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Ascoli Piceno - Recommended Restaurants and Caffes

Valerie Schneider (Valerie)

Recommended Restaurants

Many of the restaurants in this part of the country do not have written menus. Instead, the offerings change regularly and are recited orally, which may be challenging if you don't speak Italian; at many of these establishments English is not spoken. If you're adventurous or somewhat confident in your knowledge of food lingo though, you'll be rewarded with wonderful, home-cooked meals in family-run joints that many tourists don't experience. We've found that prices are very reasonable regardless of not having a written tab to consult and have never felt cheated.

Despite Ascoli Piceno's location a mere 30 kilometers from the Adriatic, seafood is not especially common inland. La cucina delle colline (hill country cuisine) is more prevalent. The Abruzzo and Marche regions are known for hearty fare with a heavy dependence on pork and lamb; sheep's milk cheeses, truffles, and mushrooms are also heavily utilized. Homemade egg pastas are much utilized, as well. Olive all'Ascolana are made from a particular local, giant olive stuffed with a mixture of meats, breaded and fried. It sounds odd but is delicious. On the coast, the olive all'ascolana are stuffed with seafood.

Sunday evening passeggiata

Sunday evening passeggiata

Trattoria dell'Arengo

Just off Piazza Arringo
The blackboard proclaims the house specialty is Grilled Meat (carne alla brace). And that is true. But they also offer very good pasta specialties and a fantastic antipasto sampler that could be a meal in itself. Containing six plates of regional specialties, the antipasto is a great beginning (we frequently order one portion to share) or could serve as a primo course. Fettuccine with woodsy porcini mushrooms, a great rendition of spaghetti all'amatriciana, and mushroom-sauced ravioli all make frequent appearances here. The touted grilled meats are top-notch, and top-sized.

The ambiance is fairly basic but the pretty linens add a touch. In the summer they put a few tables outside surrounded by planters. The wait-staff seems harried at times, but are friendly as they bustle about, and one or two speak a bit of English.

Da Middio

Via delle Canterine. Closed Sunday and Monday.
This unobtrusive eatery is easy to miss; at first pass it looks like an ordinary shop window. Those fortunate enough to find it – and find an open table – will be amply rewarded. You may be seated an already-occupied table in communal fashion in order to fit you in. Unabashedly communist, the owners have the sickle and hammer prominently featured on their receipts and shirts (cutely replacing the hammer with a fork). This is a good choice for vegetarians as they always have a couple of vegetable-based pasta plates.

Reservations are recommended if you don't want to risk being turned away. At dinner there is an ample spread of antipasti; tell them when you've had enough and are ready to move on the primi or the plates will keep rolling out.

The menu changes constantly and is oral. The penne with zucchini is noteworthy, as is the orrechiette with peppery broccoletti. Secondi usually feature lamb, veal and/or pork in some form, but also sometimes chicken and fish dishes. Contorni are basic, normally tending toward potatoes, salad and sauteed greens, or peas with prosciutto. There is a fair selection of wines and the house red is very agreeable and inexpensive. I've never been offered dessert but nor have I inquired; I'm always too full by the end of every meal.

Dietro Le Quinte

Via Q. C. Rufo 14. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Another typical Ascolana restaurant, meaning the menu changes all the time and is recited, rather than written. I'll say up front that service can be slow, so be aware of that going in and it won't detract from the meal. The menu is fixed price and includes all courses, dessert, wine, water and coffee. Quite a deal.

Begin with the antipasto which normally consists of mixed meats (prosciutto, salami), cheese, lentils or beans stewed in a tomato and pancetta sauce, and cured olives. The antipasto is not offered at lunch but they'll add it on by special request if you want it. Primi vary but often include cannelloni, ravioli or another stuffed pasta, spaghetti all'Amatriciana, your pasta choice topped with ragu, a soup or risotto, and another original dish. Secondi frequently feature grilled meats, but may also sometimes offer meatballs (a real down-home treat made from ground veal), or spezzatino di pollo – braised chicken pieces with olives. Naturally, the dishes change all the time and I've rarely encountered the same main course twice.

Prices are 12 Euro for lunch and 15 Euro for dinner. Credit cards are not accepted!

Il Vagabondo

Via d'Argillano 29. Closed Tuesday.
If you find yourself struggling with Italian and want to fall back on some cozy English for a meal, this is your place. Run by a former cruise ship maitre'd, the owner knows how to schmooze his guests and make them feel welcome. He has a basic written menu, but without descriptions of the dishes; however, the owner is fluent in English and will gladly explain the items.

