Eating out in the Abruzzo is a pleasure that I will never tire of enjoying. Simple food that relies, like most Italian cooking, upon the freshness and quality of local seasonal ingredients - and never a chain restaurant, let alone a Starbucks, in sight. The fact that so many restaurants don’t bother to have a menu or a price list speaks volumes for the trust that exists with their local customers.
There are so many excellent local restaurants that choosing the best is a difficult task. What follows is a list of my favourite 5 restaurants near Casa del Colle and I have provided an indication on price out of five: £££££ is expensive and £ is cheap.
If you want to try any of these restaurants then contact details and more can be found using this link...
Agriturismo Cignale Abruzzo
Address: Contrada Cignale, 4A, 65017 Penne PE, Italy
Phone: +39 085 821 0113
Run by Massimo, Rita and their son Andrea, the Cignale is an agriturismo - something akin to a bed and breakfast but technically a smallholding/farm that is given tax breaks to supplement their farming income by providing accommodation and meals. All over Italy, they are an excellent way of seeing the country and eating some fantastic food. There is normally a set price, something in the order of 20 euros for the whole meal that will include numerous courses and, of course, wine.
Massimo and Rita were born and raised in the area but moved to Milan to study where they stayed and raised a family. They returned some years back for what might have been semi-retirement but is in fact a pretty full time occupation to run the Cignale with their son. Their house is a piece of stunning architecture. Massimo and Andrea will cook for you and entertain you with information and stories about the local produce and food they are cooking. Seasonal cooking predominates. I love this place because of the family and their pure passion for the local ingredients. Their oil has won numerous awards and is listed in the bible of the best oils in the world, the Gambero Rosso.
Ristorante Albergo La Bilancia
Address: Strada Provinciale 4, 65014 Passo Cordone PE, Italy
Phone: +39 085 828 9321
In the middle of nowhere; it is a rustic trattoria but on a much bigger scale to La Mugnaia. I don’t often have meat when I eat out, I think I am just too full up because I can't resist the pasta and antipasto, but at La Bilancia I always make an exception. Go for the fiorentina – a huge beef steak that is brought to you on a hot grill, sliced before your eyes and left for you to finish the cooking on the hot grill to suit your pallet. Not for the feint hearted and best ordered to share! The owner is a strange gruff man who is always bemoaning something, but he has two charming waiters who have worked there for as long as anyone can remember. Both speak passable English; one lived for a few years in his youth in Liverpool. There is always a lively banter that I enjoy watching, between the customers and the gruff owner.
The locals will never pay at the table but will go up and pay at the till, a chance to speak to the owner and more often than not you will then be offered a grappa or digestivo. It is the same in all of these local restaurants. So unlike the UK – where we would expect to leave a tip. Here they might round the bill up to the nearest complete figure but would never leave a tip. It is left for the owner to offer his customers something as a thank you for bringing their custom. A contrast that I like a lot.
Address: Contrada Piano Di Sacco, 95, 65013 Citta' Sant'Angelo PE, Italy
Phone:+39 085 969 0371
Keeping with a simple fare, but a slightly longer journey from the house. Picture an old fashioned simple Italian trattoria with a wood fired oven at the front of house, red checked linen table covers, the whole family contributing to parts of the venture with a grandmother or two scurrying around in the background: you are in the Mugnaia near Citta San Angelo. In fact it does excellent Pizza but for some reason when I come here I always have the "tris di pasta", 3 pasta dishes that satisfy the carb craver in me like no other, with centre stage going to a local pasta called mugnaia, the same name as the restaurant itself. A course pasta made without eggs and a bit like pici - the better known Tuscan equivalent. All pasta will of course be made fresh that morning at the restaurant.
Address: Contrada Conaprato, 32B, 65017 Penne PE, Italy
Phone: +39 085 827 0046
The next on my list is Stefano's Pizzeria in Conaprato, just down the hill from Casa del Colle and within walking distance. My first thought when I arrive back in Italy is to book a table at Stefano's and soak up the atmosphere. I am back and I love it. Stefano is always rushing around at a frantic pace which suits the busy atmosphere. A total contrast to the cosy atmosphere of the Font D'Artana but it goes with the harsh lighting and simple cuisine. The menu is very limited but none the worse for that: pizza or arrosticini, a form of lamb kebab and a much loved local delicacy frequently eaten with a liberal application of chili oil (an interesting departure from the more usual Italian spice-free cooking, but then the Abruzzo is notorious for its use of chilies).
A pizza, a carafe of local wine and a bowl of salad and I will walk away paying less than 10 euros a head. No wonder they can eat out more frequently than we do in the UK.
Address: Piazza Duca Abruzzi, 8, 65010 Picciano PE, Italy
Phone: +39 085 828 5451
My all-time favourite is Font D'Artana in Picciano. Almost invisible from the street, you would pass it by if you didn’t already know it was there. On entering you travel down to the lower ground floor of an ancient palazzo with vaulted ceilings creating a relaxed and cosy atmosphere. Dine inside in the winter, next to the wood fire, and on the terrace in the summer. What particularly attracts me is the antipasto. A succession of some 8 or more short courses. We always wait to see how we feel when we have eaten the antipasto – and more often than not all we can manage afterwards is desert, but occasionally I have pasta or meat dish. I am always struck by the fact that the chef/owner remains perfectly happy if that is all you have. In the UK I would leave with a sense of being a cheapskate. Not here.
Italians eat our regularly – a social occasion that invariable involves the family complete with children being kept up to what seems to us ridiculously late hours. I recall a conversation with one of my Italian friends who asked me how often I eat out in the UK. He was surprised at my response, telling me that he eats out at least a couple of times a week. It is part of their social life and of course at the prices that are charged it is a lot more feasible to do so. It is also interesting to see how many will mix social with a bit of business. They don’t have the same hard division between work and family.
So that is my 5...but I want to finish with a special mention for the Ritrovo D'Abruzzo.
You will not be disappointed although expect to pay closer to 40 euros plus a head. If you go consider the tasting menu consisting of a range of courses all (dessert excepted) using bacalla – salt cod, another local delicacy. Simply devine.
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