Calabria – Lamezia Terme – a great meal in Nicastro

Lamezia Terme is home to the second main airport in Calabria. The municipality is in fact an amalgamation of a few small towns and villages including the former municipalities of Nicastro, Sambiase and Sant’Eufemia Lamezia. My map is here.

I was working in Nicastro where I stayed at the Hotel Savant for two nights. The hotel is a bit old and faded but the breakfast is okay, and the staff, like everyone else I met in Nicastro, were very warm and friendly.

I didn’t see anything of note (although there is a Norman castle which I didn’t get round to visiting) and I didn’t have any expectations but I was really bowled over by the lovely people of the town who made me very welcome.

For instance, when I was doing a bit of fruit and veg shopping for stuff to take home (check out these lovely ‘datterini’ tomatoes, so called because they are the size and shape of dates)…

…I asked the old guy (not sure if he was the farmer or the grocer) if I could take a pic of his lovely apricots which had just arrived and ended up having a couple pressed into my hand for free. Such is Southern Italian hospitality and I love them for it.

The shop (at 16 Piazza Felice Sacchi) was also taking delivery of several crates of local cherries which were being stacked up high anywhere there was space, the fruits covered by fern fronds to protect them from the sun.

After finishing my last day of work I felt in the need to celebrate with a couple of beers. There are several bars in the main square but I noticed that in the kitchen of one ( Bar Bottega 89 at 87 Corso Numistrano) they were frying homemade Arancini so I hung around waiting for them to be done.

My patience was rewarded with a still warm, ragu-filled Arancino with the mozzarella just having melted. So, so good, especially with a cold beer.

On the last night of my trip I decided to eat at this little restaurant as it was the Tripadvisor #1 at the time of writing in early June 2017, for good reason as I discovered…

Alla Pentolaccia (High Elementary A+), 17 Salita Fratelli Maruca,

This is a pretty little place tucked away on a back street. A Pentolaccia is similar to a Mexican piñata; a game where you break a container with lots of treats inside. It’s definitely a very apt name for this establishment.

I was given a very warm welcome by the friendly owner Franco who was assisted front of house by his son while his wife is the creative talent in the kitchen.

They specialise in ‘cucina territoriale’ and all the ingredients are locally sourced.

All the food on the menu is excellent (I should know, I ate most of it), as is their house red wine which Franco insisted I have rather than purchase a more expensive bottle as I had originally requested.

We kicked off with the antipasti; first an earthenware dish with a stuffed zucchini flower, a red onion frittata and a meatball, all deep fried deliciousness.

Next small dishes of green beans, a stuffed aubergine and a small mozzarella with tomato sauce served with rocket. Also a cheese board with two kinds of pecorino; fresh and aged, the latter, from Crotone, being one of the most powerful I’ve ever tasted as it had been matured for two years.

Can’t remember what this was but I could eat it right now.

This I think is Friarelli, a bitter cruciferous green.

I’d skipped lunch so I could have a proper feast and I followed up with one of the specialities of the house; Morzello made with tripe, heart, lungs, tomatoes, tomato puree, pepperoncino and oregano, which was wonderful. It’s served with a special bread called Pitta (it’s the big round loaf with a hole in the middle that you see in local bakeries, here sliced into short curves) which is especially good for sopping up the sugo.

I was in full beast mode so I had another main dish of Salsiccia con Porcini, sausage with boletus mushrooms (ceps) which even though it wasn’t in season and the mushrooms were a little hard from being soaked from dry, was still delicious (blurred photo, sorry).

After 3.5 hours of eating I crawled over the finish line with a slice of cherry pie and a glass of sweet wine.

So what do you think I paid for all ten dishes, a litre of wine and three homemade shots of Amaro? A mere €30, which is absolutely stunning value. I should know a bargain when I see it as I calculate that I’ve eaten in over 400 restaurants in Italy in the last seventeen years and this is definitely one of my favourites, both for the food and the hospitality.

Franco and I had become good friends during the time I was there and he sent me off with a kiss on each cheek and a warm glow inside. Many thanks to you Franco and to your lovely family, it was a real pleasure from beginning to finish. I must return one day!

I also went to another restaurant during my stay, but it wasn’t a patch on Franco’s place…

Novecento (Advanced B), 5 Largo San Antonio

This is the only Michelin recommended (not starred) place in the area. It’s okay but a bit posh and pricey for my tastes. The service was good, especially from the older chap, but I wasn’t overly impressed by the food.

I’d come hoping for local delicacies done well but I think it caters more for locals who want a change from the norm. Local ingredients are used but they are relatively far and few between. They do a good bread basket though.

To begin I was given this complementary creation, not sure what it was, but it didn’t impress. It’s the kind of fussy preparation that I detest (C).

I followed on with the Stroncatura Calabrese al Baccala e Peperoni Arrostiti (B). Stroncatura is a type of local pasta made with the flour and bran residues from milling grain. The whole wheat and rye gives it a coarse appearance. The pasta is generally seasoned with typical peasant ingredients such as olive oil, olives, garlic, Calabrian chili peppers, anchovies, and toasted breadcrumbs but here with saltcod and roasted peppers.

Then the Tonno in Crosta di Pistacchio, Sedano Rapa e Radicchio alla Soia, tuna steaks grilled and coated with crumbled pistaccios (B).

The Fiego Bianco white wine failed to make much of a mark on me (B) even though it was recommended by the head waiter, but I am a fussy bugger.

I enjoyed the dessert more; Cannoli alla Moda Nostro, or their house deconstructed cannolis (B+).

With these I had with a glass of 2011 Passito sweet wine called Bristace (B+), from the famous Tenuta Iuzzolini once again.

Finally I tried a trio of Calabrian amari. First a new kid on the block called Jefferson which I really liked (B+) and the more venerable Manfredi which was just okay (B). I contrasted these to all-time favourite Amaro di Capo (A). Capo is a bit sweeter than the others which might explain its commercial success (you’ll see it in most Italian airports). These were all complimentary as is often the case in Calabria.

With water and cover, the bill should have come to 60€ but they gave me a 5€ discount for some reason and I noticed while I was writing this that the dessert doesn’t seem to have been charged for, so I can’t really complain too much about paying 50€.

An okay place, perhaps good for a date, but I won’t be rushing back.

So a great time was had in Nicastro! I really look forward to going back one day. Off to Spain again next…

2 thoughts on “Calabria – Lamezia Terme – a great meal in Nicastro”

  1. I hope you weren’t driving that natty little Fiat after all those wines …. some really good dishes there. I hope to bump into you again sometime we are working in the same place so that you can educate my palate!!

    1. Hi Sue.
      No, my solution to the problem of drinking and driving was to stop driving! 😀
      Yes, would be lovely to cross paths. Where are you going this year?

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