La Cucina de Garga (Florence)


Mama’s Italian cooking has never been so freakin’ fantastic.

During our Florence weekend last month, Hannah made our reservation to La Cucina de Garga just in time to witness the sunset at Boboli Gardens and Piazzale Michelangelo minutes beforehand. When we walked into a bar to buy a bottle of wine, the bartender even gave us three free wine glasses to take along with us. Talk about a unique but appropriate souvenir. And, not to mention, the perfect prop for a photo!

The eclectic restaurant’s turquoise and floral storefront stuck out in the cobblestone alley. We walked in ready to experience a classically divine Italian meal. We received that and so much more: excellent service, free foccacia and dessert, and so many laughable moments between the three of us.

As expected, we began with two key ingredients: bread and wine. Our endearing waiter brought us salted focaccia and followed up with a focaccia bruschetta with olive oil and marinara on the house.
Our appetizer, calamari con avocado y pomodorini, was a bright mix of sautéed calamari, avocado, cherry tomatoes and lemon dressing. I'd pick this over fried calamari any day.

Pictured above was the winner: linguine with clams. Not a single noodle sat on my plate after ten minutes. The light olive oil and garlic added so much zest to a classic. In fact, when I asked for parmesan, the waiter lightly scolded me for wanting to add cheese to a perfectly refined dish. He said the cheese would ruin my appreciation for the existing flavors! Interesting, huh.

Gotta love Italy.

Gusta Pizza (Florence)

If you think you've had the best piece of pizza, you thought wrong. Because the best pizza on the planet is at one place only: Gusta Pizza in Florence, Italy.

From the outside, it seems like a tourist trap; but the spot sits in the local side of the river and hosts hundreds of Florentines daily. We sat at a table inside, yet I noticed that the majority of customers took a pizza to go enjoy on steps of the nearby square.

My friend Ashley said Hannah and I just had to go there. We made it our first Florence stop on Thursday evening. And we were instructed to order our own pizzas.

She was right. These pizzas cannot be shared. And every bite will be devoured, I promise.

I loved watching each pizza come to life in the exposed brick ovens.  The service was friendly and speedy, as these Italian dudes knew what they were doing in the kitchen. I received my ricotta, spinach, pesto and mozzarella pizza within fifteen minutes. Hanna's margarita pizza was even shaped in a heart, signifying love at first sight...with our food.
We enjoyed every bite of the doughy crust and perfect proportion of sauce and cheese. Because each pizza was prepared ready-to-order, ours were steaming hot and basically melted in my mouth. The house white wine on the side was inexpensive and satisfying in the Florence heat.

Basically, make every effort to get to Gusta Pizza while you're in Europe. It is actually out of this world!

Florence Foodie Tour

I call myself a foodie. Not just because of the fact that I love to eat (I swear my diet starts the day I arrive home in Memphis), but rather because of the overarching experience that defines and complements the meals I enjoy. It’s not just the taste, but also the atmosphere, décor, culture, and people behind the dishes that etch true memories in my mind. That’s why I love my Jewish religion: we’re all about food, but we wouldn’t be that way without the family and greater community who prepare and enjoy it!
Our second day in Florence confirmed my foodie-ness fixation. We joined a guided, three-hour tour of the secrets of Florence’s local food and cultural treasures. Café after café and bite after bite, we “oohed” and “ahhed” at the tastes of unique delicacies that define Florence’s quaint and luxuriant lifestyle. I’ll never forget the taste of juicy roma tomatoes at Nerbone and the smell of the Robusto espresso shot, or the sweetness of vin santo wine and the laughter of our Utah group members when realizing how much wine we consumed before 1 p.m. When in Florence, people!

Here’s a summary of each stop on our Florence Foodie tour; and if you’re ever in Florence, please don’t miss these local delicacies. Or just go on the tour yourselves! You won’t find these places in a tourist guide…

Café Chiaroscuro

Known for its diverse blends and imported coffee beans from across the world, Café Chiaroscuro challenged my taste buds and introduced me to some truly bold Italian coffee!  We tried the Indian monsooned Robusto and Mexican Arabica espressos, both of which were very strong compared to my usual Starbucks. In fact, our guide told us that there is only ONE Starbucks in the entire country of Italy in Milan! And it’s not even doing well. Imagine that, fellow Americans.

“Espresso” denotes “express,” so most customers walk in and finish theirs in three sips at the bar to kickstart their day. Those busty flavors surely kickstarted our day too!

Procacci Firenze

A truffle shop. What more could you ask for.

White truffle (the rare, fancy shmancy kind that upscale restaurants like db bistro serve) is in fact found in Northern Italy.  We were served a 3-inch truffle sandwich (panini tartufati) with a secret filling that combines truffle-infused oil, truffle butter and some other yumminess. I savored every bite.

La Divina Enoteca

This treasured restaurant and specialty food store was founded in the early 1800s, serving everything from cheeses and meats to homemade regional pastas, spice blends, beers and wine. We were seated by the store owner at an antique wooden table and led through a delicious food and wine pairing.

