In early autumn, EPBAC (Eats Pizza But Avoids Cheese) and I had 12 days in Italy. The trip included beautiful sights, perfect weather, and the fabulous food we had anticipated. It is true, though, that many of Italy’s most beautiful (and hence popular) destinations have become tourist towns. One might expect that in Venice, but it’s also true in the walled towns of Tuscany.
|EPBAC and a slice. Click any pic to enlarge.|
These ancient cities look much like they did centuries ago, with narrow cobblestone streets and stone buildings both modest and grand. But just about every first floor has been turned into some sort of shop to cater to tourists. Happily, it’s not (yet) GAP, Starbucks, and McDonald’s. A lot of local flavor remains. Still, we had modest expectations for our brief visit to San Gimignano when we sought out lunch.
Mostly because we didn’t have a lot of time, we looked for a quick lunch rather than a sit-down meal with table service. On Via San Matteo, we stumbled upon a small storefront window selling pizza “al taglio” – by the slice. A quick glance at the large slices indicated that they would be, at least, better than typical by-the-slice American pizza. I discovered that the counter girl did not speak English as I attempted to buy one plain slice and one with sausage or pepperoni. There were no slices visible that had any meat toppings, but after a few false starts I was able to get a plain sliced enhanced “con prosciutto” as she simply added some thin shavings of cured ham to the cooked slice.
The slices were very large triangles, with a very thin, crisp, rigid crust. They were served on a triangle of cardboard that was a much more effective support than the round paper plate you might expect. We strolled to a nearby piazza to eat them on this warm, summerlike day in Tuscany. At the very first bite, I was amazed and delighted to get such terrific pizza in a tourist destination. The crust had a delightful crunch, crispy but not cracker-like, and the flavor of great Italian bread. The crust had a lovely char underneath. The bright red sauce was lively and perfectly proportioned, while the cheese was mostly a role player.
By the second bite, I knew I was going back for another slice, and I ordered one with mushrooms. The mushrooms were tasty – more likely fresh than canned – but the overall experience was not much different than the plain slice. Each big slice was €2.80, which I regard as a great value in a tourist spot. Over twelve days and six cities, Italy offered up one delight after another, and finding destination pie in a tourist town was certainly one of them.