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Auto Grill, Good place to meet and eat?

have 6 cars meeting on the way from Rome to Florence, Hows the Auto Grills along the Strada?

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  1. surprisngly good cheap eats, usually pretty busy udring the day with locals and tourists...not a bad place to stop at all

    1. If we had Auto Grill in the US it could probably be classified as fine dining.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Den

        ouch! being italin i have to say my standards might be eschewed...auto grill as fine dining? that's an interesting concept...

        1. re: laromagnola

          By American chain restaurant standards, I think Autogrill is great. If they had them here (New Jersey), they would demolish the competition.

        2. Auto Grill is the best!!! The first one on after Rome airport is definitely the best of them. You've gotta have the paninis! they are awesome!

          3 Replies
          1. re: NiKoLe1625

            There's variation, regionally--some have a tavola calda with more elaborate prepared foods, all have good panini, foccaccie, and even local cheese,salumi, bread, and wine for sale. Fine dining? No, of course. But as good as one can expect for the function. I'll never forget a stop near Naples, lunch, crowded, when I ordered a panino and a caffe--the barista, in the middle of a frenzy of coffee-making [she served perhaps a dozen customers, and properly, in the time a Starbucks staffer would take to get one] said she'd get me my coffee after I finished the panino. Sure enough, there it was. With a fresh glass of water.

            1. re: obob96

              The Autogrill just outside the Rome airport is always our first stop when we arrive (after flying overnight for 7 hours). The first time we went, we thought that maybe the food wasn't realy that great and that we were all delirious from flying. However, the second time (and subsequent times after), the food was just as great. The ones with a tavola calda are great! Plus, at the little convenience store, you can get everything from giant containers of nutella to pringles (what is it with Italians and pringles??) The thing that always made me laugh is how organized they are. They seem like they would be a disorganized mess, but they have a system down. Gotta love it. It is in NO WAY fine dining, but compared to rest stops in the U.S., its WAY above!

              1. re: NiKoLe1625

                My husband enjoyed his meal in the Autogrill in the Malpensa airport a couple weeks ago - waiting for a connecting flight on arriving in Italy. He said it made him feel he had truly arrived in Italy.

          2. Auto grills are always busy and they have an enormous selection for any diner. We celebrated my poor stepmother's birthday in an Autogrill on the way back from Venice, and it was decided that it definitely could have been much worse. For the most part they are safe and clean, and as long as you're not expecting the meal of your life, you'll be just fine.

            1. This was one of my biggest surprises in Italy. We stopped at one between Naples and Rome and were amazed. The food was so fresh, the place was clean, and they had a cheese department that looked like something you might see at Whole Foods. Not fine dining, of course, but more than adequate. I can't imagine a chain of roadside stops like this in the States...could we possibly keep it so clean, and offer such a variety of food and merchandise in one place?

              It was a bit unsettling to see folks enjoying their wine or beer with lunch, then preparing to head out onto the autostrada again!

              1. Autogrill is shockingly good for a "truck stop" especially when coming from North America. They are definitely not your classic roadside greasy spoon.

                1. You can buy a book at the Autogrill that shows what is available at every stop on every autostrada. Very handy for those areas of Italy where the stops are few and far between!

                  Last week I also bought a book of sagre (food festivals) for 2009 at an Autogrill. I don't know if Autogrill puts it out or just rebrands it, but I didn't see the book elsewhere.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: MorganSF

                    Interestingly about Italian AutoGrills is that 20+ years ago paninis were almost unheard of in the U. S. and very, very good in Italy. Now that paninis have become fairly commonplace in the U. S. the AutoGrill versions don' taste quite as good. Still, I give them credit for setting a benchmark. The one thing you cannot find in America are Calabrian hot peppers which are notoriously expensive even in Italy yet unbelievably good. And hot. Something like E 9.00 at the AutoGrills yet on every visit I've brought back at least two or three jars. For years I've opened a jar of these at an AutoGrill and put several of them on an "Olivia" or a "Capri" and they've made the sandwiches a reason to drive on a an Italian autostrada. Worth both the calories and the toll.

                    1. re: Joe H

                      Your statement about the Calabrian chiles piqued my curiosity so I went down to D. Colluccio in Brooklyn this pm to look into your calabrian pepper question. They have dried pepper flakes and jarred calabrian peppers there, of several types. Ive attached photos of the jars
                      1. Peperoncini lunghi piccanti Collucio brand produced by Delizie di Calabria, Catanzaro. These are small whole peppers. $6.25 per jar
                      2. Peperoncini Piccanti tagliati, "tipico calabrese, sliced long peppers Attina "I contornelli" brand, from Reggio Calabria zone

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        is the link for "long hot Chili peppers from Calabria." Same brand, Jen, but the peppers may be different. The AutoGrills sell these for around E 8 or 9.00 which is horrendously expensive but I've been bringing back two or three jars on each trip for years. I absolutely love them. You are paying for the olive oil the peppers are packed in as much as the peppers themselves but they have a very pungent and unique taste that is different from any other pepper you can find in North America.

