I just came back from a whirlwind weekend trip to Italy. (I know what you’re thinking. Who goes to Italy for the weekend? It was for a wedding, alright? Jeez.) But it wasn’t all about celebrating other people’s love. I was there to see a couple of my own loves, too. Yes, I’m mainly talking about my boyfriend who’s been flaneuring around Italy while I’ve been in California, but more specifically as it relates to this blog, I was there for something else, my all-time favorite sandwich: the #15 from Antico Noè, served by my all-time favorite, muscly armed panino maker, Luca. ::sigh::
Flaneur and I only had a couple of hours to spend in Florence before having to be elsewhere for wedding festivities, so the million dollar question was where to eat lunch. Now, really, this isn’t a fun question to be asked. I could name 20 places I wanted to have lunch in it. New places, old places, panino places, sit-down places, gelato places (yes, gelato can be lunch), the choices were endless. But since I knew convincing Flaneur to have more than one lunch in the course of a couple of hours wasn’t going to be likely, I had to go with the one place I hold nearest and dearest to my fat little heart: Antico Noè.
When I first studied in Florence, oh so many moons ago, I fell hard for Noè. I ate there religiously. The times that I got a panino from somewhere else, I felt like I was cheating on Noè. I would scurry by, hiding my paper-wrapped panino under my bag and keeping my eyes on the ground like the adulteress that I felt I was.
About a year and a half after I left Florence, when I moved back there after college, the first thing I did after putting my luggage down was to run across town to visit my favorite hole-in-the-wall shop. I walked up and saw the usual line of people pouring out on to Crack Alley (the affectionate nickname for the small, covered street where Noè is). Behind the counter, in his usual muscle-revealing T-shirt, was Luca, the smiley, 40-something, hunky panino-maker that had always greeted me with a big smile when I ordered the usual #15. I was nervous and a little giddy, thinking, “Oh he’ll never remember you. He sees 5 million Americans every day. There’s nothing particularly memorable about you. Just order and let’s go.”
So I did. In my most convincing, I’ve-been-busting-my-ass-to-really-learn-italian voice, I ordered the number 15. His reaction?
He threw his arms in the air in that typical Italian way and with a big grin said, “Oh! You always get the same thing!”
I almost died. People turned around to see who he was talking to and there I was, a glowing shade of fuschia in the face. I grabbed my panino and practically levitated out of the shop.
So, this past weekend, when I had to pick somewhere for Flaneur and I to grab a quick lunch, Noè was the clear answer. We walked up and again, I kind of figured he wouldn’t remember me. (It’s sort of this complex I have, where I never think anyone remembers me.) But then he turned around and saw us standing there and his face lit up. (Or maybe it was mine.) “Oh! Look who it is! Where have you been?”
But this wasn’t about Luca, it was about #15. Panini in hand, the beau and I walked out to a small nearby piazza to enjoy lunch in the sun. Boyfriend by my side, warm sun on my back and my fingers clutched around the best damn sandwich on earth… ah, sometimes life really is beautiful.
I bit down into the #15 and got that loud, satifysing crunch of crispy baguette. Then the saltiness of the cured prosciutto mixed in with the cool, milky mozzarella, the smooth tender mushrooms and that tangy, sinfully delicious rose sauce. There I was, falling head over heels all over again. Who knows what people thought as I squeezed my eyes closed, and oooh’ed and ahhhh’ed between overstuffed mouthfuls of that insanely delicious panino. (O ma questi Americani sono sempre piu ridicoli!)
But when you’re in love, who cares what other people think, right?