Messina is the main entry point for all sea and train traffic coming to Sicily from the mainland and as a result it’s essentially a rather ugly ferry port that has been racked by devastating earthquakes in its relatively recent history. Some old buildings do remain though and you get nice views from the monuments at the top of the town.
This first restaurant is the best thing about Messina for me .
Il Padrino (Elementary A+) , Via Santa Celia, Closed Saturday evening and Sunday. GEM ALERT!
From the Hotel Liberty, turn right and right into Piazza Republica and go straight down Via Giuseppe la Farina. Via Santa Celia is the 9th left, it’s next to the white and red awning on the left as you turn the corner, about 10 mins walk).
This is a brilliant must go place. A basic yet classic Sicilian trattoria with funny, shouty waiters. It’s family-run, with mum and aunties in the kitchen, dad and sons working the floor. Don’t expect any niceties (although they made me feel at home straight away), Ugo the owner likes shouting with his mouth full. The name translates as ‘The Godfather’ and staff t-shirts bear the subtitle, ‘the food you can’t refuse’. I wasn’t allowed to have the light lunch I wanted and was made to go the full four courses! (The spoken menu is fixed but you get three choices for each course). This involved six types of antipasti (most of which I couldn’t identify), a primi of fat stubby pasta in a zucchini sauce with prawns, followed by a secondo of stuffed squid and delicious fried fresh anchovy patties all washed down with half a bottle of the good house red (Salento IGT, charged by the glass). I finished off with two canolini and a glass of sweet Malvasia dessert wine (similar to Passito or Moscato) . They wanted to feed me more but showed mercy after I pleaded with them. Total cost 20 euro. It doesn’t get better than this…
I revisited Il Padrino with my friends Nicky and Rachel a year later and found it much the same in terms of food. Although Ugo seemed more subdued he was still doing his godfather growl. Our antipasti of bruschetta with tomatoes and oil was amazing (A+) and the other antipasti of Involtini di Melanzane with breadcrumbs, almonds, tomatoes (B+), sausage (B) were good but I could have left the mini-mozzarella (C). To be honest the Pasta e Fagioli was pretty horrible (D) and the tagliatelle with prawns and courgettes not much better (C) but the macaroni with tomatoes and peppers was ok (B). For our mains the squid stuffed with breadcrumbs and the octopus was great (A) and the raw fennel and lettuce, courgette and potato and another involitini were good (B). Our Salento Chardonnay and Nero d’Avola were ok too (B) and we finished with Cassata Siciliana and a glass of Malvasia (B). Considering we had a bottle of wine each the bill of €84 was very reasonable. Maybe give the pasta course a miss though. Nicky even managed to get one of their highly coveted t-shirts thrown in for free!
Osteria del Camponile (Intermediate A), 9 Via Loggia dei Mercanti, Tel 39 090 711 418
As you’re facing the cathedral, take the street to the left of the garish belltower and first left again (you will see a pointing sign), it’s the awning on the left.
Another great place, informal but more restrained than the above. three rooms, one with a telly, pleasant service, excellent food, fat chef, dirt cheap and very local. They sell a very potable draft prosecco (rose or white) for only 2 euro a 25ml carafe (same price for house red/white). I had the bruschetta followed by Spaghetti dello Stretto (swordfish chunks with tom sauce and olives), and to finish the Cassata Siciliana (a very sweet cake with a filling similar to canoli cream, covered with marzipan, green in this case, and decorated with candied peel, delish!), accompanied by a glass of Vecchio Amaro di Capo (particular to Sicily and Calabria, I’m not usually big on amari (brown herbal liquers) but this went down very well). Total cost 20 euro, amazing value. This must also be a good place to try the famous swordfish ghiotta but sadly only on Fridays. There are pizzas too if you want them and an antipasti buffet.
Trattoria Lungomare da Mario (Intermediate B), 108 Corso V.Emmanuele II (left out of the hotel and second right, left and keep going straight for about 10 mins round the harbourside).
A local institution for 25 years, it’s popular, relatively modern and a bit posh. The Menu Touristico is 16 euro, for which you get a choice of any primi (I had a simple but tasty seafood risotto) but only fried calamari and/or prawns for the secondo (bit boring and rubbery), as well as a contorni and a simple macedonia (fruit salad). The house white (an extra 4 euro for a mezzo) is uninspiring but drinkable. I finished with a Zibibbo (3 euro, another dessert wine, similar but weaker than Marsala, made near Messina) which you can pour into your fruit salad if you wish. There is an antipasti buffet and a TV. This place was mentioned in both the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide so I thought I’d better check it out. Would probably score higher if you are prepared to pay more. Closed Wednesdays.
On the way back, you can take in the nearby Chiesa di Catalani, one block inland on Via Garibaldi, built on the site of an ancient Byzantine temple and later given to Catalan merchants as their local HQ. The reason it stands below street level is you are standing on the rubble of the 1908 earthquake. There are several nice bars and enotecas on nearby streets.
La Tonnarella (Intermediate C), 28 Via S.M. Alemanna, left out of the Liberty, left at the fork, cross the main road, its on the right.
