“the best paninis in Florence”

Marian Parsonsa slice of life23 Comments

We only had one day in Florence and it happened to be a Monday, so all of the museums were closed.  We arranged to meet with a guide and tour the city for a couple of hours on foot, but an e-mail mishap left us on our own.  Without a plan or a guide, we just walked around the city, map in hand.  I would not advise that!  We did a lot of touring on our own in Paris, but we had a plan and a loose schedule for each day, so we weren’t wandering aimlessly.

But, if you’re going to be aimless, Florence is a pretty place to be aimless in!

So, we strolled and I took pictures.

My mom and I were both craving good, Italian pasta for lunch, which you think would be everywhere, but most of the places on our path seemed to be touristy or didn’t have the kind of pasta dishes we were hoping for.  We finally came across a small restaurant with chairs and tables set up outside, right next to the Duomo.  A street performer played an accordion, providing appropriate ambient music, and it seemed like an all-around nice spot to sit, rest our feet, and eat some pasta!

We sat at an unoccupied table right next to the posted menu and waited to be served.  A gentleman in an apron was hovering around the tables and made eye contact with us, but didn’t approach.  We sat there and he kept looking over at us, almost asking a question in his glances.  He finally walked over and raised his eyebrows inquisitively.  We thought it was obvious why we were sitting there, but we asked for a menu.

“Oh, we don’t have a menu.  You taste a sample and then tell us what you want.”  We looked back at the posted menu and back at him.

“Are you not serving these dishes now?”  I pointed at the menu.

“Oh, that is not our menu.”

Ah…we had accidentally claimed a table for Panini Toscani, a sandwich shop.  The tables and chairs were literally right next to each other with only an invisible line and a few inches dividing the two seating areas.  My mom and I looked at each other and hesitated.  We started to reach for our bags to move the seating area of the restaurant serving pasta.

This movement was interrupted by an American man, in the middle of eating a panini.  He called out to us, “These are the best paninis in Italy!  Every travel website says this is the best place to get paninis.  You’re an idiot if you don’t get a panini here!”   Now, he was not just saying this quietly across the small space between two tables.  He was yelling it over the music and across about three tables of people eating a late lunch.  His voice reverberated off of the Duomo walls and the man in the apron looked at us with anticipation.

I could feel the eyeballs of the other panini patrons on us.

Moving to the other restaurant would mean we would get pasta, but we’d also be sitting inches away from the friendly man in the apron and the American man who said we would be idiots if we made that decision and all of the people watching this exchange.

At that moment, a 40-year-old woman (me) and her mom, who were craving pasta and not paninis, succumbed to peer pressure.

We sat back down.

The man in the apron continued to smile at us and I still felt like we were missing something.   After about five minutes of looking and smiling and surely scrunching my face in confusion, he walked over to us again.  “You go in to taste the sample and then tell them what you want.”

We decided we should go in one at a time, so we didn’t lose our table.  I walked into the sliver-of-a-shop to the starting point.  There was another man in an apron, cutting off small pieces of meat and cheeses.  He handed me one small piece of cheese to taste.  It was creamy and mild, which I liked.  He then had me taste three other pieces of cheese, one at a time, which were progressively sharper and more pungent.  By the time I got to the fourth cheese, it had exceeded my funky cheese limit and I took a little nibble and put the remainder back on the testing plate.

I then tried four varieties of meat, all some kind of ham or salami.  I paired the mildest cheese with a salami and selected arugula and tomatoes as toppings.  They assembled the ingredients and grilled the panini while I paid.

I really wasn’t in the mood for a panini, but the end result was tasty and it was definitely an experience.  I don’t think it was the best ever.  I could’ve used some mayonnaise or honey mustard, but the process was certainly more interesting than simply ordering pasta.  Halfway into the sandwich, I learned that the cheese I liked was sheep’s cheese!  I’ve never knowingly eaten sheep’s cheese before, so it broadened my horizons a bit.

As we enjoyed our sandwiches, a pigeon was shuffling around at our feet.  I know pigeons are pests, but there is something about them that I like.  I enjoyed watching them bathe in water running along the curb, perching like gargoyles on the sides of buildings, and sleeping, tucked into tight little balls, on cathedral steps.  This one was clearly out for some crumbs.  As I observed the bird circling, I noticed it didn’t seem to be walking properly.  The poor pigeon’s feet were tangled together in some hair…

I wish I had a small pair of scissors, so I could free him, but I didn’t and I didn’t even know if the bird would allow me to help.  Even though I knew it was frowned upon, I threw him a few crumbs.  I had pity for the bird and couldn’t help sneaking him some food.

