The concept of fast food in Italy is a little bit different than what we’re used to in the United States. Sure, McDonalds and the other chains have a presence, but when a meal on the go in Florence is in order, there are local, authentic options.
When visiting Florence, or Italy in general, I’d encourage you to sit down at meal time. Take a bit of time to enjoy your company and the food. However, as the parent of a three year old, I also know that’s not always practical. Yesterday I mentioned the rather set meal times at Florentine restaurants, and today I’ll provide some options when those just won’t work.
Pizza is a fairly common convenience food in Italy, and is one of our go-to snacks when we’re pushing meltdown mode or when we want to grab something to go and maybe eat back at the apartment or somewhere with a view. Keep in mind that when you think of Florence, though, pizza isn’t a staple or a “native” food. You’ll want to pay attention to the product or you’ll end up with a tourist pizza that may have come from a microwave. Our standby is Pizzeria Toto, which makes a pretty good pizza Napoletana using a wood oven. They sell slices (al taglio) and make a very good margherita, although my daughter loves the four cheese (quattro formaggi) without sauce. They also make good schiacciata (Florentine focaccia, basically) which I’d recommend with prosciutto and pecorino. Best of all, they don’t stop between 3 and 7 like a restaurant would.
They have two locations within a couple of blocks of each other, which doesn’t make a ton of sense to me, but my preference is the smaller location in Piazza dei Cimatori, between Via Tavolini and Via Dante Aligheri.
I will warn you that the other location usually has a lady outside trying to get people to come in. I avoid that one. The two locations are in fact related, but I think the pizza is better at the smaller one – and is generally where I see most of the students and locals (presumed by their Florentine accents) going. Prices are pretty reasonable. My last visit netted a slice of quattro formaggi, two schiacciate with prosciutto, a can of coke and a bottle of water for 13 euro. They also sell house wine by the plastic glass at 1.50 euro, and I’m not going to lie, it’s very serviceable at that price.
A more recent addition to the city is what amounts to an upscale food court in the Mercato Centrale on the first floor, named appropriately, Primo Piano al Mercato Centrale. Recall that in Italy and much of Europe, the first floor is what we’d call the second in the US, so it’s the first floor above ground level. If you weave through the street stalls selling leather and other (in my opinion) junk to tourists, you’ll find the Mercato Centrale, currently decorated brightly for Christmas. Food is served here all day, from 10am to midnight, making it very convenient.
Upstairs you’ll find all sorts of things, mostly outposts of local purveyors and restaurants serving some of their specialties. I’d recommend finding a place to sit first, avoiding the tables with place settings unless you plan to eat at the restaurant immediately in front of it. Sit down and someone should be over to ask if you want something to drink, but your choices here are water or beer – order yourself some water, then head over to the Chianti Classico stall if you want a glass or a bottle of wine. If you order water, you’ll pay the server directly, otherwise everything else comes from and is paid for from the stalls you choose. For your coffee after the meal, the long bar on the opposite side of the beer counter serves coffee – pay first at the register then bring your slip to the counter.
In terms of food, it’s hard to go wrong up here. We sampled just about everything over the span of nine days. If you’re from the US, you really ought to try the burger from the burger stall – they’re made from Chianina beef with a little bit of pork fat mixed in for moisture, seasoned simply, and topped with your choice of condiments on a brioche roll. I strongly recommend getting tomatoes, greens and sauteed onions on top. You’ll see those in big bowls, ask for those. It’s a really good burger made with high quality ingredients, the kind you might make at home, with a lot of effort on the right thickness, cook temp, quality of toppings and bread. It’s not cheap like a fast food burger, 7 euro if I recall, plus another 3 for fries that I also liked quite a bit. However, it is very good. Another option is the fritto misto (mixed fry) from the seafood stall, which is lightly breaded and deep fried, served in a bowl with a lemon wedge. It’s awesome, but be forewarned that you will be served everything with its head, legs or fins still attached. There are other stalls where you could even get a bistecca Fiorentina, various foods accented with truffle (both white and black, at the time of this post), Sicilian-style fried foods (including something resembling a chicken nugget, lightly breaded and fried chicken breast pieces, for the picky eaters) and tripe or lampredotto sandwiches (which I’d recommend downstairs from Da Nerbone instead, but they close at 2pm).
I hope these provide some off-hour, quick dining options for your next trip to Florence. If you have other places you like, please leave them in the comments!