                        1. re: Joe H

                          these are packed in virgin olive oil with white wine vinegar, salt and laurel. Look the same to me. $6.25 which is not cheap for a little bottle of peppers in a store catering mostly to southern italian clientele.

                          the second variety ($3.95) are in sunflower oil.

                  2. The robiola,arugula & prosciutto on toasted ciabatta is incredible!

                    1. Autogrills offer perfectly good quality food and caffe, and are fine as a place to rendevous. I don't think of them as a destination, per se, but they're more than adequate places to connect. For an American used to seeing McDonald's at U.S. rest stops, Autogrills are a decided step up. Had a wonderful proscuitto and bufala mozzarella panini and a caffe at an Autogrill on A15 en route to La Spezia, and that was a very helpful boost in negotiating the twists and turns with all the Alfa Romeos and Aston Martins zipping about at 180 km./hr.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: 280 Ninth

                        absolutely, 280 Ninth, I'm in total agreement. Far above the Wendy's/Tim Hortons' autostop that we Canadians are used to. We had a lovely, fresh meal today halfway b/w Siena and Rome. No, not anything to write home about - but the fact that you can pull off the autostrada and eat fresh food was very nice.

                        yes, and us in our Peugeot/Ford gutless wonder-car. :)

                      2. If you can, just take the first exit from the highway and look for a Trattoria. A true place, not junk food.

                        17 Replies
                        1. re: mgmitaly

                          I agree, mgmitaly.

                          It really undermines one's faith in Chowhound recs to see people rating AutoGrills as good Italian food, setting the standard as better than Tim Horton's.

                          It's junk food they're serving, with mass production quality ingredients, bottom of the Italian barrel (although sometimes they sell regional products you can cook at home.)

                          1. re: summerUWS2008

                            I agree that it's always better to get off the motorway, and try to find a local trattoria, but I think you've missed the point of what people have been saying. I don't think that it undermines chowhound recommendations - no-one has said that they think Auto Grills serve good Italian food - the message coming across clearly is that they are in no way destination places, but are very good for motorway service stations/truck stops, and that the food seems fresh and their paninis in particular are a tasty snack.

                            1. re: Theresa

                              >>no-one has said that they think Auto Grills serve good Italian food<< -- ??

                              In the thread above, the food is described is "good quality" "great" "awesome" (and below "one of the tastiest sandwiches on earth -- and those are just excerpts.

                              1. re: summerUWS2008

                                I havent re-read the whole thread and I have never eaten at an Autogrill but I dont think anyone is really claiming that this food is great by Italian standards - I think they are marvelling that it is great in comparison with what you are presented with in the US under equivalent circumstances. People shouldnt get beaten up for marvelling that Italy's Its mass market utility food is better than ours - its what Id expect since standards are so much higher. As to Joe's sandwich come on - we are chowhounds not "gourmets"here and we know that humble places and even commercial places can come up with something wonderful from time to time.

                                1. re: jen kalb

                                  I wasn't trying to "beat them up" and am sorry that my post could be interpreted that way. In turn, I don't think my post or mgmitaly's post should be interpreted as implying only gourmet food is good food in Italy. Both of us are suggesting that every autostrade exit will take you in very short order to a local and more than likely humble trattoria, and that the chances that the food is good there is high, and higher than your chances of finding good food at an Autogrill.

                                  I appreciate that some people are rating Autogrill food only in comparison to similar establishments on North American highway. Perhaps it is just hasty writing, but many posts in this thread seem to also be saying the food is good by any standard other than fine dining. For future travelers to Italy who may not have visited before, even if they enjoy Autogrill food or utlility food in general, I would like to encourage them to keep driving five more minutes at meal times.

                                  And if I may, I'd just like to register my disagreement without any intention of beating up anybody: I disagree Italy's mass market utility food is better than yours/ours.

