Jeff Porter began his career with the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group eight years ago as the wine director of Osteria Mozza, in Los Angeles. Now, as the group’s corporate beverage director, he oversees a $7 million inventory across 10 restaurants, 95 percent of which is Italian wine. To keep up with the latest vintages and producers in Italy, he travels there at least five times a year.
We tapped him for his hit list of recommendations in Tuscany’s most famous city: Florence. Consider this your travel guide for the weekend you’ve tacked on to the end of a marathon tasting excursion through Chianti Classico, complete with epic meals, hangover cures, and some seriously silky gelato.
“Rent a car from the airport for the wine portion of your trip, but return it and take a cab into Florence for the weekend. It’s an old city that’s a pain in the ass to drive in, with small streets that are somehow all one way, going the opposite way you want to go, cobblestones, and no parking. But it’s very navigable by foot.”
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Where to Stay
“If you’ve never been to Florence, my best advice is to stay in the historic part of town near the Duomo. That’s the Florence of the 1400s, and it’s kind of amazing how much of a time warp it is. You’ll end up spending most of your time around there anyway. There are so many bars, gelaterie, and caffès within walking distance that you can just hop from place to place. Book an Airbnb, which is what I always do. Even the worst place is still pretty good.”
Do Your Research
“Before heading there, follow @girlinflorence on Instagram or look at her website. She has the most current information on what’s great in food and wine and has tested every new coffee or gelato place before anyone else has.”
WHERE TO EAT
“Even if it’s just a day or two before you plan to eat there, make reservations for restaurants. It’s such a touristy town that if you walk in, there might not be room for you. Homegrown wine is generally the focus in restaurants, but the fancier the place, the less Chianti you’ll find. If you want a truly local experience, stay away from the high-end places.”
“This place is literally one hundred years old, in a working-class neighborhood, with an alimenteria in the front, a restaurant in the back, and these old Italian grandmas cooking. It’s also way out by the airport, but it’s worth the trip. First, it’s Bib Gourmand Michelin, and their bruschetta with chicken livers and their fagioli (navy beans cooked in olive oil and rosemary) are to die for. Second, talk to the sommelier and ask if there’s anything off-list. He’ll serve you cool stuff—if he likes you. I got a 1990 vintage Badia a Coltibuono Riserva for around €30. If you’ve heard of a classic Tuscan dish but have never tried it, this is where to order it.” Via Pistoiese 6/R
“Il Magazzino specializes in tripe in its many different forms, all of them delicious: sashimi tripe, lampredotto, trippa alla fiorentina, tripe fritter balls. The piazza where it’s located is named Passera, which is also the name of Il Magazzino’s house wine. It’s a Vino da Tavola made for the restaurant by a different Chianti producer each year. You’ll see bottles with the different labels lined up, and they’re super fun. The vibe is old-school, classic trattoria. The owner is also the sommelier and the cook. It probably has 10 tables, all locals.” Piazza della Passera 2-3
“If you’ve just done a big tour of Chianti, you probably haven’t had a vegetable in a week; this spot will help you out with that. It has great salads and raw vegetables … this awesome affettati misti with crudités and pâtés. The pastas and ragùs are really fresh and change all the time; it may be wild boar one day and venison the next. This place also has the best selection of Chianti Classico that you’ve never seen or heard of, from smaller, farmstead properties. So if you say, ‘I like Montevertine; is there a producer in the same vein?’ they’ll be able to point you to maybe six of them.” Via delle Oche 11R
“The chefs who run this place have worked in high-end restaurants, so it’s more of a hip, modern take on Tuscan food. They’re not reinventing the wheel; you’ll recognize the names of all the dishes. But the flavors are more refined, the pasta has near-perfect texture, and everything is masterfully done. The guys turning out cocktails are great. I start with their take on a Manhattan, with amaro and Italian whiskey. They’re super hot on gin and tonic and have a bunch of variations on that. Then move on to any of the hard-to-find grower Champagnes on their list, like Selosse, Savart, or Marie-Noëlle Ledru. This place is right across the Ponte Vecchio, near the Boboli Gardens, in the Santo Spirito neighborhood, and it’s really delicious. Get the tasting menu; it’s only €55.” Via delle Caldaie 12R
