Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The rad phenomenon of Italian aperitivi, & a lady dance party on the beach

So, in Italy, at happy hour, something magical happens. 

Let's say you stop off in a hilltop town piazza for an aperitivo. Just a round of drinks and a snack.

The piazza in Sirolo, an awesome hilltop town up from Marcelli beach, near Ancona. (Yes, that is an inflatable sofa.)
You order a couple of glasses of Prosecco at happy hour time, but you don't actually *have* to order the snack.

Because they bring out a complimentary platter of like 10 different hors d'oeuvres without you even asking.

Sirolo, where two glasses of Prosecco come with this enormous spread of snacks.

Same goes if you order an Aperol Spritz or something like that.

Or if you don't even order it yourself. And thus begins the story of...

by Tracie Broom


The first time I encountered aperitivi was a very wonderful experience.

Our crew of grownups and children went for the afternoon to the Acquamarina beach club in Marcelli, on the Adriatic coast near the Monte Conero. (That's it in the distance, there.)

Acquamarina is realllllly nice. If you're trying to choose a beach to hit in the Ancona area and you like food and wine, choose this one, in Marcelli, near Numana. Our friend Amy Wadman chose it. She is a genius and runs a great tour company called DiVino Tours.

Anyway, back to the aperitivo story. We had all just had an enormous lunch at the restaurant there.


More crudo

Mussels. Magic.

Linguine with telline, a super tiny kind of clam that is a flavor bomb.

Fritto. Shrimp, calamari, little fishes, zucchini. Mwah.

Good design.

Limone alla vodka. That's lemon sorbet with vodka, y'all. It's a thing.

Do I like dining by the sea? Yes. Yes I do.

After a huge lunch and a nap on a beach chair...

It was time for a coffee.


I think I had just won the favor of the ladies working the beach bar by ordering (at my friend Peldi's suggestion) a caffe corretto, which is an espresso with a little shot of liquor dumped in it.

(As opposed to a macchiato caldo with a side of Amaro Montenegro [served in a cute Averna glass that I kinda wanted to steal, below], which I had very much enjoyed while standing at the counter at the Oasi beach club in Porto Recanati the week prior.)

They seemed really impressed with the fact that I asked for my coffee to be corrected with grappa, a super volatile spirit made from grapes that only old men and food snobs tend to drink.

Liquor brings people together!

There had been a break in the rush of topless children ordering gelato pops from the big yellow and blue freezer out on the wooden deck.

They entertained themselves during other slow periods, btw, by throwing little cocktail shakers full of cold water on the naked torsos of teenage gentlemen who would swing through in packs to get sodas between rounds of beach volleyball. Pretty funny.
After I had my caffe corretto at the counter, the super cool ladies (far left and far right, below), nabbed me and The Shop Tart as we were waiting for the restroom and said they wanted to buy us a drink.

It was about to become a beach party.

They turned on the top 40 dance jams and whipped up a round of Aperol Spritzes for the four of us.

They insisted that the four of us needed to pose behind the counter of the beach bar for a photo with our cocktails.

The one on the left is of Cuban descent, and her grandfather lives in Miami. She is also a flippin' awesome dancer.

We thought the comped round of fizzy lifting drinks and the beachfront lady dance party was awesome, but then they started bringing out little plates and bowls of snacks for us. Also comped.

Um, with little drink umbrellas stuck into the snacks, just to make it even more of a party. 

We were like, "What did we do to deserve this awesome VIP treatment?" 

There was no reason, really, except some cool ladies seeing some other ladies and snagging the opportunity to have an Aperol lady dance party on the beach. 

And the magic of aperitivi! What a brilliant tradition! Bar snacks on steroids! 

Then our whole crew ambled over, one by one, and the grown-ups and kids, all 10 or so of us, had cocktails and aperitivi and enjoyed the balmy afternoon. (Thank goodness for the children, who hoovered up the snacks we were too full from lunch to truly enjoy.)

I'll never look at bar peanuts the same again. Sorry, America. Italy's got you nailed on the bar snacks.

The Marche region is just kinda magical like this. Italy's kinda magical like this.

And those ladies are super cool.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why Italians vacation in the Marche instead of Tuscany

No offense to Florence, which is a beautiful city, but if you love food, wine, support the Slow Food movement, and adore saving money...

