People have told me that they have phobias about dining alone in restaurants that stop them from seriously considering solo travel. Generally, I opt for places where I can buy street food, shop at a grocery store, or just graze all day on items purchased from fruit and veggie vendors. For me, it’s not about social anxiety, it’s just that most food doesn’t excite me much. When I do visit restaurants, it is usually for a quick bite and the free wifi. Getting eating “out of the way” is my priority, so I can move on to do important things like connecting with friends online or catching up on the latest news. My friends say they “live to eat” while I “eat to live” and show displeasure when we dine together and I generally consume my meal at the fastest pace without savoring much of the “foodie” experience. Give me your standard plate of pasta with marinara sauce and a huge basket of bread, and I will give your restaurant a five start rating. When asked to share my favorite meals of this trip, I get most excited talking about homemade tortillas, tamales from a street vendor, corn on the cob sold from a fire pit, or…see, I already ran out of things to say.
But, Italy is different. This is a place where I am drawn into restaurants the same way I am drawn into a new novel. The food is amazing…no doubt, but it’s the entire experience where I watch scenes unfold before my eyes. My recent visit to Taverna Rossa is an example of why. What started out as a quick trip for takeout, turned into a full evening event.
I am staying in San Angello which is a 3k hike from Sorrento, but feels like a world away…. without the throngs of tour buses and expensive restaurants lined with tourist menus. My hotel is the third story of an apartment building in a residential area surrounded by narrow cobblestone streets and beautiful mountains. You wouldn’t pass this address unless you were looking for it, and as I peered in and saw the brick oven in the nearby pizzeria, I thought it would be a good place to grab a quick takeaway later in the week.
So, after a Saturday afternoon nap, I didn’t feel like trekking back to Sorrento, so I decided this was going to be my pizza night. Since I was planning to take out, I decided I could just quickly wash my face, change my pajama bottoms into lounging pants, throw a sweater over my sleepshirt, and make the trip down the street where no one would have to encounter messy me. This is Italy, I should have known better.
I washed my face with new products from Lush that are a mixture of two scrubs called “Angels on Bare Skin” and “Herbalism.” Instead of being a liquid, they are a claylike pastes that work when combined with water. The good news is the clean, soft skin the products leave behind. The bad news is that the bright green paste often gets mixed in my hairline leaving clumps of goop to be removed with morning shower. This is not a big deal when I am going to bed, and to me, not worth fussing over for a quick pizzeria outing.
I walked into the empty restaurant announcing my intentions, “I am here for a takeout pizza.” I didn’t get too close and kept my eyes on my phone to avoid giving the owner contact with my fresh face, green haired look. At this point, it was 7:30 pm, but the restaurant was empty because by Italian standards, it was way too early to eat. “Please sit.” I heard it, but tried to avoid sitting, until the owner walked over and guided me to “the best seat in the house” which was near a window overlooking the street. He assured me that I could just wait until my pizza was ready to go. As he sat me down, his face had a perplexed look as he started picking the green clay bits out of my hair without apprehension. I laughed and suggested that I could just go the the bathroom and do it myself. When I returned, he told me that, of course, if I was “waiting,” I had to try the lovely, complimentary new wine he just purchased which was already sitting on my table. Then, there was an icy glass of water sitting next to the addition of a placemat and silverware that were there too. Fine, I was staying! I changed my order to whatever is the opposite of takeout and ate my way around the perimeter of the crusty, brick oven baked veggie pizza covered with roasted peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and mushrooms. The owner visited every few minutes to see if I was enjoying the dinner asking the obligatory Chicago questions about Al Capone and Michael Jordan. We laughed with each stop at the table and he said I was the only person there because Americans were the only people who would eat at 7:30 pm. I tried to explain that I held out as long as I could, but to him, he couldn’t imagine how I could eat at this early hour. As I finished the pizza, I was ready to pay my bill, and head back to my hotel, but this would not be easy because I soon had a shot of local limoncello sitting before me in a frozen shot glass. I didn’t recall being asked if I wanted it, but once it was there…
Another couple came in and sat at the next table, which seemed like a perfect distraction for my getaway. I got up and made my way to the front counter, until they stopped to ask where I was from. After another 20 minutes of sharing stories and solving world issues, I was finally on my way home with a full belly, a warm limoncello gaze (that stuff is toxic), and a reminder that meals in Italy are NEVER quick, but always a beautiful adventure.