The graceful, stately 1st century BC Roman temple to Minerva reigns in the Assisi town center, surveying town life as it has for centuries. And a few paces away, BarBi, a small cafe under a graceful loggia, is heartbeat of Assisi today.
Gianluca opens the bar at 6:45 with a thorough clean-up, inside and outside (owner Stefano might have closed as late as 2 a.m.) At about 7:15 today, Lucio, from Pasticceria Sensi, parked his mini-van right outside the door, unloading baking sheets of hot margherita pizze (round ones, triangular slices, square cuts) – a few other pizza types on the side – and flat cardboard boxes of cornetti, veneziane, maritozzi , and the rocciata (strudel) and brustengolo, pastries typical of Assisi. A flat box of panini – just a few – and filled savory torte followed.
Two maritozzi, 2 pizza alla cipolla e salvia slices, a full baking sheet of pizza alla margherita, a few panini, 4 pancaciati, 2 mini-pizzette rosse, 2 round pizze al rosmarino, 2 triangular tomato-only pizzas (no mozzarella as on the margherita) and about 7 brustengolo tarts.
How to know what to order and how much?
As first customer Marcello sipped his cappuccino (no order needed: Gianluca knew how hot, how much foam, etc), I chatted with Gianluca, seeking the answers: he proved a veritable culinary almanac of Assisi life.
The pizze alla margherita – cut into squares – awaited elementary school children, arriving before 8 a.m with mamma or nonna for their school snacks. “We thought up the shape so that they could be cut in half, folded and slipped into small paper bags for school.” Middle-school or high school students would nab leftover slices before or after school.
Triangles of torte – an Umbrian flatbread filled with either arugula and stracchino cheese or with salami or prosciutto – were for Assisi city employees working late, right across the piazza in the 14th century civic palace.
Why just 2 round rosemary pizzas? “For two children – because they like the crunchy crust.” Alongside, two slices (triangular cut – less crunchy crust) of onion/sage pizza for two habitué’ clients. (One would have his at about 11 a.m with orange/carrot/lemon juice!)
The two pizzette rosse were for Francesco, realtor, who’d come in mid-morning and have a Coke or fruit juice on the side.
A nonna would arrive late morning for 2 of the pancaciati (walnut/cheese bread) for grandchildren. “The other two?” “For whoever gets here first.”
One maritozzo would be cut in half for a gentleman coming in about 11 a.m who would accompany it with “cappuccino al latte freddo (ma poco latte)” – no foam – sweetened with four packets of sugar (!). He wishes the pastry cut to avoid crumbs on his hands. The other was for a signora due in at about 5 pm.
About that time, cyclists would drop in for brustengolo – “medieval power bar” – the Assisi cornflour, apples, walnut/pinenut tart. Their drink? Lots of water.
As Lucio told me with a wink and mischievous grin as he left the bar – deliveries to BarBi complete – “each piece has its owner. If someone dies, the owner changes.”
Ed’s note – How sad, it appears this bar has recently closed! (Thank you Ann Seamster – Assisi resident – for the news.) It is likely that given Anne Robichaud’s winter Cooking and Lecture Tour to the US, she was unaware of this development regarding the cafe’, having written the note before it shut down.
It will be very interesting to hear which bar all the habitues have moved to for their various snacks. At least we are comforted by the fact that there are no shortage of cafe’ in Assisi or any other Italian town.