“This is your splurge dinner. It’s where you go if you want one of the most beautiful dining experiences, not just in Italy but in all of Europe. The wine list is ridiculous for having every vintage of Coche-Dury and DRC. The tasting menu starts at €250 a head, but you have to do it at least once. The restaurant is in a gorgeous fourteenth-century hotel [in] the old part of town, near Santa Croce. I’m a tough critic when it comes to places that sound fussy, and even I thought it was fun. Pure flavors. Legit, satiating food executed in a playful manner.” Via Ghibellina 87
“Mario Batali told me about this hole-in-the-wall panini stand, declaring it the place to go in the morning for a hangover cure. The specialty? The lampredotto panino—basically tripe served on bread. They’ll give it to you wrapped in paper, and you go find a bench somewhere and eat it. It’s killer. Super savory … the bread is crunchy. Do that first thing for breakfast and then get your coffee after.” Mercato Centrale
“My Sugar is the best gelateria in Florence by light-years. It’s about a five-minute walk from the Mercato Centrale, so it’s easy to find. The place has a clean, hip design, and all the gelatos are artisan and handmade. You know, the pistachio gelato is that pale green rather than unnatural neon, with this creamy, whipped texture. My Sugar also does great handmade yogurts with seasonally driven flavors that taste just like you’re eating fresh fruit.” Via de’ Ginori 49R
WHERE TO DRINK
“One thing that’s true of Florence and most of Italy: There’s not much delineation between where you go for coffee and where you go for aperitivo. They both happen at the bar.”
“This is one of the mainstay bars in the city for craft cocktails—Negronis and spritzes as well as some pretty cool original drinks. I think of it as a before-dinner kind of place, but younger folks may want to head there later in the evening. It’s in the old part of the city, near Palazzo Corsini, and has a great, old-school vibe.” Piazza San Marco, 57
“Sant’Ambrogio is a bartender’s hangout … and more of a wine bar than a cocktail bar (though their Negroni is great). They have solid snacks, a deep Champagne list, and a lot of offerings by the glass.” Piazza Sant’Ambrogio 7R
“This is one of the OG piazza caffès that’s open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Go here for coffee in the morning; they have great brioche and pastries. In the afternoon, it’s the perfect spot for aperitivo. Drinks are around €20 because they’re huge and they come with a bunch of free snacks, so you can sit outside for hours and people-watch with your giant Negroni.” Piazza della Signoria
WHERE TO TAKE IN THE SIGHTS
“You gotta get in a couple of cultural activities, too. It’s impossible to get a true sense of Florence without putting your experiences into context and feeling all of the history behind them.”
“What’s super cool about this place is that it’s been there for such a long time. The space has been revamped in recent years, so it feels more modern, but all the same vendors are there selling all the Tuscan food staples: dried pastas, olive oil, cured meats, cheese, biscotti. The Chianti Classico Consorzio also has a shop and wine bar inside, so you can taste every producer.” Mercato Centrale
“You have to go to the Uffizi. It’s basically the home of the Renaissance. Make a reservation in advance. They’re crowded all the time, year-round, so that system makes it a nicer experience. The Piazza della Signoria folds into where the museum is, so you can get coffee at Rivoire before diving in.” Piazzale degli Uffizi 6
“Sure, it’s just a garden, like Florence’s version of a manicured Central Park with sculptures, but it’s so much more gorgeous than that. Grab a panini or even just some cheese and bread from the Mercato Centrale and hike over there and have a really nice afternoon.” Piazza Pitti 1
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Since parting ways with the full-time sommelier game in 2010, Carson Demmond has directed Wine & Spirits Magazine’s tastings department, worked for a forward-thinking Bordelais négoce, picked grapes in Arbois, and written for PUNCH, Food & Wine, Decanter and Vogue.com. She currently lives in Atlanta, GA and looks forward to wine pilgrimages with her forthcoming infant in tow.