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Jun 26, 2014 10:44 AM

One week in Puglia - Rate my choices!


We spent three glorious weeks in Rome, Umbria and Venice last summer and thoroughly enjoyed every bite. We are returning this summer, this time spending a week in Puglia (plus three days return to Rome). The information online is scattered, and I confess I'm having a much tougher time finding reliable (and recent) restaurant recommendations for the region.

Here are the lunches I have cobbled together - all input welcome! I should explain that our kids (8 and 11) will be attending a day camp in Monopoli, where we are staying. So with the possible exception of a day in Matera we generally need to stay relatively close to the Monopoli area.

Monday - Ostuni - Lunch - Masarria Il Frantoio
Tuesday - Locorotondo - Lunch - Bina
Wednesday - we are doing a tour of Alberobello and a lunch is already booked
Wednesday night with kids - Monopoli - Angelo Sabatelli
Thursday - Matera - Ristorante Francesca

Friday we are leaving open - the camp ends early so we'll see what the kids want to do.

Grazie mille for your help!

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  1. I think your approach (day camp for the kids is great! congratulations!. YOu might want to use the search box above (search this board) - there are some great Puglia/Matera reports here.

    The Slowfood Osterie d'italia 2014 app has significant listings for Puglia as well as all of Italy, very useful if your itinerary is not locked in or if you are interested in restaurants of the type they focus on (traditional foods, good value) - available through googleplay or itunes here is link for latter

    Katie Parla writings on Puglia:

    Luciano Pignataro has a great italian food and wine site based in Campania but with recommendations (tending to the more upscale but all over the map) thorughout italy There is an english blog but it does not have as much info - google translate works fine with the Italian part

    A page from the blog with Puglia recommendations/reviews - I would trust:

    The restaurant index page on the Tacco di Bacco regional website, with reviews by locals

    Here's a review from Pignataro of your choice in Monopoli

    1. Thanks so much Jen!

      I adore Katie Parla but her recommendations are pretty old at this point, so I worried about using them. I see though that's she's working on an update for Puglia - maybe I can somehow convince her to offer an advance peek?

      And THANK you for the link to Luciano Pignataro's website. That's exactly the sort of thing I was looking for.

      The kids attended the same camp in Umbria and had an incredible time - and we didn't have to drag them to two hour lunches. A win win. I wrote a long trip report about our trip to Italy last summer - the best vacation ever, with or without kids.

      24 Replies
      1. re: sfmom

        this is not the kind of world where there is likely to be a lot of change in the restaurant scene except at the swishy upscale end, unless a proprietor or cook dies or sells out. I see some reviews of Francesca on Tacco di Bacco as well as the non-trusted TA but there have been other places recommended here for Matera.

        We always enjoyed our travels most when our kids were young when we could find a babysitter or some such in the daytime - kids and cultural touring/long lunches do not go well together, plenty of togetherness in the evening!.

        1. re: jen kalb

          You are right - I call Lucanerie in the morning. Been trying to learn a little Italian via Pimsleur, and I'm getting the sense I'd better keep at it.

          You're right - I assumed anything praised online could/would go downhill in the intervening years as it was discovered by tourists. Which doesn't explain why I looked at TA. I know TA's recommendations are generally terrible.

          1. re: sfmom

            Lucanerie is closed - the cook is now I believe at Osteria Pico .

              1. re: jen kalb

                Thanks mostly to you Jen, here is our latest itinerary:

                Monday lunch - Cielo, Ostuni
                Tuesday lunch - Bina, Locorotondo,
                Wednesday dinner - Angelo Sabatelli, Monopoli
                Thursday lunch - Osteria Pico, Matera

                I've requested the olive oil tour, and am hoping to find a cheesemaker as well.

                Thank you for all your help. I will post a report when we are back.

                1. re: sfmom

                  saying this humbly, wondering whether Angelo Sabatelli, which looks wonderful, is an ideal place to go with kids. The food is cheffy - maybe your kids are experimental and restaurant savvy but many want to know exactly what they are eating and dont want surprises. Also the time frame for this sort of meal may be long for your family. Just sayin'.

                  think there have been some recommendations for nearby Polignano a Mare also

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    It's a good point. Our kids (8 and 11) are pretty restaurant savvy - we had a great experience taking them to a couple of Michelin-starred places in Rome and Venice last summer. My daughter is a budding foodie and loves trying new things. It actually inspired us to be braver in bringing them to fancier/more unusual restaurants here.