The house specialty is the fritto misto all'Ascolana, heaping plates of vegetables, the olive all'Ascolana (which aren't made on site here), and/or meats that are lightly battered and fried. If that sounds too artery-clogging for you, he also features a handful of good pasta specialties, and has a couple of tasty and light veal dishes on the menu. If you don't see something you like, ask the Vagabond Chef and he'll whip up something to your liking. It's nothing fancy, but it's cute, and is comfortably consistent and well as very reasonably priced.

Laliva

Piazza della Viola 13. Closed Tuesday evening and Wednesday.
Classic fare is turned into original, more imaginative cuisine at Laliva, which is the dialect word for olives. The small restaurant fills up quickly; she is listed in many guidebooks so there is always a mix of travelers and locals. She features a written menu that changes weekly, and speaks English.

From the name she obviously serves up the famed olives, but then moves on to moves on to dishes such as pork roasted in vino cotto, a local sweet wine, or baccala steamed with artichokes and olives. The house specialty of candied olives normally makes an appearance in one of the dishes.

The little establishment has two cute dining rooms. Local food products are also for sale in the restaurant.

Note from SlowTrav: Laliva has since closed and become a bar.

Ristorante Kursaal

Via L. Mercantini 68 (at the corner of via Castelfidardo). Closed Sundays and holidays.
This is a restaurant to fulfill the romantic image you may have of a rustic Italian restaurant – stone walls lined with wine bottles, arched brick ceilings and iron light fixtures. The food will fulfill your notions of experiencing authentic regional cooking at reasonable prices.

The written menu is rather extensive and also a little confusing as there are pages devoted to the fixed-price menu options, then separate pages for traditional regional fare and others for specialty dishes from throughout Italia. They use as many local products as possible, including mountain-cured prosciutto and pecorino cheese. They own an enoteca across the street, so their wine selection is very good.

The olive all'ascolana are hand-made and done very well here (some of the best in town, in my opinion). Because the menu is quite large there are dishes to satisfy everyone's tastes. They take great pride is bringing out quality food at reasonable prices. Most primi run in the 5 to 7 Euro range; the most expensive primo is 10 Euro and involves the tartufo nero (black truffle). Secondi range from 7.50 to 15 Euro depending on the type of meat.

Cantina dell'Arte

Rua della Lupa 5. Closed Sunday evening.
Rustic-chic may best describe the modern-meets-old interior. Interesting artwork adds splashes of color to the stone walls, large windows add brightness to the main dining room, and young, enthusiastic staff adds vibrancy to the experience. Pale yellow walls offset the exposed stone and wooden-beamed ceiling.

Classic dishes take on a slightly nouveau flair and are served with a flourish. There is a regular menu as well as a daily specials menu, which is short by inspired. A recent daily menu featured pennette with a sauce made from eggplant, and herb-roasted quail as the secondo. Friday brings a special fish menu. Everything is scrumptious and priced reasonably. For lunch, the daily specials can be turned into a fixed-priced meal. There are a few vegetarian choices here, which is sometimes hard to come by in Marche and Abruzzo.

Gallo D'Oro

Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 13. Closed Sunday.
While it's a fancy-schmancy kind of setting with subdued colors providing a bit upscale feel and menu, Gallo D'Oro also provides more formal service and an impressive wine list. I mention it not so much as a recommendation (it's already heavily-reviewed) but as a public service announcement. Don't believe the guidebooks that tell you this restaurant is located "just behind the Duomo". It is about 1/2 kilometer walk half-way to Ponte Maggiore on Corso Vittorio Emanuele to find it. Not really far, but not exactly as near the Duomo as indicated, either. Courtyard dining in warmer weather.

Pizzeria Bella Napoli

Piazza della Viola. Closed Thursday.
Open only for dinner, this fixture on the Piazza della Viola fills quickly and soon reaches a dull roar from the voices bouncing off the stone walls. Obviously serving Neopolitan-style pizzas cooked in a wood-burning oven, it is the first pizzeria in Italy I've ever encountered that pre-slices the pizza for you; no sawing away at the crust with a dull butter knife here! They have a small selection of beer and wine. Other things on offer include a half-hearted smattering of antipasti and a couple of token pasta dishes, but why bother? The pizza's the attraction here.

