Oh holy Lord. God of power and might. How is it that I’ve been in Italy for 9 years before discovering this blessed place?
Spoleto, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
- Because you are only an hour and a half from Rome by train and you cost just under 9 euro each way. You’re such a cheap date, Spoleto.
- Because you have monasteries where single women can get a cheap, spartan accommodation in a gorgeous, green Umbrian setting in the smack-dab historical center.
- Because OH MY GOD Spoleto, holy crapoly, who knew your food was so good?
- Because seriously, Spoleto? I am loving your wines.
- Because I can wander your cobblestone streets up and down for like, hours, and not get bored or lost.
Folks, without exaggeration, I feel like I’m in a mini fairy tale.
Quite possibly this is because this weekend away, by myself, is the first break I’ve had in almost a month, what with my kiddos being out of school since the end of July and my trying to work while simultaneously cleaning up petrified pasta from the dining room floor and dealing with literally spilled milk, like, all the time.
But no, that’s not it, not by a long shot. Spoleto is simply a really special place in my book.
First night, I hit up a restaurant called Il Pentagramma, off Piazza della Liberta’. I get a table on a cobblestone alley and my waiter is super nice and describes all the dishes with a seductive voice as if they were mini porno films of culinary pleasure, and I then proceed to eat divinely prepared food in a no-holds-barred romp. I am not a food blogger so I don’t have any pictures for you or anything. (I know. What a tease. Forgive me.) I don’t even remember what I ate. Some tower-of-eggplant-on-gazpacho thing with grated smoked ricotta, and then tagliatelle with grilled San Marzano tomatoes, mint, and smoked ricotta. In a word? Yum. (No O. Just yum.)
Today though, was the winner: Osteria del Matto, you officially stole my heart.
I found this place for lunch, tucked away in a tiny side street off of Piazza Mercato. There was literally one little table with one little place setting in front of the door. Are you kidding me? I walk in, ask them if I can sit at that table, because it is that cool, and the waiter (Enrico) tells me, “Of course! It was all set up and waiting just for you!” Good call, Enrico. Good call, my friend.
Photo courtesy of UmbriaLovers on Flickr because my damn camera was dead
Do you know what I love about Osteria del Matto almost more than the owner, Filippo? I love the sign over the door that says “Don’t come in if you don’t drink wine.” Holy crap, man. I need one of those for my house. That way at least I could weed out the visitors. No offense if you don’t drink wine, but frankly, a restaurant with a sign like that? I want to like stop it mid-sentence and tell it in a shaky Renee Zellweger voice, “Osteria del Matto, you had me at ‘wine.’” (Slightly obscure Jerry Maguire reference. Is that even valid anymore? Am I showing my age, people?)
And yet, I digress.
Enrico tells me they prepare a fixed menu and he’ll bring me a bunch of Umbrian delicacies. I say fine by me, and tell him, “I’m only here because of that sign over your door, so, you know… take good care of me.” Ah, yes. He assures me he will.
And he does, folks. Not a moment later I am staring down a ½ liter of Montefalco rosso della casa. I don’t know who the producer is. All I know is that it kicks ass and goes down like buttah. That is, if you are into Linda Richman and were to like, drink butter for some odd reason, and then pronounce it with a New Yawk accent, get all verklempt, and then between sobs tell people: “Farro is neither far, nor O-shaped: discuss.”
Enrico comes back after like 10 minutes and sees that I’ve ever-so-gracefully drained like half the brocca, and he goes, “Hey, go slow on that wine.” I say, “Why? Picchia?” Meaning, in my big-city street-cred language, is it strong? I was thinking it was most likely 14% but with hope in my eyes I declared confidently, “Oh come on, what is it? Like 12%?” and sure enough, Enrico comes back with, “No, 14!”
Oh well. I’m not driving anywhere.
Food starts to arrive, and let me tell you, it was literally one of the best meals I’ve had in recent memory. Wanna know what I ate? Ok, I’ll tell you:
- Farro with sausage. Man, are they big on farro around here! Coach G would totally be proud.
