Pompiere and Circumstance

Food was the veritable heartbeat of our romantic Italian honeymoon. So as promised I am following up with more details (and pics!) about the meals we experienced. Since Italian food varies so sharply by region, we made every effort to educate ourselves about local cuisine and tried to taste region-specific dishes. Today I am starting with our first two stops on the itinerary, Lake Garda and Verona. Spoiler alert: we loved it all.

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LAKE GARDA

As I explained in my previous post, we landed in Milan after a nine hour flight and drove straight to Lake Garda for lunch. I understand the northern edges of this gorgeous lake boast more dramatic mountainous vistas, as well as several acclaimed restaurants, but our route naturally skirted the southern edge of the lake and we didn’t want to take too much of a detour. So we settled on a casual open-air restaurant called Vecchio Mulino Beach in the lakeside town of Peschiera del Garda.

I had secured a reservation ahead of time via email and our host, Fabio Gambini, greeted us with much fanfare and a beautiful table set specifically for us honeymooners. We had a lovely view of the lake, fresh lavender sprigs sprinkled on the table, and a chilled bottle of local Prosecco waiting on us. The restaurant caters to vacationers enjoying the lake and sunshine so it has a very casual, come-as-you-are vibe. But the service and attention-to-detail are top notch. When Fabio learned Venice was on our agenda, he took the time to email after the fact with some of his favorite places to dine and wander off the grid in Venice. So kind!

Needless to say, Vecchio Mulino Beach was the perfect first stop to shake off the airline daze and sink into our honeymoon.

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The former creative director in me loved all the graphics at Vecchio Mulino Beach

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Fishballs! Okay, that was tacky. Because these are light, freshly caught Lake Garda fish “meatballs” (polpette) that were utterly delightful.

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Chilled dry local prosecco with a view. What’s not to love?

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I ordered a simple penne with fresh tomato and basil, cooked to al dente PERFECTION!

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Tom ordered this rich carbonara topped with fresh caught lake trout.

 

VERONA

Like most of Northern Italy, Verona’s traditional culinary culture places much more of an emphasis on polenta and risotto than it does pasta. Although in this day and age, they have certainly mastered the art of beautiful pastas as well. Specifically, Verona is known for a hearty horse meat stew called Pastissada de Caval. This dish dates back to the end of the Roman Empire when Barbarian tribes from northern Europe, who ate horse, settled around Verona. I’m told it’s not nearly as gruesome as it sounds and is actually quite delicious.

On a seemingly safer note, Verona is also known for a traditional Christmas cake called Pandoro (golden Cake) as well as a light, three-grape red wine called Valpolicella. Valpolicella table wines are named for the agriculture zone where they are created, an area near Verona and Lake Garda. A more specific version of a Valpolicella wine is called Amarone. Amarone uses partially dried grapes which produces a super rich red wine.

For our first night in Verona we wandered out our front door and stumbled right into the charming Piazza delle Erbe, once a Roman forum, now lined with shops and cafes. We eased into our evening with Valpolicella, wonderful small bites and fantastic people watching.

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We visited the cafes in Piazza delle Erbe before dinner, after dinner, in the morning, and between lunch and dinner. We were regulars.

Then we headed off to our dinner reservation at Trattoria al Pompiere. Pompiere is hardly an off-the-beaten-path secret. It’s a traditional staple in the Verona restaurant scene. I had read fantastic reviews and Tom was most excited after seeing pictures on TripAdvisor. Plus I had an inside track helping me navigate the straight scoop on Verona’s foodie scene. My Friend’s Husband’s Step-niece’s Husband (or Boyfriend?) who is born, raised, and lives in Verona was unbelievably kind to message back and forth with me about the Verona restaurant scene. He explained that the original chef at Pompiere had departed and things had slipped slightly with the new guy. But overall he confirmed it is still good and very representative of traditional Veronese fare.

WE LOVED POMPIERE! Tom claims this was his favorite meal of the entire trip.

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First night in Italy. Living large.