Before we left, I snapped a picture of the panini restaurant’s sign, so I could remember it and share it here on the blog.  The man in the apron saw me framing out the shot and instead of slinking away, he stood in the doorway, crossed his arms, and flashed a big grin.

So, if you’re ever in Florence, get a sandwich from Panini Toscani so no one will call you an idiot…

Or, just sit at the right table and eat what you really wanted in the first place.

“the best paninis in Florence”

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23 Comments on ““the best paninis in Florence””

  1. I think wandering aimlessly around Florence and eating something tasty would be a wonderful experience, even if it wasn’t quite what you had in mind! Such beautiful photos.

  2. When I was in Paris, a man called me a ‘poodle’ because I was standing outside a cafe reading the menu and deciding. I guess there are worse things to be called.

  3. We just returned from Florence as well! Fabulous trip! I’m intrigued by your online painting course. Could you please share which course you are taking?

  4. enjoy your e mails, I love this time of year, and live near the beach, so when we first moved in our home in N.C. I decorated in a beach, cottage theme, now however, I am inspired to go back to the primitive country look. Inspired by the fall weather.

  5. Oh my, so,so funny! Isn’t it strange to be in different culture and have people look at you like you are doing something wrong and you’re trying to figure out what it is?
    Beautiful pictures, than you for letting us feel like we are there with you!

  6. The last time I was in Florence I was 18. On the big bridge over the river with
    all the stalls I bought a new wedding ring for my mother. She wanted a new ring
    and my father thought she should be happy with the one she had from 1926.
    So after she died I had the ring made into a heart (some how they bend one side)
    and I wear it around my neck and remember her and my youth in Florence.

  7. Such a great story and such fun. Thank you for sharing your adventures with us! You can have the pasta on your next trip!

  8. My mouth is watering over your stories of Paris & the panninis. I hope more is in store for us!

  9. Is the Market closed in Florence on Monday’s? I would go there all the time and buy fresh pastas, vegetables, cheese. It is such a fabulous experience. Also shop for wonderful leather garments. I love Florence.

  10. Your panini/pasta experience made me laugh. It was so evocative of what it’s like to be in a different culture, where rituals we take for granted are done differently enough to make the experience totally confusing… er… educational.

  11. Fun story, it made me laugh. I could take a big bite out off your panini, your photo looks great, the panini so fresh and inviting hi hi.
    But the poor pigeon with its bound feet made me very sad, yes they get so close to you but they never let anyone touch them, so you would not have managed to free it from the thread.

  12. We were also there in early fall. Loved Florence with there outdoor markets! I do remember that outdoor cafes often abutted each other and we also found it slightly difficult to distinguish where one ended and another started in most of European cities. But we found them to be our favorite eating venues! Seeing your pics remind me of our trip and the beautiful architecture throughout Europe. Thanks for sharing.

  13. That is so sad, to be in Florence only on a Monday! I hope you rubbed the nose of the bronze boar in the straw market in your picture. It is supposed to ensure a return trip. The next time you go, in addition to the museums, you have to go to the enormous indoor Mercato Centrale in the San Lorenzo area. It is the food market. It’s amazing. Your trip sounds so fun. I wish I were there! Love your blog.

  14. Please tell me you got some extra virgin olive oil on that panini! I don’t think you would miss the mayo or mustard and it then probably WOULD be the best panini ever!

    1. I don’t know if that was on there, but you’re right. That would’ve added some more moisture!

  15. I recognized several of your photos. I’m bummed because the last time I was there, we ate at a very small, dark restaurant that had a pasta with truffle sauce that was incredible. I would have told you about it but I couldn’t remember the name. I do think I could find it tho, and if I ever go back to Florence, I’ll try. I think the panini looks wonderful, but I love sandwiches.

    1. I know! It was such a sweet moment that he wanted to be in the picture. Usually, I have to coax people to be in the shot or they decline altogether.

  16. Florence is such a fun city to visit! And the olive oils and balsamic vinegars are delicious. Definitely some are better than others. We ate sliced hearty bread with olive oil and ground pepper for breakfast at our villa. The olive oil was from the groves on the property. Can you go there and not have amazing fun experiences???

  17. I know EXACTLY where that row of restaurants is – it’s so odd to think that I was in the same place as a woman I admire but have never actually met 😀 – I was in Florence with my son and his buddy for one day only, September 18th, but on Tuesday 😉 – We loved it – and the absolute Best Panini was at All’antico Vinaio, truly. hahaha Thanks for sharing –

  18. I didn’t realize you never had your tour! We just wandered as well. It was a nice non-structured rambling kind of day. I took tons of pictures of the streets and alleys. I would have liked to have wandered off but we stayed close so we would not be far from your hotel for our ride back to Barga. It was a lovely day!

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