Quick Bites, Bars and Specialty

Cafe Kursaal

Hidden in a gallery connecting Corso Mazzini with via Giudea, the Cafe Kursaal is the place for a quick lunch - fresh and tasty, but inexpensive. Most days they offer a frittata of some sort, a variety of salads, sandwiches and pizza slices, as well as a daily pasta special. Fresh fruit salad is always available. This is also a good choice for pre-dinner drinks and snacks, with a decent drink selection and nice nibbles.

Pasticceria Guido

Via D. Angelini. Open every day.
On via Dino Angelini across the street from the ugly Tribunale building, the glow emitting from the cases of this comfortable pasticceria beckons you to come in and partake of the extravagant displays of sweets, all made on site. The ladies behind the bar are friendly in their frenetic pace to keep up with customers, and the walls are ever-changing canvases for Anna to display her creativity. Coffee, drinks, pastries, chocolates, gifts.

Yoghi

On Piazza Arringo. Closed Tuesday.
Don't let the name fool you. Sure, they serve up yogurt in three ways (frozen with mix-ins, frozen soft-serve with optional toppings, and regular yogurt with toppings) but what you want here is the chocolate - it is surely one of the best cioccolaterie in Central Italy. Everything is made on the premises in a display kitchen you can view from the side street. Their artful confections concocted from cocoa make delicious gifts. The ever-changing varieties of chocolate gelato are imaginative and unbelievably good.

One-Way Pizza

Next to the Baptistry in Piazza Arringo.
This used to be Pizzeria Battistero but has changed ownership.

Pizzeria il Cavallino

Via Angelini, near the Tribunale.
The former owners of Pizzeria Battistero operate this pizzeria.

Caffe Italia

Corso Mazzini. Closed Sunday morning and afternoon.
An Illy bar by day, it transforms into a proper bar in the evening, offering wines by the glass accompanied by a plate of stuzzichini (snacks). Some evenings they have specials, such as the Wednesday Cheese Sampler, which includes a plate of several cheese varieties and a glass of wine for 4.50 Euro - a pretty good deal for a light meal or a pre-dinner aperitivo hour. Summer brings fruity drinks, as well. This joint is always hopping.

Caffé Meletti

Piazza del Popolo. Open every day.
One does not come to Meletti for the food so much as for the atmosphere. This storied cafe has served the glitterati as well as the common folk for 100 years. Part pasticceria, part gelateria, and part bar, the Meletti is famous for its liqueurs and coffee drinks. Standing at the bar to down your beverage is reasonably-priced; grabbing a table to watch the action in the beautiful piazza will cost you more but will be worth the extra (but still fairly reasonable) price. A table inside puts you in the midst of rich, warm woodwork and takes you back in time.

Service by jacketed waiters makes the experience feel special. Coffee is served with a little plate of cookies to nibble; alcohol drinks come with a few snacks. This is the place for an aperitivo before dinner or a digestivo afterwards, and caffe – with or without a "corrective" additive - at any hour of the day. Sitting outside on a Sunday morning guarantees you a good seat to watch the people parade that takes place in the piazza.

Bar Marini

Piazza Roma/via XX Settembre
On Piazza Roma the sign proclaiming "BAR" is all that denotes this establishment that started life as a latteria and remains true to their roots. The cozy interior deceptively looks like a clubby bar, but their specialties involve their renowned panna (whipped cream) – maritozzi with nutella and panna; and the decadent hot chocolate - which you can also order spiked with some Meletti anisetta, rum, or other corretto if you desire - always topped with the sweet, creamy goodness. Thick and rich, sort of a like a warm pudding with that yummy cream on top, you eat it with a spoon. It's a real treat. Locals come in for containers of the whipped cream to take home.

Caffe Pretoriano

Via Pretoriana. Closed Sunday.
This is a neighborhood bar in a nicely-renovated cantina-level location with exposed brick ceilings and a wealth of tables. It is also the only place in the centro storico where you can bring your laptop and tap into wi-fi. Let Gianluca fix you up with the locally-loved marocchino or other coffee drink while you surf the web. Full bar, good tea selection, coffee, and snacks.


Valerie Schneider (Valerie) is a freelance writer, who lived in New Mexico for twenty years before trading the high desert for the medieval hill towns of Italy in May, 2006. She is a regular contributor to Slow Travel, pens travel agency newsletters, and has written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel. She and her husband, Bryan, currently reside in Ascoli Piceno where they conduct small-group tours called Panorama Italy. Read about her Italian adventures in her monthly Slow Travel column, Living Slow in Italy, and on her blog, 2 Baci in a Pinon Tree. See Valerie's Slow Travel Member page.

© Valerie Schneider, 2007

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