- Prosciutto and formaggio primo sale. I don’t know why it’s called “first salt,” but I’m sure you read my friends’ food blogs and so you do know, and that’s why you know it’s delicious.
- Fried eggplant. Like, all crispy, crunchy delicately-fried all tempura style. Oh, was it good.
- But wait! There’s more! FRIED RICOTTA! Awwww yeah, people. Filippo doesn’t mess around. That shiz was effing amazing.
- And here we have the crown jewel: FRIED PANCETTA. Oh, sweet baby Jesus. That’s like, literally? Fried and salted fat served up on a plate. Lord, have mercy on my soul. And my arteries.
- Still working on that wine, folks.
- There *may* have been stinco di maiale in here somewhere. That’s “ham hocks” to you and me.
- There was actually a pasta dish, too. The famous Spoleto strangozzi, a sort of thick spaghetti, kind of reminded me of the “guitar string” pasta they serve in Abruzzo. It was served with mushroom-laden tomato sauce. Heavenly.
- Hey Shell, want some dessert? Shelley says, “Is that a rhetorical question? I hope so!” and poof! I’m presented with a plate of something called cascionda. It looked like a funky cross between a brownie and pudding. A square with sugar on top. It was good, too. (This is why I’m not a food blogger. Everything is good, and that’s about as descriptive as I get.) If you want to know what’s in it, look here. I was too drunk at that point to even really consider the individual flavors, but judging by the brown color I think it had chocolate in it, and coffee somewhere too.
- By that time I had a coffee, and over TWO HOURS had passed.
In which I met two couples, one American and one Italian, and talked them both into eating there, because I am just that talkative of a person and after all, I was like a frickin’ sandwich-board sign for Filippo’s joint, given that I was eating in front of the front door and all, even blocking the menu’ del giorno, for goodness’ sake.
Filippo actually joined my table of one during the pasta. He’s like, “I’m sitting down to eat with you!” We were like old friends. The guy is awesome. Been running the place for like 10 years now, I think. Mom’s in the kitchen and makes the pasta by hand daily. Yes, I am serious. She’s hard core.
You go there, and you end up feeling like he invited you over to his house for a really cool dinner party with random strangers who wander by, and everyone suddenly feels like they’re old friends.
This is why I adore Italy. Despite all the problems, all the complaints, all the crappy crap that just doesn’t work, you can still eat in a place like this, where only like 30 people can fit, and everyone somehow ends up friends by the time the meal is over. Diners were leaving and saying things to Filippo like: “Ok then, come see us in Sardegna as soon as you can!” like they’d known each other forever and not just met 2 hours prior.
When I asked him for a business card, he said he didn’t have any. I said, no worries, I can remember the address, but he pulled a sheet of paper from his printer and proceeded to HAND DRAW me a business card.
He says he has an email address but he hardly ever checks it because he’s not really good with technology. He says, “I don’t have time for email! I’m so busy, that when I take a crap, I have to use that time to look over all my invoices!” which is probably how most restaurant owners must feel. He only has one day off a week: Tuesday. This might also explain why he is the “matto” in the Osteria del Matto. He is crazy, but good-crazy not scary-crazy. He said I’m crazy too and that’s why we get along so well. This is probably true. I hope he meant the good-crazy though, not scary-crazy.
So, if you ever make it to Spoleto, and I highly recommend doing so, please stop in and say hi to Filippo for me. Don’t tell him I told you about that crapping/invoices comment because maybe that was off the record. He told me to come back with this boy I have a HUGE crush on (yes, I develop them on at least a weekly basis. I fall in love with boys all the time; it’s like a hobby of mine, collecting unrequited crushes. Come to think of it, this must mean I’m in the scary-crazy category, because they never call) but, alas, that boy only has one day off a week too, so it’ll probably never happen.
And this, dear readers, is precisely why I do most sincerely hope that they keep that little table out front for me.
Osteria del Matto
Vicolo del Mercato 3, Spoleto
More posts about this fabulous place:
From Italian Food Forever
New York Times Travel (his name isn’t “Filippo Matto” as mistakenly written in the review, it’s Filippo Proietti)
“Crazy But in a Good Way” Toronto Star