck what the next-door table’s having. But for some slighty odd reason, antipasti aren’t available at lunchtime – only in the evening. Don’t be put off by the rather ordinary (and rather scruffy) dining area that the first thing you see on entering. This seems to be the locals’ haunt (And because it’s a real favourite with locals, La Kantina’s a year-round ‘must book’ place.) You’ll be seated in a much nicer, adjacent dining area.
We’re on our third favourite pizzeria since arriving here in late 2007, when the Parco della Majella in Guardiagrele was actually a wannabe fine dining establishment that simply wasn’t. Now, revamped and revitalised it serves what in our view are the best local pizzas you can get. Happy to acknowledge that what’s my favourite pizza needn’t necessarily be yours, but if you like the base to be thin and crispy; of a generous size; with perfectly balanced toppings and – crucially – cooked in a wood-fired oven, chances are you’ll be a happy person if one of these gets placed in front of you. Usual Italian deal of either ‘red’ pizza (with a tomato base); or ‘white’ (with just mozzarella) before your toppings of choice are added. Significantly, it’s only since we started going to the Parco della Majella that I’ve taken to ‘red’ pizzas. Why ? Elsewhere, I find the tomato sauce can make the base soggy. Here, it doesn’t. The base stays crispy until the last mouthful. Aside from pizza, pasta and char-grilled meat on offer too, with a way above-average tagliata (that’s a steak, sliced thickly and served slice on a bed of rocket, shaved parmesan and balsamic vinegar) for meat lovers. Wine and beer are just fine and you can eat outside in summer. Until favourite pizzeria number four looms over the horizon, this’ll do just fine.
By happy chance, because it begins with a ‘V’, the best in this little roundup comes last. La Vineria di Salnitro in San Martino sulla Marrucina seems to have been carved out of the thick stone walls around San Martino’s old town. The restaurant looks like it’s been there since the dawn of time, but in fact just for some five or six years. The lighting is expertly subtle and the decor is quirky. As you walk in, you’ll see – actually you can’t really miss – a full-size female mannequin, dressed in black lingerie and holding a trombone. If that makes you smile, you’ll feel at home in the shabby-chic surroundings. If not, you’ll have to wait to be won over by the food. The menu features organic, locally-sourced produce; is small, (a couple of antipasti; a couple of pasta dishes; and a single main course), and changes daily. There’s an English version available. It’s delicious. I began with a little patty of rabbit, spiked with tart berries; a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo risotto; then pork fillet with a Cabernet Sauvignon reduction. Dessert, was a perfect little baked cheesecake. Service, by the genial padrone Angelo is efficient and unobtrusive. His choice of jazz-based background music is impeccable. Coming across La Vineria provided such an unexpected surprise; the surroundings so different from every other restaurant in Italy we’ve ever been to; that we fervently hoped the food wouldn’t disappoint. That it didn’t – and that the bill for two only came to a notch over €50 – mark La Vineria down as somewhere genuinely special.
By David Brenner