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Pompiere has an amazing selection of cured meats and cheeses. Of course one could make an entire meal on this starter alone. (But we didn’t…)

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I ordered this unreal tortellini with fresh herbed ricotta, small tomatoes, and shaved parmesan. Olive Garden execs would gasp because lookee lookee, THERE IS NO SAUCE!

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Pompiere is known for its Tiramisu. Strangely they have a glass award statue in the shape of Texas that claims their tiramisu is “The World’s Best.” Apparently a regular customer from TX had it made for them? Regardless, while I’m no tiramisu expert, it was pretty fantastic. I am now forever suspicious of American tiramisu that is perfectly square.

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Valpolicella

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next level Valpolicella

The next morning we wandered back to one of our favorite cafes in Piazza delle Erbe for a light breakfast.

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Italians even have better croissants, and croissants are French! And fresh fresh fresh fruit cups. Of course we know I love my Cioccolato Caldo. And Tom had his cappuccino–cappuccinos only before 10am in Italy and never after dinner!

Unfortunately my Friend’s Husband’s Step-niece’s Husband (or Boyfriend?) did not endorse the spot I had selected for lunch on Day Two. I had picked a modern, small prosciutteria called Il Banco, but he said it was not representative of Verona. I probably should have listened to him. The service at Il Banco was subpar, the ambience so-so, and Tom’s pasta was eh. That said, the prosciuttos were wonderfully fresh, salty and light, and my pasta was divine.

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The fresh slaw and salty focaccia were the perfect combination with the paper thin prosciutto

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Tom was a little underwhelmed by his sleeper penne

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My caramelle pasta stole the show: lightly folded pastas filled with diced prosciutto, topped with pistachio crumbles and butter. Simple, elegant, delish!

Next up: our second and final dinner in Verona. What to do? I had reservations at Ristorante Maffei and the famed 12 Apostoli, both of which were approved by my Friend’s Husband’s Step-niece’s Husband (or Boyfriend?). He also suggested Locanda Castelvecchio. In the spirit of honeymooning and marital compromise, I loosened the grip and let Tom decide where we should eat for Night Two.

He decided we should chuck all other options and return to Trattoria al Pompiere for a second night in a row. So we did and WE LOVED IT AGAIN! This time we dined outside. My pasta from the night before had been the runaway hit so this time we both ordered it. And instead of a starter we indulged in a traditional hearty slow cooked Veronese beef dish, cooked in Amarone wine. To die for…

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An early al fresca dinner before the opera in Verona

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Deja vu & doube dipping on this extraordinary herb ricotta tortellini

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If I were to have another baby I would name her Beef Amarone. Or if I ever start a band I think I will call it Beef Amarone. When I start tying my own flies, I am going to name a pattern Beef Amarone. Bottom line, I love this Beef Amarone. Slow cooked succulent perfection, no knife needed.

Next time we will have to explore more of my Friend’s Husband’s Step-niece’s Husband’s (or Boyfriend’s?) valuable local restaurant suggestions. I feel terrible because he invested so much effort writing to me with options, but we just didn’t have enough time in Verona to try many of them. And I must admit circumstances and our limited schedule didn’t allow for us to try any horse stew either. I promise we will graduate to pastissada de caval on a future visit. You may also notice despite our detailed research, we didn’t select polenta or risotto dishes from the menu. What can I say? We were fresh on the scene and excited about pasta that is so much better than anything we can find Stateside. So we were pasta-centric these first few days. Stay tuned for upcoming posts where we are more regional and adventurous. In the meantime we have zero regrets on doubling down on Pompiere and loved getting to know northern Italy through the food of Lake Garda and Verona. Buonissimo!

And now, a few housekeeping notes, friends…

> The next post in this series will cover The Food We Had in Venice. Teaser: yum and unique.

> With all this Italy talk, let’s not forget our honkytonk roots! If you’ve yet to purchase my book Honky Tonk Debutante, well may I lightly suggest that there is no time quite like the present…JUST CLICK HERE.

> If you have read Honky Tonk Debutante, would you be so inclined to post a review on Amazon? (She asks humbly on bended knee.) It’s good karma, I promise!

GRAZIE YALL!!

And because this video exudes happiness and always bears repeating…

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