                                  1. re: summerUWS2008

                                    All Im saying is this (and Im one of those people who will always get off the road and look) in the US the food and conditions at the interstate service areas are just horrendous in terms of crowding and chain food - there is nothing fresh or non-industrial to be found. Sometimes its tasty sure, but there is no touch of human hand on the product. By even putting together a sandwich with fior di latte and high quality local peppers (Joe's example,) or pulling good espresso shots, the Autogrills are exhibiting a higher level of food awareness than any of our highway chains. Yeah, there is a lot of bad industrial food in italy, the packaged cookies and pastries, for example are often pretty awful but it is not uncommon to notice how very basic things are done well (better) in italy. It may not always be true but it is true often enough to be noticeable. TV is an exception, terrible in Italy.

                                    None of the people who post on here are going to stop at the Autogrill and then give up on their goal of enjoying the real italian cuisine. Any maybe some were overenthusiastic But I think it is valid to see it as a useful place to stop, and for us to talk about what they serve and to be pleased if it hits the spot..

                                    1. re: jen kalb

                                      >>But I think it is valid to see it as a useful place to stop<<

                                      I just respectfully disagree.

                                      1. re: summerUWS2008

                                        I stand by my comment about the Olivia and Capri with the Calabrian peppers: they are good by any standard. In truth the Calabrian hot peppers are E 9.95 for a small jar. That's US $15.00. They should be! The Calabrian hot pepper spread (which is part olive oil) is about half of this but again, it is an excellent panini even if you found it in a small hole in the wall somewhere in the U. S. Also, as Alan Richman points out the AutoGrills that have a small restaurant fall down. It is mostly because of the paninis that they are good. Even then, for him and for myself, this is about a particular "taste" that sets them apart. That "taste' may not be as good, say, as the paninis at Duckfat in Portland, Maine (best I've had in the U. S.) but they are still good especially when the peppers are on them. But another point: the AutoGrills have an incredible deli with meats, cheeses and condiments that blow away almost all of the Italian delis in the U. S. No, this doesn't approach what I've found in Bologna but for a highway rest area it is frankly remarkable.

                                        One more point: I am ONLY talking about the AutoGrills in Italy NOT the AutoGrills in other European countries which are mediocre at best. The paninis and the deli at the Italian AutoGrills are not typical highway junk food. Some of this stuff is legitimate for a Chowhound. For the same reason that on almost every trip to the West Coast (I live outside of Washington, D. C.) my first stop from LAX is at an In-n-Out Burger on Sepulveda for a Double Double my first stop in Italy is at the closest AutoGrill to the airport I fly into. There it's a panini and a jar of Calabrian hot peppers. Neither the Double Double or the Panini are the best of their kind. But they have a taste worthy of a Chowhound.

                                        1. re: Joe H

                                          One more thought: as I type this I think about the 30 years of travel in Italy and ALL of the bad meals that I've had in places that looked good, that felt like I would have something special. There's a lot of bad food there, there's a lot of mediocrity. Just because something looks like it has "character" and is off the Autostrada doesn't mean it will be good. I believe the purpose of Chowhound is to find that which is good-even if it's a panini at an AutoGrill. Perhaps the added touch for those of us who like hot peppers is a comment similar to mine about Calabrian hot pepper paste. A lot of people reading this will have had a panini. I wonder how many ever thought to buy a bottle of the pepper paste and spread it on? Some may not like this but for others it may be a revelation. As I type this I have a half dozen jars in my kitchen pantry that I've brought back. It was because of an Italian friend that I learned about it in the early '90's. Sharing this kind of information-even if it's a panini on the Autostrada-is what I believe CH to be all about.

                                          1. re: Joe H


                                            If you re-read my post, you will see that I didn't write that there was a guarantee of finding good eats off the autostrade. I said that your chances were much higher than going to an Autogrill (apart from buying groceries).

                                            Most of the Italian delis in the U.S. I have patronized have been better than anything I've encountered at an Autogrill.

                                            I find Autogrill panini close to awful to eat, and don't know who Alan Richman is. It's possible that if we bring our own condiments to eateries, every place will have a taste worthy of a Chowhound -- and I may indeed pack a bottle of Calabrian hot peppers in my next car rental just in case I find myself stuck -- as I sometimes do -- starving and it's past 2:30pm and not yet 8. So thanks! Sincerely!

                                            To each his own and there is no accounting for taste, and the proof is in the taste, etc. Many visitors to Italy try an Autogrill at some point, so they can decide for themselves. But I truly hate to think that first-time visitors to Italy would leave the airport and make their first taste of Italian food the Autogrill and judge Italian food by it.