                    I've even booked Metamorfosi in Rome later in the trip, inspired in part by a Yelp review written by an American girl. We'll see how that goes!

                    1. re: sfmom

                      really looking forward to your report! I admit we dont travel to Italy for international style creativity but for the local dishes. You are lucky that your kids are willing to try new things..

                      When I think about going to this coast though I admit to having the stereotyped image of kicking back looking out over the sea with a great glass of white wine, beaded with condensation. and a simple grilled fish, or perhaps a dish like this

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        OK after reading for the 10th time how touristy Alberobello is I am leaning towards skipping it and hanging out Wednesday in either Polignano a Mare or Monopoli. In Umbria we barely saw a tourist, which I really appreciated after seeing the tour buses and crowds in Tuscany.

                        Maybe lunch at Il Guazzetto, I'm now thinking.

                        1. re: sfmom

                          You would have to be out of your mind to miss Alberobello. The reason it's "touristy" is that it is one of the most gorgeous towns in all of Italy. Take a look at my report from Puglia:


                          1. re: rrems

                            You could be right. We will be coming from four action packed days in Paris, where we will be at all the big touristy sights. So I was looking at this week as more of a relaxing time.

                            1. re: sfmom

                              Agree that Alberobello is a must see. You can get the feel of the trulli zones in about 30 minutes. Note that these are only two sections of this fairly small town; there is a "newer" zone that draws few tourists and which is also lovely. Lovely small cheese shop on the piazza near the main food market at one of the entrances to town.

                          2. re: sfmom

                            In Aberobello, we happened on more Japanese tourists, and fittingly, many signs and translations in the Japanese language. Yes it is a unique ancient village; but we stayed in Lecce twice for a month at a time and never tired of the city, its people, and restaurants, that represented the best of Pugliese "Cucina Povera", having a kitchen in the apartment allowed us to take advantage of the seafood from either coast which was close by. Also keep an eye out for any of the very good wineCanteen,(co-ops), that produce excellent Salice Salentino, Negro Amaro, etc., at very affordable prices.
                            I would add Lecce to any first time travel to Puglia.

                            1. re: ospreycove

                              I would love to go to Lecce but I think it's tough to do and fit into the 8-3 parameters of our kids day camp. We attended the same camp in Umbria last summer and found we couldn't go too far and still have time for that leisurely lunch. We are trying to find a sitter to get to Matera.

                    2. re: sfmom

                      My experience in Puglia, and other southern regions, has been that cheesemakers will often let you watch their labors in the morning if you ask them the day before. Near Ostuni, you can try Caseificio Oronzo Crovace in Speziale, a hamlet on the road between Ostuni and Fasano...stop in after your Monday lunch, or before, as it is close to Il Frantoio. Ask them if you can visit one morning. Or ask if someone at Il Frantoio can phone them, or recommend another place.

                      I also watched the pr ocess at a cheese making farm outside Fasano..a bit difficult to find but I will try to find details...

                      1. re: erica

                        Thank you! Il Frantoio emailed me that they are only open for dinner. Most of ours will be likely taken at our apartment, our kids in their bathing suits. But it's great to have a suggestion of a place.

                        I came across a place called Caseificio Lamapecora--am trying to arrange for a guide there, ideally with my kids. My daughter is obsessed with cheese, and enjoys the fancy stuff. My husband remarked that she will be a very expensive date!

                        I cannot thank all of you enough. I was really feeling out to sea - this thread has helped immeasurably.

                        1. re: sfmom

                          But do note that most cheeses in Puglia are not "fancy," nor are they expensive.

                          The most decadent is probably burrata, which comes from Andria but is now made in most areas of Puglia. The cheeses made every day include mozzarella and its variations, caciocavallo, and the strongly flavored ricotta forte. You really do not need a guide, as these are small operations, for the most part, and the processes are fairly simple.

                          I've visited Caseificio LamaPecora two years ago; it is the maker I mentioned above, in beautiful countryside outside Fasano. I've attached a photo of their list of cheeses, below, along with a photo of their burrata being made.

                          It might be fun to visit a bread baker during your visit to Matera. The bread in the area around Matera and Altamura is quite special. See details for one bakery in this report, which offers a few highlights from my second visit to Puglia in 2011:


                          1. re: erica

                            Thank you. We are trying to arrange a guide who could accompany the kids from the camp. Barring that, the place you visited sounds great.

