Unless it’s a curry or a kebab, we don’t normally eat in Trastevere. If you want Italian, or more specifically Roman food, it’s about the worst neighbourhood, as so many of the dense thicket of restaurants – in our experience – are lazy and mediocre. However, a friend drew our attention to the Antica Focacceria San Francesco, part of a Sicilian micro-chain whose management has apparently taken a stand against the Mafia.
As much as I’m aware of the big corporations of the (Sicilian) Mafia aka Cosa Nostra, (Calabrese) ʼNdrangheta and (Neopolitan) Camorra, as well as the other immigrant mafias that operate in Italy (Filipino, Chinese, etc), I naively assumed that the touristy Roman restaurant scene would be better protected. Ho ho. Another friend who’s lived in Italy for decades says most places – cafés, restaurants, shops – have to pay the pizzo (protection money), which is what makes Antica Focacceria San Francesco’s stand notable: they said no. The New York Times gives more of the story here (though it gets the address wrong, which makes me question its fact-checking slightly).
So anyway, we headed down to the Trastevere branch on a Friday evening. It’s set in one of this cute quartiere‘s cute piazze, just round the corner from Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà? and the strip of boozers that’s generally heaving on a summer weekend evening.
When our group all assembled and some menus arrived, I was pleased to see the Slow Food symbol. I was also pleased to see the wine menu had two pages dedicated to Italian birre artigianali (craft beers).
So while we ordered a tonne of Sicilian snacks (schiticchi), antipasti and secondi, I also ordered a beer. I got a Bibock from Birrificio Italiano, a brewery located in Lombardia, south of Lake Como. What a name – they’re just called “Italian Brewery”. Though they probably have a right to wield such a grand name: the brewery was founded in 1996, the same year as the renowned Baladin, and as such can be considered, in the words of the Guide alle birre d’Italia 2013, “one of the principle players in the affirmation of the craft beer scene in our country”.
The warmly copper-brown Bibock smells of raspberries, toffee, rose. It’s got a reasonably frothy head. Its taste also has notes of caramel and toffee, along with a very nicely balanced cereal-maltiness and bitter-hoppiness and a fairly dry mouthfeel. It’s bottom-fermented (as befits its roots in German, bock brewing), 6.2% ABV and has a medium body. Very nice.
I’ve no idea if it was a good choice to accompany the food though. I really, really need to learn more about food and beer matching. I’m sorry. But I’ve never made any bones about my beer blogging here being anything but a learning process.
As for said food, it was pretty good. The Sicilian street food pre-antipasti nibbles were tasty, especially the chickpea fritters (panelle). And the sardines balls were pleasant too. Who’d have thunk it? One flaw in the experience, though, was that pretty much everyone seemed to involve caponata.
Now I love this slightly sour Sicilian dish made with aubergines (/eggplant/ melanzane), tomatoes, capers etc. I like it so much I’d made it the day previously at home, and had it for two days running. Now I found myself eating more; it was getting to the point of OD. The Antica Focacceria must have had a giant cauldron of the stuff in their kitchen.
The only other flaw with the meal came later on when the very sweet and entertaining waitress tried to sell us some desserts. We were already pretty full (of caponata) so had our doubts, but when she said they were sent in every day from Palermo I had even more. She was so excited to tell us this (“And the fish!”) but for me it was like a red rag to a bull. Sent in? “In aero?” I asked. “In a plane?” Really? Really?
How in the blazes does this carbon puddingprint fit in with the place’s nominal Slow Food ethos, of local and sustainable? Even a short hop flight is toxic, particularly as in aviation a lot of the fuel is used getting the beast off the ground in the first place.
If you want Sicilian pastries in Rome, have a Sicilian pastry chef make them on site in Rome. The products won’t just be fresher and better as they’ll only travel a few metres, the whole package will also be more credible in sustainability and environment terms.
The beer was good, the food was good, even the caponata was good (albeit excessive) but I’m sorry, flying in your desserts is just fucking insane. Especially if your menu is plastered with the Slow Food snail symbol. Reality check please!
Antica Focacceria San Francesco, Piazza di San Giovanni della Malva 14, Trastevere, Rome
(+39) 06 581 9503 | firstname.lastname@example.org | afsf.it
(+39) 031 895 450 | email@example.com | birrificio.it