Hole in the Wall
If Italy is food heaven, Tuscany is one of its archangels, with centuries of tradition, wonderful products and some of the finest wines the country has to offer. A Tuscan meal is robust the way a Tuscan city is fortified: simple, sometimes brutal everyday fares better eaten in family restaurants, invigorating dishes one would comfort oneself after a long day feuding with members of a rival Guild five or six centuries ago, when the Medici were ruling a flat Earth.
Tranvai is such a place. Situated on the Oltrarno, at the Renaissance city limit, it borders a municipal square were kids play football and is a relatively modern eating spot, its name and decoration referring to the local early 20th century tramway. It is a family restaurant which menu never changes but for the daily special: they definitely know what they are doing, so well indeed that for a couple of years you can spot Japanese help in the open kitchen. One can’t go wrong with a place where Japanese come to learn the right way to fry zucchini flowers.
Very moderately priced and displaying an good wine list, Tranvai gives you the feeling that you are visiting relatives, a couple of which are great cooks. This is the kind of osteria one returns to, time and again, ordering the same thing because it has been brought to perfection without losing its proverbial simplicity. For the educated palate, the cervello fritto (fried lamb brains) or the lampredotto (a particularly suave variety of tripe) are a feast, but there are numerous options for the less adventurous.
At one’s last visit, a succulent meal consisted in a shared plate of fried zucchini flowers, followed by a panzanella (a Tuscan fresh vegetable salad based on bread crumbs and olive oil) and a pasta alla chiantigiana, a fragrant mix of tomato, red wine and Tuscan sausage, which tasted even better than it smelled. Not exactly high cuisine, but one wanted the plate to last forever…
Friendly locals mix with tourists, who can be overheard asking genuinely puzzling questions (“How do say spaghetti in Italian?” is one’s all-time favorite). The noise level can be high and the sitting is not exactly comfy, but who cares when a smiling lady you wish were your homely Tuscan cousin brings you a dish worthy of a prince? When in Rome, do like Romans do; when in Florence, dine at Tranvai.