Our first pairing was a Bianco di Toscana white with a slice of salty prosciutto on bread and a slice of sheep’s milk with pepper jam.  The second pairing was a ruby red Chianto classico (like the Corsini wine we had tried the day before at the vineyard) with fennel seed infused salami and a sharp but soft pecorino cheese.  I learned that Italians always pair white wines to balance a salty but light prosciutto, fish, veal or light pastas with olive oil. Their reds go with heartier meals from Bolognese to t-bone.

I walked out with a box of homemade pasta that I cannot wait to cook with at home. I’m going to craft an Italian-style recipe to share on the blog!

San Lorenzo Central Market

Our entrance into the San Lorenzo Market allowed us to immediately experience the hustle and bustle of fresh Italian cooking ingredients.  We tasted salted bread, which is unusual for Florence. We learned a rumor that when Florence and Pisa were in battle centuries ago, Pisa placed high tariffs on salt exports, which caused Florentines to cut out salt completely. Imagine that!

Da Nerbone

Within the Central Market sat this busy and exciting café founded in 1876 – the history is consistently so rich in this town!  I tried the best bruschetta (pronounced with a hard “c” – Giada would be proud) I have ever put in my mouth.  Drenched in olive oil, the sweetest chunks of tomatoes and torn basil covered my piece of crostini. I about went to heaven.


Julia, the sweet employee of this impressive wine and olive oil shop, brought dozens of pieces of bread, which she proceeded to drench in two types of olive oil. Both were peppery and much heavier than the typical olive oil at home; rather than using for cooking, these were meant to be dipped in to fully take advantage of the flavors.

Next was a treat. Strawberries were drizzled in 10-year-old aged balsamic vinegar and a pecorino was drizzled in a younger balsamic. As balsamic vinegar ferments, the liquid thickens and sweetens to the point where you can pour it directly on your fruit and ice cream! Such a delicacy.

Fresh prosciutto was next with a glass of Chianti; and then came the real surprise: almond biscotti dipped in vin santo dessert wine, which has aged for at least ten years and tasted close to a liquor. I found my new favorite dessert!

Antica Florentina Gelateria

I thought we had enough sweetness, but there was more. Our guide led us to a local gelateria to pick two flavors of our choice! I picked crema (sweet vanilla custard) and dolce latte (caramel coffee goodness) in a cone.

What a food-filled, fun-filled day! Thank you, Florence Food Tours.

Principe Corsini Winery


Before Friday, I had never ridden a horse, with the exception of a typical petting zoo where an adult would pull me and my pony in a circular motion at a painfully slow pace.

After Friday, I don’t think I can or will ever ride one again, because nothing—and I repeat, nothing—will compare to my horseback riding wine tour experience in the Chianti region of Tuscany, Italy.

We eagerly signed up for a full day in Tuscany through Florencetown tours, which hosts a handful of excursions throughout Italy with an exceptional staff. Their connections with the Corsini family (and their 650-acre estate) allowed us to enjoy almost six hours in the vineyards, gardens, production and fermentation facilities, and restaurant. I want to take full advantage of the bed and breakfast on the property next time; although the family’s nine-story villa wouldn’t be too shabby either.

Our group was a small but impressive mix: three of us from Austin, a 25-year-old couple from Australia and an older married couple from Ecuador. Connecting with the others made our day even more fulfilling. And, funny enough, we ran into Craig and Laura, the Australian couple, at the San Lorenzo Market the following day.

After meeting in the Florence city center and driving to Tuscany, we were introduced to our horses for the morning. My dark brown beauty was named Violina. Being an amateur, I had that tiny fear in the back of my mind that Violina would run free from the group, leaving me with no experience to handle her. It turns out my and Hannah’s horses were so lazy that we spent a majority of the morning kicking our heels to keep them moving with the rest of the group. I got a workout, but I loved that I could capture the ride on my camera without fear of losing balance.

A few hours and hundreds of photos later, we arrived back at the horse stable to part with the horses and partake in a traditional Tuscan meal with wine pairings from the Corsini vineyard.

The two wines, both Chianto Classicos, went fantastically with the melon & prosciutto, Bolognese pasta, and vegetable couscous with Corsini Olive Oil. I enjoyed the Le Conti red, which was not as heavy or robust as the Don Tommaso; however, both were lighter than the typical cabernet we drink in America. I was impressed with the bold flavors and even more impressed by the fact that we were sitting in this restaurant above the wine fermentation facility of these exact bottles. I had just seen where the grapes had been picked a few seasons ago. What an incredible feeling.

Our meal ended, and the tour of the facilities began. I saw where each bottle of wine and olive oil was fermented, store, bottled and labeled. As I admired the oak barrels that the Corsini family had used for centuries, I made up my mind at that moment: becoming a wine connoisseur is definitely a future goal of mine.

The final visit to the Corsini gardens, which held the most astounding array of flowers and plants, butterflies and bumblebees, completed the day. We approached our final view of the green, fruitful vineyard landscape. I had never seen something so beautiful, so peaceful, and so rich in my entire life. I cannot wait to come back one day…sooner rather than later.