Personally, Piazza Armerina is not a place I’d want to stay for more than a night or two.
A lot of tourists come here however to see the beautifully preserved (by a mudslide) mosaics at Villa Romana del Casal, just on the outskirts of town. Famously these include the ‘bikini girls’ which show Roman women playing sports in an early representation of the two-piece costume.
If you are staying at the rather depressing Hotel Roma (the best place in town?, maybe try a hostel) the food is pretty good (Intermediate B) and quite reasonably priced. I had a good Tagliatelle dello Chef and a Cotoletta allo Palmeritana (pork cutlet in breadcrumbs), along with a mezzo of Nero d’Avola and Macedonia for about 20 euro.
For water, a cold drink on a terrace or a nearby bite to eat, take a U-turn to the left out of the hotel and up Via Roma. You will find Ristorante Pepito on the immediate right. I didn’t try the food so can’t comment.
Vilma Wine Bar (Intermediate A), 89 Via Garibaldi, next left after Via Roma.
This is a great place to start or finish your evening, you will be welcomed by the friendly English-speaking Roberto (if he hasn’t sold the place yet), who lived in London for three years. He has free internet in the bar and a wide range of reasonably priced beers, spirits and local wines. Set in an atomospheric part of the old town, near the theatre. Opens at 5pm, closed Sundays. I had a nice glass of white here, Branciaforti IGT (Firriato ’08) for 3 euro.
Ristorante Pizzeria da Nino (Intermediate A-), 12 Via Gebbia. Turn left out of the hotel, go straight until the road forks, bear right but keep going straight, past a church, turn right at the TIM shop with red awnings (before the bus square, a sign points to the local penitentiary ), go past Bar Sestercio (ate an ok lunch here waiting for the bus but it’s a bit of a roach hole), Nino’s is on the left.
This is a nice spot to escape the heat and hustle and bustle of town. It’s a large courtyard with ivy-covered walls, olive trees, wagonwheels and wooden wheelbarrows full of flowers. The speciality here is grilled meat and after a nice Caprese di Bufala (B) I had the Arrosto Misto (A), which consisted of a large pork chop, a thick slab of pancetta, sausage, quail, beef steak and a spit (spiedino) of chicken and turkey, with a side order of grilled veg (A).
You’re not going anywhere fast after that lot but I would recommend finishing with the Ravioli di Ricotta (A) which is sweet ricotta in a warmed pastry, possibly washed down with a glass of sweet Malvasia. The only let down was the house red which was not very good (C), but I guess they are trying to encourage you to buy a bottle off the long list of wines which start at 10 euro. First and second are courses between 5 and 10 euro. With water and cover the bill was pretty reasonable at 31.80.
There is another guide recommended restaurant at 62 Via Garibaldi, just down from Roberto’s wine bar, which you might want to try rather than the place below.
Ristorante Pizzeria da Toto (Intermediate B), 29 Via Mazzini, go to the end of Via Garibaldi and turn right, it’s on the right.
Recommended by a local teacher but a little disappointing. The food was ok, the house signature Bocca di Lupo (mouth of the wolf) was a baked slab of layered veal, ham, mozzarella, aubergine and tomatoes (B) but the grilled veg (C) was cold. The Compose di Frutta (A) was excellent with locally grown fresh pineapple, melon, orange and cherries. The house red (D) at 1.50 a quartino, tasted like dried leaves and I couldn’t finish it. Cover and wine are cheap but I thought the first courses, 8-9 euro, and seconds 10-15, were slightly expensive. Pizzas are around 6 euro. Don’t sit near the door as the car fumes can be quite unpleasant.
There is an internet place at 35 Via Mazzini but they charged me a pricey 1 euro for 15 mins.
I didn’t have time to visit the famous mosaics but if you do, you might consider lunch at La Ruota which is recommended in several guides and is close nearby. Pasta with wild fennel, lamb and artichokes are the local delicacies to try apparently.
Il Calice Rosso (Intermediate A), Via Canalicchio, Barrafranca
This is a place in Barrafranca the next town (which seems even more godforsaken than Piazza Armerina!) where the very hospitable teachers from the Liceo I was working at took me for lunch. We had a fantastic range of starters, some I recognised (caponata, baked aubergines) and some I didn’t (tomatoes stuffed with tuna mayo, slabs of spinach in egg). The Pasta alla Norma was the best I have ever had in Sicily, huge rigatonis tossed in aubergine sauce piled high on big oval dishes and sprinkled with salted ricotta, one for two people. I couldn’t stop eating it but still didn’t finish my share. And of course, all washed down with a great Nero d’Avola, absolute heaven. This was the meal that made me warm to Sicilians, great company and fantastic food. It also goes to show that in Sicily the best food can sometimes be found in the seemingly worst places!
Written June 2009.