Family Tradition, Fossilized

An inside look at Florence, Italy’s Vini e Vecchi Sapori: a family-owned trattoria with a modern mindset. 

I made a promise to myself during my first week of studying in Florence at Santa Reparate International School of Art (SRISA) that I’d never eat at the same restaurant twice. I am often a woman of my word but I’ve already been back to Vini e Vecchi Sapori seven times since my first visit.

I sat at a local bagel joint in Newport Beach, California with Camille Vasquez, a close family friend, better known as Johnny Depp’s sensational attorney, who gave me advice before my journey to Florence. The one restaurant she told me I must visit was Vini e Vecchi Sapori. “You’ll die. And there are photos of Madonna all over the walls too. You can’t miss it.”

I took her word for it and jotted the name down in my notes app. As the internet has witnessed, the woman knows a thing or two.

A grand tour of the 5 senses

A trip to this beloved trattoria is a grand tour for the senses. Sight is the traditional interior with a twist: wooden ceilings and stools, shared tables, and casual wait staff accompanied by an array of classic and modern artwork (all gifts from customers), family portraits, and the infamous photos of Madonna decorating the walls.

Sound is Rich Girl by Gwen Stefani, She Wolf by Shakira, and other early 2000s, Hot 100 hits, warranting an obligatory boogie with the owner, Tommaso Mazzanti.

Smell is the rich and warm aroma of Tuscan home cooking, wafting from the exposed kitchen where Rosanna, Tommaso’s mother, works diligently. Touch is a kiss on the head from the illustrious Mario, Tommaso’s father, not dissimilar to a blessing from the pope. And then, there is taste.

Authentic Tuscan cuisine

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At first glance of the handwritten menu, you notice a rather blunt disclaimer in all caps: “NO PIZZA, NO ICE, NO CAPPUCCINO, NO SPRITZ, NO KETCHUP…” In so many words, this message says, “We know what we’re doing,” which is an understatement. Authentic Tuscan cuisine is not to be messed with. 


Most of the fare changes daily depending on what’s in season. Available from early winter to late spring, the artichoke salad is the ideal precursor to the first course; somehow both tender and crunchy, complemented by shards of fresh parmesan and arugula. Featuring the same accouterment, the beef carpaccio is nearly velvet, like a carnivorous butter.

Primi (first course)

The pasta rotation is a toss-up. Sometimes it’s ravioli rosè, pillows of ricotta and spinach in a rich, pink cream sauce; other times, a perfectly punchy spaghetti all’arrabiata; and occasionally, fettuccine alla carbonara, if you’re lucky. Though these dishes are periodically on the roster, they taste as if they’ve been practiced for decades. With Rosanna in the kitchen, that’s probably true.

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Only two pasta dishes remain on the menu year-round. The paccheri with zucchini flower and saffron shimmers in a delicate cream sauce. Even meat eaters and those who prefer tomato- or wine-based dishes indulge in the paccheri. The cavallo di battaglia – Vini e Vecchi Sapori’s battle horse – is the inimitable pappardelle with duck sauce, prepared with traditional aromatics and filets of duck breast. The meat falls apart tenderly, some pieces blending uniformly into the sauce, others remaining in succulent, umami chunks. Each thick noodle is coated entirely, removing the need to reserve a perfect last bite.

I asked Rosanna what makes the duck so special, hoping to be let in on a little secret. She giggled and shrugged, to which I replied, “So then it’s just you! It must be you!” She threw her hands up definitively, “Esattamente!”

But according to Tommaso, this dish was not always the fan favorite. “Ten years ago, people didn’t understand the pappardelle duck. I don’t know why!” He attributes its newfound popularity to the influx of young people that now frequent his restaurant. “More open,” he winked, pointing to his head.

Secondi (main dish)

The mainstays are mainstays for a reason – quintessentially Florentine and mastered to excellence. The secondi selection ranges from Florentine steak to Florentine tripe to fried chicken and zucchini flowers (or artichokes when in season) – all of which have the potential to feel heavy, but don’t. The uncomplicated depth of flavor is developed through traditional preparation methods – no extra fluff, no unnecessary garnishing, just simple and sincere.

Vini e Vecchi Sapori is a testament to tradition with a modern twist

Much like the duck pasta, Vini e Vecchi Sapori is a testament to how things change but also stay the same. The restaurant opened in 2005 and was originally owned by Mario, then passed down to his son and current owner, Tommaso. The back half of the restaurant is only ten years old; it was converted from a water closet to make room for additional guests. Apart from this update, the interior looks strikingly similar to how it did 18 years ago. It doesn’t seem that much has changed operationally either. While there are countless factors that are at odds with their effort to remain a time-honored trattoria, they prevail.

The location is particularly surprising. Situated alarmingly close to the Uffizi and the Piazza Della Signoria, it’s a miracle that the restaurant has preserved its integrity. Such proximity to these tourist hot spots might be the reason for the aforementioned PSA on the menu. But tourists are not the only individuals that stick out among the locals dining at Vini e Vecchi, as celebrity guests are not uncommon – many of which are less subtle than Camille Vasquez. Anthony Bourdain dined with Daria Nicolodi at one of the back tables shortly before his death. Michael J. Fox, Helena Bonham Carter and various Italian football players are among the other famous personalities that have eaten there. When questioned about both tourist and celebrity customers, Fidi, who has worked as both a cook and a waiter at the restaurant for ten years, says it makes no difference to him, “For me, it’s my job; it’s all the same. I have to respect everybody, Italy, United States, Germany, Europe.” ates, Germany, Europe.”

The perfect meal: more than just food

In response to the rich cast of characters that fill his restaurant, Tommaso operates with the same endearing indifference. Perhaps that is Vini e Vecchi’s secret: the casual and charming attitude of its people. It’s almost impossible not to feel like a part of a small household when the team of wait staff refers to Rosanna as “Mamma” and Tommaso can waltz about the restaurant, naming each customer, their occupation, and where they’re from. If you arrive at the restaurant without a reservation (rookie mistake), they turn you away with grace, beckoning you to come back another time. Even dietary restrictions are welcome. In Tommaso’s words, “You are vegetarian? Ok! And I am gay!”

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At Vini e Vecchi Sapori, you’ll be well-fed and treated like family, no matter who you are. As long as you don’t ask for ketchup.


Featured image courtesy of @vini_e_vecchi_sapori on Instagram

All other photos provided by Lili Phung

Guest post by Spring 2023 Travel Writing Workshop student, Lili Phung

Lili Phung is a 20-year-old student, artist, and writer based in Orange County, California, and Madison, Wisconsin.

Raised as the only daughter of Australian and Vietnamese immigrants, Lili’s Southern California upbringing informs both her work and personal life. Her primary passions are fine art, fashion, food, and the feminine experience while her professional background is concentrated in social media, marketing & communications, and graphic design.

Lili is a rising senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying strategic communication with minors in gender & women’s studies and art history.

See more of Lilli’s writing here.

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