As luck would have it, I was packing for my long-planned vacation to Rome while the Vatican was preparing for the papal conclave. It was going to be an exciting time for a visit. But as I pored over newspaper stories about the Eternal City and watched endless reports on cable TV in late February, I didn't see one mention of what to eat for lunch after a tour of St. Peter's.
The cardinals, I am sure, are well-fed at the Apostolic Palace. But what should a hungry layperson do after fighting the crowds at the Sistine Chapel? Any Roman with taste will warn you to avoid restaurants near tourist attractions. You are unlikely to find the pasta carbonara of your dreams across from the Trevi Fountain, where waiters stand outside tacky cafeterias hawking the menu turistico and free Wi-Fi. Saving the "real" restaurants (mostly located in peripheral neighborhoods such as Testaccio and Monti) for dinner while keeping my eye out for casual lunch places populated by locals was a winning strategy.
Here is my sightseeing itinerary, along with a lunch diary that I will treasure the way other tourists will hang onto their commemorative Pope Benedict stamps from the Vatican post office.
My first meal in Rome, at a modern wine bar, was one of my favorites. From a sunny table near a large picture window, I was able to study the friezes on Trajan's Column while enjoying a wild chicory salad topped with two suppli, risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella and meat sauce and deep fried (10 euros). An excellent post-lunch caffe macchiato helped with the jet lag.
Enoteca Provincia Romana, Via del Foro Traiano 82-84
Forno Campo de' Fiori's legendary 6-foot-long pizza bianca goes on sale as soon as it is pulled from the oven. A busy baker cut two piping hot slices (1.50 euros) for me and wrapped them in paper. I ate them while perusing the produce on display in the piazza. I also bought a bag of ciambelline, sugar cookies made with red wine, to stave off hunger pangs later in the day.
Forno Campo de' Fiori,Campo de' Fiori 22, fornocampodefiori.com
With its marble tabletops, white tiled walls, and in-house bakery, Caffe Propaganda reminded me of New York City's Balthazar, but with nicer waiters. Open all day (unusual in Rome), it is a comfortable and civilized stop before or after the Colosseum, which is visible from the bar. Order a light lunch (try the artichokes prepared three ways for 12 euros) or a cup of tea and a selection of house-made macarons.
The famous pit-roasted pork from the small town of Ariccia fills sandwiches (2.50 euros) at Paninando, a small snack bar two blocks behind Rome's ancient basilica. I munched while circling the monument. My stroll took me to Cremeria Monteforte, which sits to its left. I ordered a small cup of caramel gelato (3 euros), richer and more intensely flavored than gelato at the more famous San Crispino and Giolitti.
Paninando, Via di Torre Argentina 83, Cremeria Monteforte, Via della Rotonda 22
Hidden between unappealing pizzerias a block and a half from the Forum's exit, this rustic, wooden-beamed wine bar, one of the oldest in Rome, offers an extensive menu of cheeses and cured meats along with many Italian wines by the glass. Plates of roasted vegetables in olive oil (11 euros), Robiola cheese flavored with pistachio nuts (7 euros) and spicy cured and dried pork rinds (7 euros), picked us up after a tour of Rome's most expansive archaeological site.
Cavour 313, Via Cavour 313, cavour313.it
SPANISH STEPS/TREVI FOUNTAIN
Midway between these landmarks is La Sandwicheria, a sparkling takeout shop with a menu of 32 sandwiches made to order. After devouring my Speck, provolone and artichoke-paste sandwich (4 euros), I headed to Pompi, Rome's tiramisu specialist. The city-center outpost sells single servings (4.50 euros) in flavors including strawberry and banana as well as classic coffee.
La Sandwicheria, Largo Nazareno 16/17, Pompi, Via della Croce 82, barpompi.it
THE GHETTO Although the Synagogue and Jewish Museum are well worth visits, you can't say the same about most of the kosher restaurants nearby. Eat instead at Beppe e I suoi Formaggi, a luxe cheese shop with tables where customers can sit and order cheese plates and beautiful salads. The cold eggplant filled with ricotta (10 euros) was perfect, as was a salad of Robiola and pears (10 euros). If you'd rather not stay, the cheesemonger will pour you a glass of wine while offering samples of cheeses and salumi to go.
Beppe e I suoi Formaggi, Via Santa Maria del Pianto, 9a/11, beppeeisuoiformaggi.it
PIAZZA NAVONA This cute cafe with mismatched furniture and a foosball table looks like it's been imported from hipster Williamsburg, but you know you're not in Brooklyn anymore when you pass the perpetual chess game under the fig tree on the way to the front door. The small menu, including spaghetti with tuna and tomatoes (8 euros), a giant fried artichoke (7 euros), and small orbs of mozzarella di buffala with spinach leaves on the side (7 euros), had something for everyone in my family.
Bar del Fico, Piazza del Fico 26/28
VATICAN MUSEUMS I have to confess, my visit to the Sistine Chapel was just an excuse to stop at Pizzarium, celebrity baker Gabriele Bonci's wildly popular pizza shop near the Musei Vaticani metro station. Choose from a variety of inventively topped pizzas (my favorite was potato and Taleggio; my husband liked the fennel and lardo) and the counterman will cut you a piece with a scissor. At 25 euros per kilo, Bonci's pizza doesn't come cheap, but the crowds standing on the sidewalk don't complain.
Pizzarium, Via della Meloria 43