                            And thank you for the bread recommendation! I will be waddling home.

                            1. re: sfmom

                              We were in Puglia for a week in May. Really loved the place and the food. I have a few suggestions for places that we really enjoyed. All of them were pretty low key and had diners with children.

                              In Matera we loved La Botteghe in the Sassi. It was very close to our hotel, Locanda di San Martino. Chickpea pasta with fried breadcrumbs and the antipasti were excellent as well as chicory and fava bean purée sides. For lunch we enjoyed Al Falco Grillaio and had an amazing antipasti platter with grilled veggies and meats and cheeses plus cavetelli with mushrooms that was delish. It's casual and a great place for kids in a very nice plaza up from the Sassi. Highly recommend. Our last meal at Ristoranti Nadi was good and featured pasta with the dried sweet red peppers that are famous in this area.

                              In Martina Franca we went to a really fun raucous family oriented place called Restorante Al Sagittario. The owner of the lovely Masseria Iazzo Scagno highly recommended it as a very Puglian non touristy kind of place to go. The restaurant was FULL of lively families and groups having a great time. We sat next to a table of 30 people celebrating the son's confirmation and they sent cake over at the end of the meal. They were fascinated with us and vice versa. The food was good, plentiful and very reasonable. A really fun and memorable experience.

                              I highly recommend Polignano e Mare as a place to visit and eat. Beautiful town along a stunning coast. Probably had my most memorable dish at L'Osteria di Chichibio, a delicious squid ink orecchiette with mixed seafood, that ranks as one of my favorite dishes of all time. We ate there for lunch twice.

                              Another great meal was had at Cibus in Ceglie Messapica. It's a very pretty town and worth a visit. We got there around 7 and had some prosecco in the main square, which was something we tried to do in all the towns we visited and stayed in. It's wonderful people watching and everyone comes out from the very old to babies with their parents. Cibus was a little more upscale, but we really enjoyed it. We had a asparagus pasta, veal ragout pasta and a truffle dish that I loved (sorry my memory is going blank-should have written everything down!) along with other items. We usually got antipasti, some pasta dishes and one or two entrees. Not a desert person, sorry.

                              Our last 2 nights were spent in Ostuni with a half day trip to Lecce. Our first night we ate very close to our hotel, Relais La Sommita, in a pizza place called Il BellaVista where we sat outside and looked out towards the Adriatic. Really good pizza and burrata and tomato starter. Our kids had a great lunch down by the main square (Piazza Della Liberta) the next day in a place where you pick different dishes/salads on display and then sit down. Very casual and they said it was delicious. Can't find the name. Our last dinner was at Relais la Sommita Michelin starred restaurant. Not memorable for the cost.

                              1. re: macdog

                                Many, many thanks!

                                More so than in other regions of the country, I think that the more upscale the restaurant, and the more "contemporary" the orientation of the kitchen, the greater the potential for disappointment. There is really no reason to venture into that realm when the regional culinary tradition, and the local products, offer such a wealth of richness.

                                Do you have a desire to return and if so, would you explore new territory or return to destinations you visited on this most recent trip? (Lots of good eating along the western coast of the Salento, in the Nardo area)

                                1. re: erica

                                  Yes, I agree about the food in Puglia. You really don't need to seek out higher end to get great food. We were told that because of the historical poverty of the region, meat was eaten rarely and vegetables were the staple. I loved the antipasti dishes we got, never had a cooked meat dish that bowled me over. Seafood, of course, was excellent along coast.

                                  Not sure when we will be back. I loved the countryside, the Trulli's and the coastline but we live in a beautiful coastal region (Santa Barbara) so the siren call of big cities is usually louder.

                                  Erica, your trip report on Matera, that I read a few years ago, made me want to go there. It did not disappoint! And your restaurant recommendations have helped me in a few places. Thanks for all the research you do and then sharing it with all of us.

                                  1. re: macdog

                                    Thanks for all your input. I've since been in contact with a couple of people there and am waiting to hear their thoughts. Leaving tomorrow so must turn attention to packing!

                                    1. re: sfmom

                                      looking forward to hearing how your trip goes!
                                      good eating and all!

                                      1. re: sfmom

                                        I got some great suggestions from our hotel in Matera and our masseria. Sometimes they know great non touristy places that may not make it on to the boards. Unlike Paris or London you don't have to worry about making reservations ahead of time (at least when we were there).