Calabrian Eateries: Trattoria in Cosenza

GOOD FOOD FOR A GOOD PRICE

Every once and a while you happen upon a restaurant that you want to tell everyone you know about—friends of friends of friends, in modern parlance. But then you stop and say to yourself, “If everyone finds out about this place, I won’t be able to get a table.” Worse yet, they’ll expand into the adjacent storefront, hire new people in the kitchen, and take on additional, and potentially ill-humored wait staff. Of course, between renovations, upgrades and marketing to maintain the expanded service, the prices will invariably go up.

You can’t hold yourself back. You just tell your close friends, and it spreads from there.

Calabria has a lot of mom and pop establishments, little family-run trattorias where, as they say, si mangia bene e si spende poco – you eat well for a good price. Luckily, there are also plenty of good home cooks and people eat out less than, say, in the United States, so these small locales can remain intimate in ambiance, hospitality and, most importantly, style of food preparation.

Trattoria in Cosenza

A Cantina, Trattoria in Cosenza

PLAN AHEAD

I stumbled into one such family establishment on a recent trip to Cosenza. The proprietor of my B&B had suggested a couple of places in the historical center: a slightly more formal restaurant that he usually recommended to his foreign guests, and another locale with what he described as having a more characteristic atmosphere. The second spot, a trattoria tipica cosentina (restaurant with typical cuisine of Cosenza), sounded like what I was looking for.

But alas, as I entered A Cantina that evening, the cook came out from behind her stove into the space that held seating for just 20, shook her head and apologized. They were fully booked for the night. So I went to the other restaurant where I had an adequate meal.

trattoria in Cosenza

lagane e ceci

I then made a reservation for the following afternoon. I had learned my lesson. Calling ahead and booking in advance is essential with small places, particularly those out-of-the-way locations, where upon finally arriving at your destination by way of a series of incredibly windy, complicated backcountry roads, you may find a little handwritten sign taped to the door: Closed – in mourning.

A CANTINA, Trattoria in Cosenza

When I arrived the next day a few minutes after 1 pm, there was just one client, smoking a cigarette at one of the handful of outdoor tables. I was warmly greeted by the proprietor, very pleasant and full of both knowledge of the local cuisine and the energy to deliver it in an engaging manner. His daughter, the chef, then came over to take my order, enumerating the various options for antipasti, primi (first courses) and secondi (second courses). As the waiter on the previous evening had served an enormous portion of lagane e ceci (a typical dish from Cosenza of fresh pasta with chickpeas), reminding me as he put it down that I had mentioned how hungry I was when I came in, I decided to try and eat a bit lighter and skip the first course at lunch.

Calabrian establishments pride themselves on their antipasti, which are more often than not meals in themselves. Cold dishes, warm dishes—they just keep coming. I opted for a “light” assortment of appetizers: eggplant, sundried tomatoes and exceedingly fresh porcini mushrooms in olive oil, a tomato salad, ‘nduja spread (spicy sausage mixture) and a trio of cheeses: caciocavallo from the Sila mountains (stretched curd variety typical of southern Italy), pecorino (sheep) and ricotta.

Antipasti calabresi

Eggplant and sundried tomatoes in olive oil, porcini mushrooms, beans, tomato salad and ‘nduja spread

Delicate would be the word I’d use to describe all of the above. The cacciocavallo was softer than I had previously experienced, light and flavorful. The proprietor said that it was partly due to the fact that they didn’t store their cheeses in the refrigerator. The ‘nduja went down like butter, but I had to stop myself at a certain point as its spiciness warranted bread for which I was quickly running out of space in my stomach.

Italian cheese

caciocavallo silano, pecorino, ricotta

Coniglio alla cacciatora (hunter’s style rabbit) with a side of chicory sautéed in olive oil with peperoncino followed. The simple, hearty yet subtle meat dish balanced well with the savory greens bathed in oil and accentuated with a bit of spice. It was all accompanied by a quarto (quarter of a liter) of the rich, dry house red, poured out of a large, unmarked glass jug.

A Cantina Cosenza

Hunter’s Rabbit with a side dish of chicory

IL DOLCE – THE SWEET

The restaurant filled quickly. A few groups of 5 or 6, a small family, and next to me, a young couple from Catanzaro, the region’s capital about 60 miles away, taking in what Cosenza had to offer, both artistically and culinarily.

Just as I was thinking I had better be getting down to the train station, pastries were being delivered. I only had time for a quick bignè and a glass of licorice liquor. And the sweetest part of all? It came to 18 Euros.

Don’t tell your friends about this delightful trattoria in Cosenza.

Trattoria in Cosenza

FRESH MUSHROOM DELIVERY, A CANTINA, CORSO PLEBISCITO, COSENZA, CALABRIA


Did you enjoy this virtual trattoria in Cosenza? Experience another delicious Calabrian meal in my post Calabrian Eateries: Trattoria La Collinetta in Martone Read more about Cosenza in the post Cosenza: Old and New and in Calabria: The Other Italymy award-winning non-fiction book about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in this fascinating southern Italian region.

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Comments 12

  1. An EXCELLENT article! It was well written and the food pictures were tempting & inviting! I could almost taste the food!!
    You made me want to visit this region !

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks! Calabria excels in the food department, and as you say, visiting the region is the best (and in many cases, the only) way to sample it. I’m hungry just thinking about it!

  2. Sounds like an adventure and I am wondering…..what does the “Hunter Style Rabbit” really mean. Everything looks tempting and I enjoyed the read. I hope we can revisit all of this together, soon!

    1. Post
      Author

      Glad you liked the post. “Coniglio alla cacciatura” is a dish found throughout Italy with many variations. Cut into pieces, the rabbit is usually browned in olive oil and then simmered in vinegar with herbs and other ingredients such as carrots and celery, depending on local traditions and preferences of the cook.

  3. Hi Karen — you do know that we have an in house Italian chef — it’s unlikely , since we have no
    access to rabbit, that this will be on the menu. The photos were great, and of course we enjoyed
    the article.

    1. Post
      Author
  4. Funnily enough I had exactly the same pleasurable experience at this trattoria just a month ago, while stopping off in Cosenza for 36 hours. In my case a professor that I’d met from the local university strongly recommended A Cantina, and by good fortune I arrived half an hour before they opened for lunch on a Sunday, just in time to book a table. I ordered a very tasty tomato & onion salad and a plate of broad flat pasta with spicy nduja sauce, plus their tiramisu to finish – with two glasses of wine, this came to 17 euros….

    1. Post
      Author

      Wow, it’s great to know that things haven’t changed – and the price certainly hasn’t gone up! I’m in Reggio now and I just happened to walk past the one and only Chinese restaurant in which I’ve ever eaten in all of Italy and about which I wrote a blog post a few years back. The place was still Chinese, but very much modernized. I wondered about the food, but with so much great Italian food around me, it will be a good long while before I repeat such an experience. A Cantina was certainly another story entirely and I’m glad you were able to enjoy it as well. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  5. My family comes from Calabria,and many are still there. I go back as often as I can,these little out of the way places are true gems. The food there is unmatched to anything else I have ever eaten. Great article!

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      Author
  6. Hi Karen,
    Could you please give me the address and phone number of La Cantina? I will be in Cosenza in a few weeks and would love to eat there. It sounds like it would be helpful to make a reservation. Also, I am reading your book and finding it useful as I plan my trip.
    Thank you,
    Susan

    1. Post
      Author

      Glad you’re finding my book helpful with your travel plans. A Cantina Cosentina is located at Corso Plebiscito 12, Cosenza, Italy 87100, and the phone number is
      +39 360 644 519. Have a great trip!

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