Life is a series of breakfasts, or at least sometimes it’s felt like that and has been all the sweeter because of it. The current restrictions mean that it’s not always possible to relive the experience. It all depends on what level of restrictions we’re at. The covid restrictions here work on yellow, orange and red zones, with red zones having the most restrictions. At the moment of writing from here in Lombardy, we’re currently in an orange zone so this means that bars and restaurants are only open for takeaways. I still go of course, just eat my cappuccino and brioche on a wall outside in the sun or take it home and enjoy it at my kitchen table. Even a pandemic and a paper cup will never take the pleasure away from the Italian breakfast. It stands like something to be defended, representative of a café culture that is one of Italy’s great pleasures.
This morning’s Facebook memories reminded me of the time I had breakfast at Café Scudieri in Florence, one of Florence’s cafés that overlooks the city’s Duomo one cold clear day in January. Café Scudieri is one of those cafés that are known as ‘instuzioni’ in Italian, institutions or rather well-known and well-loved places which have been around for years. Café Scudieri has been here since 1939, and is a classic example of the traditional Italian café that has a history and is proud of that history.
I sat and drank my cappuccino and ate my brioche which I’d selected from the glass cases inside, as it’s always worth going to see what they have before you order. I chose a chocolate brioche as sometimes only chocolate will do, and it was as good as I’d expected. The cappuccino was smooth, as all cappuccinos should be smooth and if there’s any of that froth with holes in it in sight you should know you’re probably not in the right place. Cappuccinos should be smooth but should also not scald, and should leave a suitable amount of milky foam at the bottom of the cup. It’s then up to you whether you scoop out this remaining froth with a spoon or not.
In any case, a breakfast in the shadow of the Duomo in Florence is always to be savoured, and if you go for the view there are tables outside to ensure this. Although Florentines speak of the Duomo, the full name is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Like many cathedrals, it took years to build. Building began in 1296 around the original Basilica of Santa Reparata in accordance with Arnolfo di Cambio’s design. When it was finally finished in 1412 it took its place as the largest church in Europe – St Peter’s Basilica in Rome was started in 1506 and finished in 1626.
The highlight of the Duomo is the Brunelleschi dome at the other end of the cathedral, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi who is one of the most important figures of the Italian Renaissance. Originally apprenticed to a goldsmith’s shop, Brunelleschi would go on to design one of the architectural icons of the whole period that would encapsulate a modern idea of architecture through its essential, clear shape.
The café itself looks out onto the Baptistery. It’s a wonderful position from which to admire the view, whilst letting yourself be gently immersed into Florentine café culture. Florence, considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, is a city with a great history that can still be felt today. Its Renaissance origins lie in the economic prosperity which came at the beginning of the 14th century, helped by a a certain political stability which contrasted with the previous turbulent years of the Plague. The most important families of merchants and bankers such as the Medici family began to invest in the arts and as a result encouraged what we now call the Renaissance. In addition, Florence was also a hub for philosophers and writers, and it was a Florentine man called Dante Alighieri who would go on to write The Divine Comedy. When he wrote it, he used Florentine vernacular, and thus there was a shift from Latin to Italian, and the Italian he used became the basis for the Italian we speak today.
What you see now as you sit there drinking your cappuccino and eating your brioche, admiring the Duomo and watching the local people go about their daily lives is the heritage of all this, and it’s this that always makes breakfast in Florence so special.
Caffè Scudieri, Piazza di San Giovanni, 19R, 50123 Florence, 055 210733