Letter from Rome: The Biscotti Files
By Tom Passavant
They say that armies travel on their stomachs. So for the legions of tourists who descend on Rome every day, I have one word of advice for withstanding the rigors of sightseeing: biscotti. The Eternal City abounds with options for quick and delicious snacks, from standup espresso bars to pizzerias, but no city on earth is as passionate about cookies (biscotti in Italian) as Rome. Even Palermo can’t compete with the great bakeries in every Roman neighborhood offering endless mouth-watering variations on flour, butter, shortening and sugar, not to mention nuts, fruit and chocolate. What’s more, most bakeries are open from early morning to evening, without the usual midday closing. That means that you can always get your energy level back up before taking on the third church of the day.
After two weeks of dogged investigative journalism, I’ve come up with a short list of bakeries in various neighborhoods that will not disappoint even the most demanding biscotti lovers.
Innocenti Tucked away in a quiet corner of Trastevere is this century-old, no-frills biscottificio where even the most basic cat’s tongues, with their slightly burnt edges, manage to trump the competition. The selection of both traditional and more modern cookies is vast, and everything is sold by weight, but the friendly owner and her assistants are happy to pick out an assortment for you. Via Della Luce 21/A.
Il Fornaio When it comes to traditional styles of biscotti, like brutti ma buoni (ugly but good) and pine nut-paved della nonnas, our hands-down favorite is this busy place between the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and the Campo de Fiori. The nut-filled varieties are especially creamy, and those virtuous white balls might harbor a liqueur-spiked cherry. Via del Baullari 5/7.
Panella This sleek, modern place in Esquilino, just southwest of the main train station, is famous for its breads and for coffee drinks topped with a spoonful of the thickest, yellowest cream imaginable. The vast array of biscotti and other pastries are first-rate, too, and there are indoor seats at various counters where you can enjoy your treats without the usual markup for table service. Via Merulana 54/55.
Farinando Tucked away behind the Aventine Hill and across the Tiber from Trastevere, Testaccio is one of Rome’s foodiest neighborhoods, featuring everything from trendy late-night hangouts to one of the best food markets in the city. It’s also home to this new bread/pizza/biscotti storefront that offers a nice selection of traditional cookies–try the rich, whole wheat integrali for example, which taste like graham crackers gone to heaven. Another highlight is the array of exceptionally light and flavorful pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice, cut to order from a long rectangle of dough). Plenty of tables, too. Via della Robbia 30.
Antico Forno Roscioli It’s tough to know where to start describing the pleasures of this perpetually crowded bakery near the Campo de Fiori that offers everything from superb cookies and pastries to memorable pizza al taglio, unusual breads, and savory tarts stuffed with vegetables. There’s even a tavola calda where you can point to various hot dishes and enjoy the fast food of your dreams while standing shoulder to shoulder with Roman businessmen and women at barrel tables right on the street. Their sister deli/restaurant, a few doors down, has the best spaghetti carbonara in Rome. Via dei Chiavari 34.
Tom Passavant is a former editor-in-chief of Diversion magazine. Now a freelance travel and food writer based in Colorado and Hawaii, his work has appeared in Aspen Magazine, Gourmet, Four Seasons Magazine, Town & Country Travel, ForbesTraveler.com, Ski, Powder, Luxury Living, and many other places. He is the co-author of “Playboy’s Guide to Ultimate Skiing.” A former president of the New York Travel Writers Association, Passavant has won a Lowell Thomas Award for his travel writing and has served as judge for the James Beard Journalism Awards. See more of Tom’s work at TomPassavant.com.