By Michelle Codd
We were on our first visit to Montefalco to meet with a new Italian linen supplier–Montefalco, Italy is a majestic Umbrian hill town often referred to as the “la ringhiera dell’Umbria” which is translated to mean “the balcony of Umbria”. The town has a rich history in weaving Jacquard linens which we were anxious to add to our Italian Linen Collection. It was raining this April night when we arrived-something that the locals claim never happens. After we’d hauled our luggage up the cobbled stone streets from the parcheggio down below the town centro, we found a cheap and “barely adequate” hotel which we later nick-named “the orphanage.” We decided we deserved to have a nice dinner and upon recommendation from the hotel owner, we headed for Il Coccorone and prepared ourselves for a cozy evening.
We edged our way through a dark and winding cobbled stone alley, side-stepping puddles as we went, hoping we were going in the right direction. We eventually found the restaurant and found that we had arrived early, something we always seem to do because the Italians eat so late and 8:00 is about as long as we can wait. The restaurant was empty and it appeared that the employees had only just arrived. A television mounted above the dining room was blaring as a waiter started a fire in a large open fireplace at one end of the dining room. We were seated at a table just adjacent to the open fire which was a blessing on this chilly night. As the fire got going, some other patrons started to fill the room. The television was still blaring.
One of the guests was a single elderly gentleman wearing very comfortable clothing and slippers on his feet. Yes, slippers, even though it was a reservoir outside. Though we didn’t hear him order it, a bottle of Sagrantino di Montefalco soon appeared at his table. Keli and I approved of his choice and ordered one for ourselves even though we’d already had a full bottle with some truffled mushroom crostini earlier in the day…this was Italy after all and it was our duty to enjoy it. Sagrantino is the name of a wine and a grape grown nowhere else in the world. The secco version of the wine is a fabulous, rich and chewy wine traditionally served in king-sized goblets. There’s also a lighter Montefalco Rosso which is a blend of Sagrantino and Sangiovese and a luscious dessert wine called Sagrantino Passito. Sagrantino is very hard to find in the United States and pricey when you do, but it’s well worth it.
The next customers to arrive were young couple, who quite fancied each other. They apparently found the rainy evening and the large open fire hugely romantic and maybe even thought the T.V. background noise added to the ambiance. We were a bit uncomfortable and tried to ignore our neighbors’ rousing game of “tonsil hockey,” they were completely oblivious to us.
Seeking a distraction, we caught the language of the single elderly gentleman as he ordered his meal…English. Not just English…American English. It is interesting how we find it so strange when we come in contact with Americans in Italy. How could they have stumbled on the same small pieces of paradise that we have discovered? When we see Americans in our European travels we feel a certain liberty to speak to them even though we wouldn’t feel it appropriate to intrude back home.
“Where are you from?” I asked. “I am from Michigan,” he said, just as shocked as I to hear a fellow American in the room. “Great,” I said,” Are you on vacation?” “A walking vacation,” he replied after a sip from his grand wine glass. I must have looked confused because he explained, “I have been walking from town to town throughout Italy along the trails for two weeks.” He held up a well-worn map of Umbrian trails. I had heard of biking through Italy, but never walking. He went on to say that he went on a walking vacation every year–he had walked through France and Scotland and this was his second trip to Italy. He appeared to be in his late 70’s, but was very fit. We noticed another bottle of wine show up at his table…all that walking creates a powerful thirst.
Seeing that the specialty of the house was traditionally grilled meats, we ordered a mixed plate to share and some insalata Caprese. The couple next to us were still wrapped around each other and did not appear to have an appetite. They must have squeezed in their order between kisses because an antipasti platter soon arrived at their table. The fire was now at a full roar as was the television…still. Our waiter arrived at the fire place with a plate piled high with a variety of meats. He raked the coals from the flame down under the grill. This very traditional way of grilling meat sent wonderful aromas our way and we were anticipating our mixed grill. The lovers were actually eating now.
It was very entertaining watching the waiter cook our meal over the open flame. Our food arrived and was wonderful. The salad came first, of course, because that’s the way the Italians think that Americans want their meal served. We finished our bottle of Sagrantino and found one to be enough (well, two, if you count the one at lunch). The room was filled with the noises of the T.V and the clicking of cutlery as everyone was eating now. We chose not to have caffé and asked for the bill, il conto. Another wonderful and memorable meal in Italy. Out we went to quickly scurry in the down pour that had yet to let up, off to our shabby albergo.