Florence – the art of the panini
After travelling for a few weeks around Tuscany and indulging in three and four course meals, sometimes twice a day (when in Rome….), we were happy to arrive in Florence and see that it is okay to have just a sandwich for lunch. Every second store in Florence seems to be a sandwich shop and standing at the counter with a sandwich is part of the lunch routine here or so it seems.
To be honest, most panini didn’t look that appetizing to me, having been prepared in advance and sitting under glass waiting to be picked up by a hungry customer. I’d rather have a panino (that’s single) freshly made just for me.
While walking around exploring Florence we saw a tiny little “hole in the wall” kind of place that had a constant lineup in front. We passed by it a few times en route here and there before finally stopping to investigate. Turns out that this is one of the most popular panini shops in Florence serving made to order panini and a glass of local vino to customers who then stand on the street beside the shop to enjoy their take out Florence style. Once we tried their sandwiches we were totally hooked and went back again and again.
I Due Fratellini (the two brothers), has been in continued operation since 1875 and is now run by Armando and Michele Perrini. The tiny shop, only a few feet across and barely a couple of feet deep is proof that size does not matter. They make the best sandwiches out of this place and serve some of the best Toscana vino. Their panini is made with only local ingredients, offering a selection of some 25 filling combination or you can ask for your own filling combo if you can’t find exactly what you want. There is a kitchen in the basement that they reach through a flight of stairs behind the counter. I assume that this is where the delicious toppings and sauces are made. The sandwiches are prepared with crusty buns and grilled to soft perfection, then wrapped in parchment and handed over to you together with your wine and a few napkins to catch the juicy drips.
A single panino is only 3 Euros and a glass of wine only 2 Euros, so for 5 Euros you can have a delicious lunch. The selection includes a whole bunch of prosciutto (of course, we are in Tuscany), tuna, anchovies, cheeses and more. Parsely sauce seems to appear on many sandwiches and is completely delish. My favourite panino was the goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes in oil that I went back for several times (creature of habit).
The menu is posted on the wall and you have time to contemplate it while waiting in line to place your order. The Line goes very quick though, they have the art of the panini down to a science. In no time you will be handed a warm, crisp yet soft panini with a delicious filling of your choice. The menu is printed in Italian and English and hand translated into an Asian language to help the loads of tours that stop by here for lunch.
The shop is located in a convenient area on Via dei Cimatori, 38R, close to Piazza della Signoria on a side street just off the larger Via dei Calzaiuoli. Don’t miss stopping by for a panino if your in Florence.
The second place that has an eternal line up serving big, hearty panini with local wine is All’ Antico Vinaio, behind the Palazzo Vecchio also not far from Piazza della Signoria but on the opposite end. I have heard about this place and went searching for it one afternoon and was totally hooked again. How much good food can one have?
The shop looks like a family affair with the owner Daniele Mazzanti running it with other family members with great efficiency and focus on top quality. This unique sandwich shop is prized by locals and frequented by tourists from all over the world. The lineup was long but we waited and it went very quick. To meet demand they opened another shop directly across the narrow street that apparently serves the same sandwiches and had a shorter lineup but I was advised by people in line to wait in the longer line because “they make the better panini”. Well, we waited in the longer lineup and were deliciously rewarded.
Their panini is made on a very special crisp and thin schiacciata bread that they cut in half and grill to chewy perfection. The bread is an experience, made especially for All’Antico Vinaio by a an local artisanal bakery that partially bakes it in a wood fire oven with the final baking done in the Antico Vinaio kitchen several times throughout the day. Just the bread is an experience, with its yeasty fragrance permeating the air.
The fillings selection is endless and makes it difficult to decide what you want. Of course porchetta is a big item there as are prosciutto and other meats but preferring to eat vegetarian I was eyeing the several grilled vegetables that you can combine with cheeses and greens. We picked a couple of panini with roasted eggplant rounds, homemade eggplant spread and cheese and another made with artichoke puree, pecorino cheese, and the same delicious eggplant spread, both out of this world delicious.
You pour yourself wine from the several super Tuscan IGT (Indicazione geografica tipica) wines and either walk outside to have your panino on the street or settle in one of the few tables tucked in the back of the shop, likely sharing your table with other people. We sat inside and loved the food, the wine and observing the dynamics of the place.
Don’t miss either one of these panini spots if you are visiting Florence, or I will be really really disappointed:).