Antica Macelleria Cecchini, Panzano in Chianti
Now that was truly a local experience that we won't forget. We weren't even planning to come here at first. But this morning it dawned on me that Bourdain did an episode in Tuscany a while back, and after some digging around, I realized that he went to see this famous butcher in a very small town called Panzano in Chianti. We were going to be out in the area anyway, so we decided to come here for a Sunday brunch after a long drive through wine country (Via Venti Luglio 2, 055-852020…and Google Maps was wrong at the time of writing, BTW. If it helps, the GPS coordinates should be 43.54457°N by 11.31641°E).
Dario the butcher himself greeted us with a big smile and handshake before opening a secret door in the back of his shop to one of his restaurants above it. We got seated at a long table with a bunch of locals, and suddenly food started coming out, with grilled meat being doled out like a Brazilian churrascaria until you told them to stop. I particularly liked his beef "sushi," which was actually seared rather than being completely raw, but chopped up to be super tender. The requisite bistecca fiorentina was also of much better quality than those that I got back in Florence. Perhaps the most interesting was the cup of lardo di colonnata, or cured pork lard that one smeared onto a baked potato. Contrary to how it might sound, it didn't taste heavily of pork nor lard, but definitely provided a richness that explains why he calls it burro del chianti, or Chianti butter.
This seemingly endless Officina della Bistecca feast for €50 (US$67) wasn't just about food; one got copious amounts of his Chianti wine of course, not to mention post-meal liqueurs like grappa, sambuca, brandy, or an herbal one that tasted a bit like Ibizan Herbias (most diners appeared to be from the town itself and thus were fortunate to be able to stumble home rather than having to stay sober enough to drive out). More than anything though, everyone was so friendly that it was like being with a big family; Dario and several others in his team came to chat with every single diner, even if our lack of Italian reduced our conversations to some simple smiling, grunting, and belly rubbing gestures. He runs other adjacent dining halls that serve cheaper €10 and €20 sets (US$13 and $27), but it depends on the day of the week. Either way, we absolutely loved it, and have eaten so much that we can easily skip dinner now.