A slightly pricey and formal seafood restaurant. I had the Linguine ai Ricci (seaurchins) because I hadn’t had them before, and was very disappointed. The chef hadn’t washed them properly and they were full of sand, lovely. Pasta dishes were between 8 and 16 euro. The house white was 3 euro for 500ml and was pretty horrible. This place probaby could be ok though if you order well but I wouldn’t go back.
Fratelli la Bufala (Intermediate C),1 Corso V.Emmanuele II (left out of the hotel and second right, it’s on the left)
Bit disappointed the hotel sent me here, probably because it’s very near. It’s basically a characterless steakhouse and pizzeria, part of a big chain that originates in Naples but now has branches nationally, as well as London, Barcelona and Buenos Aires amongst others. Service was pleasant enough but I hadn’t finished eating my starter (caprese salad of mediocre mozzarella with under ripe tomatoes) when the main course arrived (a rather chewy beefsteak sizzling on a griddle). The house Aglianico was palatable enough and the food was ok, I was just disappointed to be eating Campanian style food in Sicily. Total cost 28 euro with cover and water.
Ristorante Tartaruga (Intermediate D), left out of the Hotel Liberty, first left, go straight for a few blocks, it’s on the left).
Run by a contact of myarea manager who is a teacher at the local catering college, I found this place to be pretty grim. Although the owner is nice enough, his wife seems to have no qualms about having a domestic in front of the customers! The luminous green paper tablecloths, bright lighting and the muppets on TV also did nothing for the ambience. The plain foccacia, made with ten different cereals was interesting (B). However, the Casarecci alla Norma with ricotta infornta (baked brown ricotta, found only in Sardinia, Catania and Messina, perhaps for good reason) was pretty unpleasant to my palate (C-). It’s one of those flavours you need to have eaten from childhood to appreciate I imagine. Neither could I eat the alungu (?), a bottom feeder with a similar texture to tuna, which seemed to have the same sauce as the pasta with the addition of capers, olives and orange zest (D). Both dishes also had a strange cinnamon-like taste. The local teachers we were with opted for pizza so perhaps they knew something we didn’t! The sweet pizza of banana, pineapple and kiwi with a flaming sugar cube, although fulfilling my need for a sweet, didn’t really impress (C) but the accompanying Malvasia dessert wine went down well. It’s very cheap (€6 pasta, €7/8 mains, €4/6 pizza) and near the hotel, but if I had to go again I’d choose very carefully.
The food for lunch at the catering college the next day was much better and included smoked swordfish wrapped round a vegetable and bread crumb filling which was probably cooked in a ramekin in a bain-marie, delicious (A). A case of students surpassing their teacher?
Le Due Sorelle (Advanced A), 4 Piazza Municipio, about 10 mins from the hotel, tel 090 44720. NOW CLOSED
Located in a nice square with beautiful gardens, this is a small 9-table member of the Slow Food association that specialises in local and ethnic cuisine. I had delectable raw longfin tuna (albacore) to start followed by a nice seafood &veg couscous. The Etna DOC white (‘Valcresia’ Vendemmia 2005) was the only decent white wine I have had in Sicily. I finished with the very highly regarded Grappa di Palari (Faro DOC 2000). Renato the friendly English-speaking owner is a lovely guy and a mine of information on Sicilian wine, he also runs an enoteca next door. He explained the only decent whites come from Etna as they need the altitude and changes in temperature, and also need to lie for a few years. I blew 60 euro here (half on drinks) but didn’t mind because I learned a lot and Renato deserves support. Closed Sat lunch, Sun.
Davai Enobraceria at 38 via XXVII Luglio is a nice modern bar that’s good for a an aperitif or digestif. A bottle of Leone white (Tasca D’Almerita) costs €14 and you get lots of stuzzichini but they aren’t free. On some evenings there is a guy singing and playing keyboards. You can sit in or outside. They are a restaurant too but I didn’t try the food.
There is a booth selling drinks with a few outside tables under umbrellas in the middle of Piazza Cairoli too. A G&T costs €6 and you get plenty of free stuzzichini.
There are mosquitos about, but just the odd one.
Sport 4 Club, 7 Via E.L. Pellegrino, Tel 090 2938856
Just a few mins walk from the Hotel Liberty (left out of the hotel, first left, fifth right, on the left). A slightly ageing and cramped gym with lots of bikes but only three jogging machines, three step machines and two cross trainers. Lots of weights free and fixed. There are aerobic classes you can join in with. I would advise going before the 6pm rush. It costs 8 euro but remember to take some change for the drinks vending machine as they don’t have free water here.
I stayed at the Liberty (NOW CLOSED), which is two minutes from the rather dodgy ferry and train terminals. The first time I came, work advised a taxi for security reasons and the driver fleeced me €10 for driving round the corner. It’s an attractive old hotel, if a bit run down, and the breakfast room has great views. The very lovely and helpful Melania and Cetti (Concetta) will give you directions to all the places mentioned.
Written in 2008 and 2009.