Matera, Italy (Photos by Brad A. Johnson)
Matera will move you to tears. And if it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with you. The Sassi of Matera became UNESCO’s first protected “landscape” in Western Europe. Thus the hauntingly beautiful skyline and exterior facades of the Sassi can never be altered. The food here is fantastic. Slow food. Locavore at its best. The bread is considered by many to be the best in Italy. The five most important things to sample here are the bread, the pizza, the grilled lamb (a mixed plate consisting of several different cuts and offal), the dried red chillies and the orrechietti. As for wine, the prized local specialty is a beautiful, powerful, earthy red called aglianico, most of which never leaves Basilicata. Here’s where to eat:
Ristorante Francesca (PHOTOs BY BRAD A. JOHNSON)
1. Ristorante Francesca
This is one of the nicest, most elegant restaurants in town specializing in strictly local Lucanian cuisine (Basilicata was formerly known as Lucania) in a beautifully restored split-level cave on the back side of the Sassi. What to order: Outstanding hand-rolled pasta with dried local red chillies. Mixed grill of lamb.
Il Terrazzino (PHOTOs BY BRAD A. JOHNSON)
2. Il Terrazzino (Vico San Giuseppe, 7)
Nevermind the outrageously gruff old waiters with zero patience for English. The views of the Sassi are astonishing, and the wood-fired pizzas are excellent. What to order: Margherita pizza, local melon and prosciutto.
Pizzeria sant’angostino (PHOTOs BY BRAD A. JOHNSON)
3. Pizzeria Sant’Agostino (Via D’Addozio 6/8)
Possibly the best pizza in town. Located in a multi-level cave on the main street running through the center of the lower Sassi. What to order: Pizza with local red chillies, tomatoes and mozzarella.
Il Cantuccio (Photo by Brad A. Johnson)
4. Il Cantuccio (via delle Beccherie, 33)
This tiny, ultra-cramped trattoria is located on top of the hill in the part of town that was once part of the walled city during the Renaissance. Fantastic local wines. Handmade pastas. There are only 10 tables. Reserve several days in advance. What to order: Orrechiette, the best in town, hands down. Also, braised rabbit.
Baccanti (photo by Brad A. Johnson)
5. Baccanti (via Sant’Angelo 58/61)
This is the town’s most avant-garde restaurant with the biggest, deepest wine cellar (which occupies an entire cave of its own). Expect a few molecular tricks and surprises. You’ll want to get dressed up for this one. What to order: Chef’s tasting menu paired with wines; foie gras with wild raspberry mostarda; salt-crusted branzino.
Sextantio Le Grotte Della CivitA (Photos by Brad a. Johnson)
6. Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita
The amazing cave hotel by Sextantio doesn’t have a restaurant, per se. But they do have an incredible dining room for hotel guests. Meals are very simple: freshly picked fruit from the hotel’s own garden, wild figs from nearby trees, freshly baked breads from the community ovens, stuff like that. It’s locavore slow food at its simplest. And it’s awesome.