Firenze, Florencia, Florence — no matter where you’re from, or how you pronounce the name, this Tuscan city is one of the most enchantingly beautiful in all of Italy. Firenze is like a painter’s palette, vibrant with color from all the periods of its lengthy history. From cobblestone alleyways shaded by medieval facades, to visions of the revered Duomo, and finally to the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge that connects the city divided by the Arno River, visitors can’t help but get lost in its magic. But among the grandeur, there is a certain solace that exists, a particular tranquility that is so unique to Toscana.
Andrea Ferrini, a noted restauranteur in Boston, considers himself lucky to have been raised in such a stunning place. Like most Italians, Andrea has fond memories of frolicking outside in the piazze as a young child, being drawn back home by the smells emanating from his mother’s kitchen. However, Andrea began a career in the lucrative jewelry business, with his shop just around the corner from the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge that is home to some of the most prestigious and well-known jewelers in the world. As exciting as these times were, Ferrini yearned for a change. So thirty-eight years ago, he moved to the United States, despite his wife’s reluctance to do so, and decided to delve into a business venture founded upon one of the pillars of the Italian life: food.
Upon entering Ferrini’s popular Bottega Fiorentina, which has been on the corner of Babock and Harvard streets in Brookline since first opening in 1993, I was immediately drawn to a man that I knew, for sure, was Andrea Ferrini, although we had never previously met in person. There was something about his stance, his quiet but inviting presence, and his fashion sense that gave him the all-encompassing Florentine look I expected to see. We introduced ourselves, and immediately sat down to talk. My eyes darted around the small space and were delighted to see a wall lined with Italian imported products, comfortable picnic-table style seating, and a food counter with baskets full of fresh loaves behind it.
I asked Ferrini a slew of questions, ranging from his background, his first restaurant ventures in this country, and specifics about the bottega. He immediately stood up, and handed me a sign that he has so proudly propped in the window of the restaurant. Its title reads, “Spaghetti and Meatball Manifesto.”
The lengthy manifesto details the difference between true Italian fare in comparison to its Italian-American counterpart. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Elise, I never prostitute myself — excuse the word — on doing what people think is regular Italian food. I have never done a meatball in my life, and I am proud of it.” Ferrini explained that in Italy, one would be hard-pressed to find a heaping mound of spaghetti with meatballs on top, fettucine Alfredo, chicken parmigiana, or chicken piled on top of the sacred Genovese pesto.
He pushed the menu towards me and exclaimed, “Eat, Elise! Eat! What would you like to eat?”
It was a tough decision, as his menu boasts an incredible variety of Italian classics, ranging from antipasti, insalate, sandwiches, and pastas. Featured on the menu were a plethora of daily specials, carefully outlined on a weekly calendar. I was in the mood for pasta and was curious to try a few of the many specialty sauces featured. Naturally, I asked what his signature dish was, if there were any at all. Pasta with Fedora sauce is his signature dish, he told me, in memory of his mother — this was her recipe. He proudly pointed to her picture on the wall.
The Fedora sauce was deliciously simplistic, allowing me to taste each ingredient so distinctly. Its contents, tomatoes, garlic, rosemary and cream, blended so harmoniously and did not overwhelm the pasta. I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of rosemary, which is something one may not think of as being a main component of a red sauce.
I also sampled linguini with the sauce named after Andrea, which included prosciutto, sweet peas, mushrooms, cream and truffle oil. Yet again, this sauce was wonderfully light, with enough saltiness from the prosciutto to balance the sugary peas. Each dish was served with a thick slice of fresh Tuscan bread that completed the meal. And finally, for dessert, I chose the tiramisu, and with full sincerity, I can say that it was one of the best I have ever had — light, soaked with the perfect amount of espresso, with a generous dash of cocoa.
For the remainder of my time at Bottega Fiorentina, Andrea and I lightheartedly spoke about Florence, and the descriptions of his beloved city brought me back to my time spent there, as well. He proudly described the city’s coat of arms, the history of the Medici family that made Florence what it is today, and discussed the mispronunciations of Italian words here in America. The love for his city and his humor were refreshing.
As throngs of patrons strolled in, Andrea greeted each one personally, and it became very clear that so many people felt the same way I did about Andrea Ferrini and the charmingly all-things-Italian establishment he had worked so hard to create.