Along the Amalfi Coast, Maiori is the larger counterpart to nearby Minori. Like Minori, its roots date back before the Romans: it was founded by the Etruscans under the name “Reghinna Major” (with Minori as “Reghinna Minor”). Unlike Minori, Maiori is a larger, “L”-shaped town and boasts the longest unbroken stretch of beach along the Amalfi Coast.
The place where that “L” draws back from the coastline and climbs inland is the broad Corso Regina, marking the social and commercial heart of Maiori separate from the town’s attractive beachfront promenade. Pasticceria Napoli is located along that Corso Regina — a few blocks up from the beach. It is a tiny, local establishment. While it lacks the service volume, finesse, and notoriety of a Sal de Riso (in nearby Minori), it’s an excellent local example of a neighborhood pastry and espresso shop.
The small, non-descript space has a few indoor, colorful-plastic-backed café tables. There’s often a number of tasty baked goods on display, and behind the bar (with its prominent Illy branding) is a two-group La Cimbali machine.
With it, they preheat the Illy-logo SPAL cups and pull shots with an even medium brown crema of good thickness and no heat spots. It has an Illy flavor of wood and spice, but with a robustness typical to Illy when consumed in Italy. The barista here can be a character but extremely friendly: the staff here are known for their exceptional friendliness.
Rated a respectable two tazzine and two chicchi in the 2014 Bar d’Italia. A solid effort for a mere €0.80.
Read the review of Pasticceria Napoli in Maiori, Italy.
Returning to our reviews of espresso in Napoli and the Amalfi Coast…
The tiny coastal village of Minori has roots dating as far back as a Roman Maritime Archeological Villa established here at sea level in the 1st century B.C. (and excavated only since 1932). Minori is also home to the venerated remains of a female martyr from Sicily, Saint Trofimena, whose bones washed ashore in an urn here during the 9th century — inspiring a nearby basilica that bears her name.
Perhaps a more modern place of worship in town is Pasticceria Sal de Riso. Since 1908, the De Riso family has operated a bar/tobacconist’s shop in the heart of Minori. They earned a reputation along the entire Amalfi Coast for the gelati and lemon granita they made. The latest generation is embodied in Salvatore De Riso, who started this seaside confectionary in 1989 and has grown its operations and reputation ever since. In 2010-2011, this was named the “Pasticcere dell’Anno” — or the Italian national pastry shop of the year.
It’s located right in front of the Basilica di Santa Trofimena, in the center of the small town, and it offers seating upstairs and ample piazza seating out front overlooking the beach. In addition to their nationally recognized pastries, they also serve gelato, various liquors at their full bar, panini, and — of course — espresso.
Using a large, three-group La Cimbali M39, they pull short shots at a higher serving temperature with a medium to darker brown crema and a lighter heat spot on the surface. Using Trucillo coffee from Salerno, they produce a cup (an elegant one made by Tafelstern, btw) that has a pungent flavor with strong herbal elements. An inexpensive €0.90 for espresso at a café rated 2 tazzine and 2 chicchi in the 2014 Bar d’Italia.
Read the review of Sal de Riso in Minori, Italy.
Six years ago we wrote about the original Eataly in Torino, Italy. Since then, Eataly crossed the Atlantic with a wildly successful New York City opening in August 2010. Earlier this month, Eataly Chicago opened — and boy, did it open. Within its first week of operation, it had to shut down for two days just to retrench for the customer demand onslaught.
At 63,000 square feet, Eataly Chicago is a little larger than the one in New York City, but still only about half the size of the original in Torino. (It actually seems small by comparison to that former Carpano factory.) But surprisingly, despite the many cultural and personnel differences from Italy, Eataly Chicago mostly stays true to its roots at the original.
Eataly Chicago sticks to recognizably common branding with its mothership. Food slogans are prominently offered in English and Italian. Even its supply chain has a lot in common — from Lurisia water, to exquisite wines from Prunotto and Albino Rocca, to Baratti & Milano chocolates.
And yet there are distribution anomalies. Nutella crêpes and Lavazza bars are totally incongruous from the Slow Food-driven, small producer focus as in Eataly in Italy. And what American supermarket doesn’t carry Barilla pasta? Meanwhile, Eataly Torino would promote meat from a specific breed of rabbit that would die out if not for the careful and deliberate cultivation of its species.
Of course, encouraging patrons to “eat local” is naturally going to be incongruous with being a massive Italian import store. We recognize that some concessions must be made to remain commercially viable. Hence why American-friendly celebrity chefs, such as Mario Batali and Lidia & Joe Bastianich, are prominently featured — whereas Italian restauranteur geniuses behind the original Eataly, such as Piero Alciati, are not. The shelves of food books by Batali-buddy Gwyneth Paltrow may have made us throw up in our mouths a little, but we understand why she’s there.
There are two coffee purveyors within Eataly Chicago. Unlike Eataly Torino, they may not showcase the use of Slow Food coffee bean stocks from Huehuetenango, Guatemala as roasted by Torinese prison inmates. But they chose two purveyors that are recognizably Piemontese: Lavazza and Caffè Vergnano.
Lavazza is no stranger to Chicago, so it’s a little odd that they were chosen as one of two coffee purveyors in Eataly Chicago. Especially since Eataly was founded on small, local purveyors within the radar of the Slow Food movement, and Lavazza is the largest coffee distributor in Italy.
Located next to the Nutella crêpe bar on first floor of Eataly Chicago, they offer decorative baked items in addition to a hot and cold “Dolcezze Lavazza” specialty drinks menu. They offer seating along a curved window counter in the main corner of Eataly Chicago.
Using dueling three-group La Cimbali machines, they pull shots with a mottled medium brown crema. They serve them properly short — but not too strongly flavored of a fresher Lavazza flavor profile of toasted spices and pungency. For milk-frothing, they produce a rich and creamy microform with token latte art. Surprisingly rather solid.
Read the review of Lavazza at Eataly Chicago.
This is Chicago’s installment of a series of chain roasters and cafés based in Italy’s Piemonte region, but with multiple locations in international locations such as London.
Located on the second floor of Eataly Chicago, it’s a no-frills affair with six coffee blends available for purchase and only two different kinds of prepared coffee drinks for retail purchase: an espresso and a caffè macchiato in single and doppio sizes. Not even the cappuccino makes the list here, and we admire them for sticking to their guns and ensuring it’s about the coffee and not the milk.
A walk-up bar service with three marble countertops in front, they use a gorgeous, chrome, three-group Elektra Belle Epoque Verticale to pull shots with an even, darker brown crema with a small heat spot. It has a heartier aroma of darker flavors with a flavor profile consisting of chocolate and some herbal pungency all in balance.
Served with a packaged Caffè Vergnano 1882 biscoffee biscuit on the side, it is surprisingly better than its Italian equivalent — although we may have caught their Alba location on an off day. With a small glass of still water optionally served on the side of their logo block IPA cups.
This tiny bar is one of the “four horsemen”/anchor tenants of Ravello’s main Piazza Duomo (Vescovado). Closer to the Villa Rufolo side, Bar Il Panino’s covered outdoor seating is among the first you see when entering the square from the main road/tunnel (i.e., via della Repubblica).
Wedged at the right-hand base of the steps leading up to Ravello’s Duomo, locals hang out here to play cards, socialize, and pretty much pass the time. Inside the quarters are tight, with a small bar serving liquor, gelato, cornetti, and a two-group La Cimbali for espresso. They also offer their namesake panini, of course.
They serve Illy espresso in Illy-logo SPAL cups with a richly striped medium and darker brown crema. It has that brighter Illy flavor you get in Italy but not in the U.S.: bright spices, a touch of smoke, and also some acidity of apricot and a touch of citrus. If only they could serve Illy like this in the States. An even €1.
Read the review of Bar Il Panino in Ravello, Italy.
This restaurant is often considered the best in Southern Italy and certainly one of its most famous. It’s earned two Michelin stars, and it’s known as something of a Chez Panisse of Italy: an emphasis on locally grown ingredients sourced from the chef’s 6 hectare farm, Le Peracciole (purchased in 1990), but elevated to a fine dining experience.
Located at the heart of the remote hill town of Sant’Agata sui due Golfi, it’s situated on a mountain ridge that overlooks both the Gulf of Naples and the Gulf of Salerno (hence the town’s name). Driving up in a torrential downpour, we accidentally pulled in for cover into the garage for the restaurant service staff — decorated with large murals of various fruits and vegetables — and arrived via the service entrance. Not that it mattered, because whether we stumbled upon the pre-service staff dinner or found ourselves in part of the kitchen, the staff were exceptionally friendly and accommodating.
Alfonso Costanzo Iaccarino started this operation as a hotel in 1890. Today it is both a hotel and restaurant (the latter begun in 1973) owned and operated by Livia and Alfonso Iaccarino. The two patrol the dining room with its pink and white walls, ensuring their brigade offers impeccable service (and it very much is).
One of the few buildings on site is La Cantina, their world-famous, 25,000-bottle wine cellar. It begins as you enter a 17th century Neapolitan building. It then leads to an earlier wing from the 16th century. And it then descends some 40 meters at an angle into the earth into what was originally a 6th century Etruscan tomb. At the bottom of the tomb they also age some of their cheeses.
Besides the over-the-top tasting menu (eel mousse?!), they also offer a coffee service that aspires to the level of uniqueness and memorability as the food here. (Contrast with the more pedestrian — albeit top-quality — approach taken by Copenhagen’s Noma.)
They wood-roast their own private coffee label through nearby Caffè Maresca, and they swear by La San Marco as the best espresso machines they can get their hands on. They pull very short shots of espresso with a darker and medium brown crema and heavy chocolate tones to the flavor, and they serve it in cartoon-colorful Solimene ceramic cups from Vietri sul Mare with lids and two saucers.
To create a more unique experience, they serve their espresso with five different sugars — each produced at different levels of refinement. It may not be close to the best espresso we’ve ever had, but they clearly make the effort and do what you’d expect from such a special restaurant to make the coffee service equally as memorable. At least more than just the sticker shock you get from its €5 price tag.
As over-the-top Italian restaurants go, Don Alfonso 1890 offers some of the best service we’ve experienced anywhere. The food is outstanding and showcases an emphasis on simple, quality ingredients for which Southern Italy is known. That said, we’d still have to give a slight edge to more of the culinary refinement you’ll find at a place like Guido Ristorante Pollenzo up north.
Read the review of Ristorante Don Alfonso 1890 in Sant’Agata sui due Golfi, Italy.
Positano may be a gorgeous place, but it is overrun with tourists. But given all there is to look at and experience, Positano is one of those rare places where you don’t seem to mind it too much. It’s frequently one of the costs of a beautiful place.
Opening in 1950 as a pastry shop, La Zagara resides along a pedestrian walkway that leads to the famous and fashionable Positano beach. The location shows a bit of its worn age — especially in the wood paneling in the (full) bar area.
For the tourists, they offer a great selection of high-end grappe (Berta Roccanivo, etc.). While the entirely Napoli region loves to partake in a digestivo, cafés on the Amalfi Coast seem to have particularly taken to selling high-end grappa as take-home gifts and mementos.
La Zagara still offers notable pastries — including an excellent cannoli. Cannoli may have been put on the map by the Sicilians, but the Neapolitans have made their own variant somewhat famous. There’s also a large garden bar with outdoor views under canopies that overlook one of Positano’s many canyon-like features. It’s a tempting place to kill time, having done that ourselves 11 years ago.
Using dueling two-group La Cimbali machines at the bar, they pull shots of Caffè Maresca with a medium brown crema with lighter heat spot and some small bubbling. It’s served short in Güral Porselen logo cups. It has a flavor of some tobacco layered with Maresca’s wood-roasting.
An old fashioned €1 for tourist central. Rated 2 tazzine and 1 chicco in the 2014 Gambero Rosso Bar d’Italia.
Read the review of La Zagara in Positano, Italy.
Positano is an impossible town. By that, I mean that the place even exists — grafted vertically onto cliffs overlooking a gorgeous sea — defies belief. Glimpsing just a single photo of the place was all I needed to convince me that I had to first come here nearly 12 years ago. And I certainly am not the only one.
John Steinbeck visited Positano on multiple occasions. His essay in the May 1953 issue of Harper’s Bazaar is said to have put Positano on the tourist map. Which then lead to inspiring Patricia Highsmith to write The Talented Mr. Ripley in 1955. Her novel became a 1999 film that was also partly shot in Positano.
A decade later, Positano inspired a visiting Mick Jagger and Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones to pen the song “Midnight Rambler” — from the brilliant 1969 Let It Bleed album — in its cafés. La Brezza Net Art Café wasn’t around at the time for Jagger and Richards, but there’s a high probability that one of the cafés where they did write it stood in La Brezza’s place back then.
Because La Brezza makes the most of its prime beach location in fashionable Positano. There are two floors inside that feel a little bit cramped, but most of the activity of its patrons naturally takes place on the front patio under canvases or among the sidewalk tables along the paved walkway down to the beach.
They serve beachside gelato and various lunch items with a view over the sand and the small, wooden fishing boats beached on the shore. Inside their espresso machine might look like a chrome Fiorenzato, but it is a two-group Esprèsso by SAB.
Using Irio Caffé from just over the Amalfi Coast mountain range, they pull shots with a darker, rich-looking crema with the occasional lighter medium brown heat spot. Not surprising given Irio’s wood-roasting processes, it has a woody and smooth flavor of mild spices but a body that runs a little thinner than expected. At €1.50, it’s a little pricey — but half the cost of table service (which is still worth it, given the hangout).
And good enough for Gambero Rosso’s 2014 Bar d’Italia to rate it 2 tazzine and 2 chicchi.
Read the review of La Brezza Net Art Café in Positano, Italy.