Where to eat, drink and shop in Florence.

By Clark Frasier
Updated May 24, 2017
© Francesco Spighi

Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier are the chef owners of MC Perkins Cove in Ogunguit Maine and MC Spiedo in Boston, where they focus on sustainable food and practices. They first met more than 25 years ago at Stars in San Francisco, where they worked with chef Jeremiah Tower. They were married in 2015 in Pebble Beach.

Florence may be famed as the city of the Renaissance, but it is the feel of the medieval that permeates the streets of this city: narrow and twisting stone streets with high forbidding walls. And yet there is a charm that is intense: one can feel that a Brunelleschi or a young Michelangelo might easily emerge from a doorway surrounded by friends.

On our first visit to Florence, Mark led me blithely through these streets, and we suddenly emerged in front of the magnificent Duomo. It took my breath away, and I will never forget the experience. It is a building that seems to say: 'Fine, world, this dazzling, amazing, beautiful, brilliant structure is what we humans can really do.' Perhaps I wax too eloquent, but it is true that this is a place that will move you. Be warned.

On this same trip, our friends introduced us to Mario, whose years in the rarified atmosphere of Italy's finest hotels and famed restaurants were exciting if a bit intimidating to us. But we immediately hit it off with this polished Florentine, and soon we were trading shop talk like a trio of ladies under the hair dryers. Since then, Mario has taught us much about the wine of the region, the food of his beloved town, and the sometimes seedy, sometimes grand people who inhabit the upper echelons of both expat and native Florentine society. We have become fast friends. And each year, Mark and I try our best to spend a few days in this glorious, dark, dazzling city with Mario and his wife Mary, indulging a bit in the fashion scene, eating the food, making sure the wine is still good, and of course seeing the sights that will always take our breath away!

The Best Food Markets: Mercato Centrale

© Francesco Spighi
© Francesco Spighi

On our most recent visit to the city, Mary and Mario suggested that we throw a small cocktail party at their charming flat, a three-story walk-up with stone stairs in the building where Boticelli was born. "We'll invite some friends and you and Mario can cook some of your favorite dishes to wow them," said Mary. Cooking and shopping with Mario in his hometown seemed like a great idea to us! First stop is the Central Mercado, which has always been a great place to buy groceries and see what is in season; it now has the added enticement of an entire new top level featuring fantastic mini restaurants, bakeries, pizza places, and high end food goods—all with a stylish modern look. Similar to the many food halls you see popping up in NYC and throughout the states. Via dell'Ariento

© Francesco Spighi

Amazing Artichoke Torta: Sostanza

© Francesco Spighi

We bring our groceries to the flat, by which point we are famished! No problem, because across the street is Sostanza, which was founded in the roaring twenties and has not changed a bit since then. It is hands down one of the city's best restaurants, and it ought to be. The simple menu, which includes the best artichoke omelet you will ever eat, has remained unchanged since its opening. The food is cooked over charcoal and the cooks who work their magic in this minuscule kitchen are the same ones who cooked there over fifteen years ago on our first visit. Via del Porcellana, 25/R

Luscious Lemon Custard Timbale: Caffe Cibreo

At Caffe Cibreo I would recommend the daily antipasto, which might (hopefully!) have the lemon custard timbale! The lunch pre fix is a good deal–two can split it and have plenty to eat. The waiters won't love you, though. The famed ristorante Cibreo is across the street. The cafe is a cozy little place and the intensely detailed lunch menu gives you a hint of the complexity of what you experience at the ristorante on a special occasion night. Via A. Del Verrochio 5r

Superfresh Shaved Artichoke Salad: Cammillo Trattoria

© Francesco Spighi

While we were in town, Mary and Mario took us to a place that has become a bit of a mutual favorite: Cammillo Trattoria. The place is charming and the food simple Florentine fare. We highly recommend the raw shaved artichoke salad as well as the fried brains. It's a bit of an experience to eat with our friends, who seem to know everyone in the dining room! And oh what a cast of characters. "Who was that man in the old tweed sport coat who stopped to say hello?" "Oh, he is a Florentine Prince. They hate going to the dentist!" "And who is that man with the beautiful woman?" "Oh, he designed the suit that you wore to your wedding." It's that sort of place. Borgo S Jacapo/57r

Fantastic Parmigiano Reggiano: Fratelli Terziani

Fratelli Terziani is the best salumeria for Parmigiano Reggiano. via Della Spada

Perfect Negronis: Four Seasons Hotel

Our last night on this last trip begins at our hotel bar at the Four Seasons, which is set in a grand restored palazzo on five secluded acres of land. Hotels rarely reach the standards that this hotel achieves: beautiful grounds and rooms, incredibly gracious and helpful staff, really incredible fitness center and spa and a great bar to boot!

Classic Rabbit Involtini: Trattoria Armando

Fortified with the requisite Negronis, we head to another favorite, Trattoria Armando, haunt of the artsy set and run by three generations of one family. The walls are lined with signed photos of legends from Nureyev to Pavarotti, and the charming owner is as gracious and welcoming as her mother, the chef. The food is delicious and refined. We especially love the rabbit involtini and fried artichokes. This is the place to end a perfect time in this beguiling city.