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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Italy, my award-winning non-fiction book about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in this fascinating southern Italian region.
Sign up below to receive the next blog post directly to your email.