It’s easy to give recommendations for great food in Florence. Pear-stuffed fiochetti with cream sauce here, buffala margherita pizza with pillow-puffed crust there, as-creamy-as-it-gets gelato here and there.
But to only address the to-be-expected pastas, pizzas, and gelatos would be to overlook an important category: sandwiches. And at least for this food-obsessive’s money, one in particular, Nerbone’s bollito bagnato, is an obligatory checklist item. (Besides, it won’t even cost you that much money, a veritable steal at 3.50 euro.)
Neither the sandwich nor the stall from which it is sold in the city’s Mercato Centrale are a secret — the local favorite has been given its due many times over in reference books, articles, and web sites targeting the food-minded traveler. Translation: There will almost certainly be a line when you show up for lunch (the only time it’s open). Please, do not be deterred. It’s well worth whatever wait you find, and speaking from recent experience, the crowd generally gets turned around quite quickly.
Which brings me to the next point: Have your order ready when you get to the register. The folks behind the counter are no-nonsense guys with an immensely popular lunch business — friendly for the most part, but with no time for your ho-humming over the menu. Here’s what you need to say: "Vorrei un bollito bagnato con tutte le salse" (and, if you’re so inclined, tack on "e un bichierre de vino rosso"). That roughly translates to "one boiled beef sandwich topped with the natural meat juices and both sauces (and a glass of red wine)."
Not as sexy in English, right? Doesn’t matter — this is arguably the best boiled beef has ever looked, and more importantly, tasted. Sliced thick, the juicy-fatty-tender beef is piled on top of a chewy roll. Your request that the sandwich be "bagnato" means that the top roll gets to take a quick dip in the savory beef boiling liquid, and the "con tutte le salse" bit will ensure your meat is topped with a spoonful of both the green (herb-garlicky) and red (spicy) sauces.
It’s a glorious, utterly satisfying mess of flavors that will no doubt cause an internal tug-of-war, with you alternately wanting to devour it with abandon but also savor every single little bite. For that predicament I have only one piece advice: Get back on line and order another.
If this is the sort of thing that would likely give you heartburn, get over it and order one anyways — I’ve seen people do it, and not regret it for a second.
Click here for other featured sandwiches or check out the 52 Best Sandwiches of 2011. Know a sandwich that should be featured? Email The Daily Meal or comment below. Better yet, become a contributor and write up your favorite today!