                                            1. re: summerUWS2008

                                              I have no problem summerUWS2008 if any first time visitor to Italy remembers this thread and decides to stop at the closest AutoGrill for a panini. If they also like hot peppers and pick up some Calabrian hot pepper paste and spread it on their toasted sandwich I feel comfortable they will enjoy what they will eat. Of course I must also admit that I have my own personal obsessions. I mentioned In-n-Out above. Following are a couple of my posts about it over the years. They may help explain why I like the paninis at AutoGrill so much:

                                              I'm also suggesting that you not limit yourself to Michelin starred restaurants or ones inside several thousand year old wall towns. I've written about these at length on here over the last nine years. The AutoGrill is, for me, the "anti rest area." There are some legitimately good things in it. I am suggesting that as Italy is my favorite place to travel to on earth (and I have travelled there several + weeks a year for thirty years now) even the highway rest areas are a cut above what you can find in highway rest areas here or elsewhere in Europe or the U. K. (I have spent far too many days a year driving on European highways for business.


                                              I am thankful when it is lunchtime in Italy and I am on the AutoStrada. Because of the level of excellence of the paninis and the delis in the AutoGrills I will not go hungry. At some point they are good enough to write about. That was the link I posted above. I don't know which paninis you have had nor do I know how soon after they were toasted that you ate them. But for thirty years I've been eating the same two. For me, I know that they are good.

                                              1. re: Joe H

                                                JoeH, you wrote:

                                                >>I'm also suggesting that you not limit yourself to Michelin starred restaurants or ones inside several thousand year old wall towns<<

                                                I hope the "you" in that sentence is generic, and not directed specifically at me. I live in Italy, by the sea, and don't like walled towns. It's possible I've never eaten in a Michelin-starred restaurant, unless it was in Athens. I don't think I've ever done so in Italy. They're too expensive!

                                                According to my observations, all Autogrille toast panini to order.

                                                I'm not very "kumbaya" about food. It's okay with me that we disagree and disagree forthrightly. . If AutoGrill panini make you happy, buon appetito!

                                                But some posters in this thread, perhaps unintentionally, wrote posts that made it appear they were recommending AutoGrille food, using the exact same language Chowhounders use when they are asked for experienced advice about where to go to sample the best food in Italy.

                                                I don't think you'll be crushed, and I don't want you to be, but were you to make a long list of best places to eat in Italy and you included the Autogrille, I wouldn't follow a single other recommendation on your list.

                                                1. re: summerUWS2008

                                                  Just curious, which sea? Have you been to either of these:
                                                  If you have I would be interested in your thoughts about them.

                                                  1. re: Joe H

                                                    Joe, I live on the Med, not far from Genova (was just there yesterday) but not near than La Fornace di Barbablu (I have heard of it) or Baldin (which I don't know at all). I live on the Riviera Levante.

                                                    1. re: summerUWS2008

                                                      La Fornace is about an hour's drive north/northwest from Genoa. It is a truly unique experience well worth seeking out. There aren't too many 2,000 year old restaurants around these days-especially that have a Michelin star.

                                                      1. re: Joe H

                                                        Yes, I've more than once heard marvelous things about it. From where I live, I think it requires a car to get there, and then I have to think about whether I want to go that far for a meal and not be able to drink wine with it.

                                                        Do you know if it can be reached by public transportation?

                            2. re: summerUWS2008


                              Interesting comment. It's not just CH apparently, it's also Alan Richman in GQ linked above who especially loves their toasted paninis. For myself one of the paninis (Capri and Olivia especially) in combination with a spoonful of Calabrian hot pepper spread from their "deli" is one of the tastiest sandwiches on earth.

                          2. Visited Auto Grill last Sunday evening at Rome Airport - food 9 out of 10. Service 0 out of 10.
                            Staff were slow, management must need looking at. Staff on duty had really bad attitudes to foreigners - which is crazy, as they work in and airport.
                            Would only go back if really hungry, which is a shame as when we did get the food it was very good.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: ixtreme

                              Like chains in the US, our experience at Auto Grill locations has been variable with respect to service. In general, the food has always been good (per the norm in Italy), but personnel at some locations seem glad to see you, while others are just waiting until time to leave. That said, we thoroughly enjoy stopping at Auto Grill locations - great for people watching at peak hours. In regard to the (I assume) FCO airport location, we also have stopped there and would tend to agree with your assessment of the service.

                              1. re: ixtreme

                                At the airport you have no choice. In general at Autogrill locations along the highways you save time and it is to choose what you even if you don't speak italian. Otherwise, if you have time and do want to face the risks deriving from an Italian menu in a spek-Italian-only place, I think that leaving the highway and investing 1-2 hours of your time in a Trattoria or a local restaurant will be a completely different experiece. It is also a way to discover real Italy and it is very probable you'll get a good pasta. If you are able to read some Italian there are many guides regarding trattorie and osterie that can help to find a good place.