It's All Tripe
New York has the hot dog. London has pie and mash. Florence has . . . cow's intestine in a sandwich. The city's traditional street food, lampredotto (the cow's fourth stomach) stewed with tomatoes, has made a big comeback over the last decade, including on the menus of some fine-dining establishments. However, the best places to sample it are still the city's trippai, tripe vendors who sell it from takeaway vans around the center, alongside other, more "regular" sandwiches. The most convenient are in Piazza de' Cimatori and on Via de' Macci at the corner of Piazza Sant'Ambrogio. A hearty, nutritious lunch should come to around 4€. Most are open Monday through Saturday, but close in August, when Florentines flee their city.
A Big Step Up from Ice Cream: Florentine Gelato
Gelato is a Florentine institution -- a creamy, sweet, flavorful food item on a different level entirely from what the English-speaking world calls "ice cream." Making fine Florentine gelato is a craft taken seriously by all except the tourist-pandering spots around major attractions that serve air-fluffed bland "vanilla" and nuclear-waste pistachio so artificially green it glows.
A couple of high-quality national chain vendors have opened up Florence branches. You'll see the lines before you see the goods at Grom, Via del Campanile (tel. 055-216-158; www.grom.it), famous for using only natural and seasonal ingredients in its gelato. Rivareno, Borgo degli Albizi 46r (tel. 055-011-8039) offers a small range of predictably excellent flavors -- mandarin is a big hit here. Both are open daily.
Festival del Gelato, Via del Corso 75r, just off Via dei Calzaiuoli (tel. 055-239-4386; www.festivaldelgelato.com), is one of the few serious contenders right in the center, offering about 50 flavors along with pounding pop music and colorful neon. It's open daily, but closed all January.
Vivoli, Via Isole delle Stinche 7r, a block west of Piazza Santa Croce (tel. 055-239-2334; www.vivoli.it), is still the city's institution. Exactly how renowned is this bright gelateria? Taped to the wall is a postcard bearing only "Vivoli, Europa" for the address, yet it was successfully delivered to this world capital of ice cream. It's open all day Tuesday through Sunday. Nearby Gelateria dei Neri, Via dei Neri 20-22r (tel. 055-210-034) gets less acclaim, but plenty of locals think this is up there with Vivoli. Their ricotta and fig gelato is divine. It's open daily. The best of the "new breed" of Florentine gelateria is Carapina, Via Lambertesca 18R (tel. 055-291-128; www.carapina.it), where a serious commitment to sourcing and seasonality is rewarded with some sensational fruit flavors. It's also open daily.
A block south of the Accademia (pick up a cone after you've gazed upon David's glory) is Carabé, Via Ricasoli 60r (tel. 055-289-476; www.gelatocarabe.com). It offers genuine Sicilian gelato in the heart of Florence, with ingredients shipped in from Sicily by the Sicilian owners. May 16 through September, it's open daily; February 15 through May 15 and October through November 15, it's open Tuesday through Sunday only.
South of the Arno, plenty of Florentines swear by unassuming La Carraia, Piazza N. Sauro 25r (tel. 055-280-695). It's open daily.
Cook Like a Tuscan
Take a walk down Via dei Velluti in the Oltrarno, peek into the furniture restoration studios, watch the artisans practicing their ancient craft, and soon you'll stumble upon another studio devoted to a time-honored art: cooking. For 55€ per person, for example, "In Tavola," Via dei Velluti 18r (tel. 055-217-672; www.intavola.org), will get you started on your culinary quest by showing you how to prepare an easy Tuscan lunch (3 hr.) or a full 4-course dinner (4 hr.; 65€).
In Tavola has taken to the city what agriturismi have been doing for a few years now in the countryside, especially in Chianti. Another good beginner's course is offered by the Villa Rosa di Boscorotondo, near Panzano. For 95€ per person, Vincenzo Regoli shows you the ins and outs of bruschetta, panzanella, spezzatino del Chianti, handmade pasta, and tiramisù. Villa Bordoni, outside Greve offers professional-level classes covering such subjects as "La Cucina Povera." Your 150€-per-person fee covers dinner in the outstanding restaurant, with wine and a guided wine tasting. See www.chianticookingschool.com.
For a full-immersion course in a place that raises its own meat and vegetables, also check out La Petraia, 53017 Radda-in-Chianti (tel. 0577-738-582; www.lapetraia.com), where award-winning chef Susan McKenna Grant will help you make an elegant Tuscan dish with whatever vegetables and herbs are in season. The price is 200€ for a cooking and foraging class that includes a multi-course lunch, an apron, and a copy of her book.
Most farm resorts and luxury hotels throughout Tuscany and Umbria are affiliated with some sort of cooking class these days -- be sure to inquire when you book.
Panem et Cultura
Fabio Picchi was always something of a virtuoso in his restaurant, Cibrèo, where the kitchen is virtually his stage. So it came as little surprise when he actually did open a stage, across Via de' Macci at the Teatro del Sale (tel. 055-200-1492; www.teatrodelsale.com), where one virtuoso on stage accompanies another in his glassed-in kitchen. It is a members-only dining club (membership costs just 5€) where the 30€ price of admission includes not only a dinner buffet of inventive Tuscan specialties but also a performance by an artist, often a jazz performer or dancer with the same disdain for rules and normalcy that pervades Picchi's persona.) Under the guidance of artistic director Maria Cassi, Picchi's wife and a theatrical talent in Italy, the Teatro del Sale aims to bring contemporary culture to a city most often associated with the past. Less dramatic, but equally tasty are the breakfast (9-11am; 7€) and lunch buffet (noon-2:15pm; 20€).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.