...Skip Florence. (Am I seriously saying this? Yes, I am.)

Heck, skip Venice, Rome, and Florence altogether. (I know, heresy!)

Instead: Go to the Marche.

Stay near Ancona and go eat at Maiale Volante and all of the other killer restaurants I was lucky to visit while staying in the Marche: Ristorante Da Silvio, Acquamarina, 2 Michelin star chef Moreno Cedroni's Clandestino Susci, Casolare dei Segreti, Osteria dei Segreti, and the list goes on.

Da Silvio beach from above

Unbelievably, the prices are the same as dining out in Columbia, SC (except for Clandestino, which is priced more like San Francisco restaurants, and rightfully so because it's the bomb).

Antipasti prices at Da Silvio

Starters are 6-9 euros, pastas are $9-14, and second courses like grilled meats and seafood are $12-$18.
Pasta course prices at Da Silvio. Total steal for primi of this caliber.

Tip is included in these low prices, so the 20% up charge (as of summer 2012) built into the euro/dollar exchange rate ends up being like leaving a tip in South Carolina, so the price totally evens out.

The walking path down to Da Silvio beach and restaurant
Amazing, intimate experiences and fresh, gorgeous farm-to-table cuisine, and at the coast, lavish seafood feasts with crudo, fritto, pastas, risottos, and potfuls of shellfish, with Verdicchio on tap from the spina everywhere you go.

Handmade pasta with lobster-like prawns at Acquamarina beach club in Marcelli, south of Ancona. Tied with Da Silvio for best beach restaurant, in my opinion.

Da Silvio seafood gluttony

Alici -- little fresh white fishes. Vinegary and brilliant. At Da Silvio.

Not everyone is as lucky as some who get to go to Italy multiple times in their lives. (I got to hit Florence for a day while on a high school trip around France. It was rad.)

If you only get one chance to go to Italy, and you are a big food and wine nerd like me, you're going to get the best value for your traveling dollar by hitting a lesser-known region filled with agriturismos and Slow Food peeps.

Casolare dei Segreti restaurant, inn and wedding venue in Treia

Maiale Volante agriturismo farm and restaurant in Cingoli

And cool, random places like the National Accordion Museum in Castelfidardo. 

Castelfidardo, Italy is the accordion capital of the world.

National Accordion Museum, Castelfidardo
National Accordion Museum, Castelfidardo

Having had the luck to be invited to stay with friends in the Marche, an area about which I knew nothing before traveling there, I can fully recommend this region as one of the best vacation values in the world.

In Italy, it's known as "Tuscany for Italians."

View of hills around Recanati from Castelfidardo

Word on the street is that while European tourists have bought up all of the vacationland in Tuscany, Italians go to the Marche for the rolling, rural hills and charming hilltop villages...

Lack of crowds...

Historic piazzas...

Super cool architecture...

Loreto, Italy
Nifty old man liquors at nifty cocktail bars...

Cynar amaro in a bar in Sirolo

Really fabulous cheeses, meats and liquors at the grocery store for your stay-home cocktail hours...

Cool Medieval festivals...

Casual outdoor dining at said Medieval festivals...


Fabulous multi-course meals...

Trappist ale gelee over a caramel pot de creme at Maiale Volante

Scampi al Sale -- giant prawns buried and baked in salt at Da Silvio
Phenomenal handmade cargiu pasta at Osteria dei Segreti, in Appignano

Beautiful Adriatic beaches...

The beach at Da Silvio

Aperol Spritz in a bottle from the beach bar at Da Silvio. O holy magic.

And killer restaurants on or above those Adriatic beaches...

Acquamarina restaurant in Marcelli, near Numana, Sirolo and Ancona

Interior at Da Silvio

Ristorante Da Silvio, like a big treehouse overlooking the sea
Clandestino Susci bar


Appenine mountains and foothills, and great prices.

Maiale Volante

When in Italy, go where the Italians go.

Doublemint moment with two pairs of Italian twins, in the cathedral piazza in Loreto, Italy

If anyone happens upon this blog post on the interwebs while making expensive vacation decisions, I hope you find it useful! Here are a couple other posts I did on the Marche:

Casolare de Segreti, Treia:

Clandestino Susci, Portonovo: