Italian food is always astonishing and Verona, if I’m honest, has some of the best you’ll find. Over five days we never ate a bad meal, something that’s very easy to do in Venice, and even in Rome if you pick badly.
So just for the record (and when I next go back) let me set down a few food and drink tips that may be useful.
First… a rediscovery. The wonderful red onion of Tropea. This is an onion, but not as you know it. Grown exclusively in the Calabrian seaside town of Tropea it’s so sweet they make jam out of it. I bought some seeds and tried growing it in England. It turned out onions but they weren’t the same. Oh well…
The pizza at the top features slowly stewed Tropea red onions and a local Verona cheese. It was simply stunning. Nine euros if I recall correctly and you can find it in a church now converted to a very handsome restaurant, Santa Felicita, near the Ponte Pietra. The pizzas were excellent but there’s a wide menu available too.
There are frescoes on the walls from its church days and seats in the gallery which give you a great view of everything including the kitchen. The place used to be a carpentry shop; its days as a church were numbered when Napoleon marched into Verona and closed the place down, along with lots of other churches he didn’t like.
Just around the corner there’s a fantastic place to stop for a sandwich or a drink. The Bar al Ponte is, as the name suggests, right by the ancient Roman foot bridge (rebuilt after the retreating Germans destroyed it during the Second World War). There’s a big selection of sandwiches and an extensive local wine list. But the best part is the leafy terrace right by the river Adige, a warm and sunny spot even on a winter’s day. Nor do you pay stupid tourist prices for enjoying the fantastic view across the river to the Roman theatre. A great spritz there is just €4.
Pizza may not come from the north but that doesn’t stop Verona having some of the best pizzerias around. One of the best is just off the Via Valeria Catullo, Corte Farina. It’s very modern and looks like a chain but it isn’t. The pizzas use dough that’s made from sourdough yeast and left to rise for 24 hours. That means they are very light and digestible, and the range of toppings is quite astonishing, none of them every getting into the daftness of pineapple or curried chicken as you’ll find in the UK.
Not far away is Scapin, a restaurant, cafe and delicatessen run by a Veronese catering company. That makes it sound a bit corporate… it isn’t. The staff are charming and most speak good English, the food absolutely wonderful — bigoli with duck for example, just nine euros. They often do lunch specials too. Since it was carnival you could get three different types of gnocchi and a glass of good wine for just €10.
Yes, it was as good as it looked. Tomato and mozzarella, spinach and the third made with local radicchio and leeks. Verona is very proud of its own type of radicchio and if you see it on the menu go for it.
You’ll find it in all manner of dishes, braised, grilled and turned into sauces. When it comes to wine remember this is one of the biggest wine-growing regions in Europe so a bad drop can be hard to find. Just asking for a glass of the local Valpolicella classico will normally get you something very decent, and probably for not much more than €3 too.
Radicchio was on the menu at another favourite spot when we dropped by. The Osteria Abazia is bang opposite the bronze doors of that great church (familiar to listeners of Romeo and Juliet: A Novel) San Zeno. If this were Venice you’d be paying tourist prices and probably getting tourist service. But no, this is a truly local, family-run inn, friendly with unpretentious genuinely Veronese food.
The lasagne here was made with local radicchio and Monte Veronese cheese — and there was a version with artichokes available too. The gnocchi was (confession time) served with pastissada de caval, a traditional casserole made with horsemeat. First time I’ve ever eaten horsemeat (knowingly) and I thought I had to take the leap. It was absolutely lovely — cooked for hours in wine and herbs, and to be honest pretty much indistinguishable from something like beef oxtail or shin. Both dishes were €9 and a glass of lovely red €3.
My favourite — in fact one of my favourite restaurants anywhere – I’ve saved till last. The Vecchia Fontanina is tucked away in a little piazza not far from the Piazza Erbe. It’s a family place, as you can see from the funny and friendly staff.
The cooking is pure Verona. Risotto made with amarone, pasta with nettles and Monte Veronese cheese, horse, naturally. This is the place to try bolito misto, a selection of boiled meats served with mustards. There’s nothing too offal about the Fontanina’s version. You get ox cheek, chicken, cotechino sausage and ox tongue. If you’re not a fan of the tongue just ask them to leave it out and you’ll get more of the delicious beef.
Since we’re in Verona this is served with something I doubt you’ll see much anywhere else in Italy, pearà. It’s a bit like a savoury porridge and comes in a separate bowl so you spoon on as much as you like. Made from breadcrumbs, stock and beef marrow, it’s hearty peasant food, and the whole dish will only set you back €15. Most of the items on the menu are around nine or ten.
If you fancy a genuine worker’s lunch this is the place to come Monday to Friday too, when they serve up a fixed price two course menu. The day we went we had risotto with sausage and pasta with radicchio for starters, followed by grilled tomino cheese and a couple of slices of horse steak with vegetables, very tender and again much like beef. With a quarter litre of wine, water and coffee, it costs just an astonishing €12 each. The Fontanina is a lively, quirky place, but don’t expect to get out of there quickly. You’re in for the duration.
I’m sure there are lots more great spots to eat and drink in Verona. It’s a foodie sort of town. But if you are visiting I hope these give you a few ideas.
If you’re worried about booking in a foreign language I can also recommend a phone app, Quandoo, which seems to be very popular with Italian restaurants. Most of the places listed here can be booked very easily and quickly through the app. It will also tell you if the places are full.