I live in an area of Rome, north of the center, called Parioli that was once hilly countryside where people went for holidays or picnics. After years of development in the early 20th-century, it is now considered one of the most exclusive neighborhoods of the city (the American ambassador lives down the street from me). Thankfully there are still remnants of its not so distant agrarian past.
The urban sprawl began during the 1930s when Benito Mussolini developed the area after spending time in his nearby summer residence, Villa Torlonia, on via Nomentana behind the beautiful Villa Ada park. Artisans and workers from outside the city (stone masons, builders, glass makers, etc) came in daily to build the apartment buildings, businesses, homes, schools, and police stations that would later define the area.
These workers would commute to their jobs with baskets of homemade pasta or panini in hand, and at lunchtime search for a place to buy a cool drink or glass of wine. One spot, not far from the Villa Ada and Villa Borghese parks, is a small trattoria – a family run restaurant – called Al Grottino del Laziale (‘grottino’ derived from grotto or cave, where wine is kept). Its beginnings in 1912 were exclusively for vini sfusi (bulk wines) but evolved into a place where one could buy an inexpensive, healthy meal. Known to locals as ‘Da Gianni’, the name of the late chef and owner, it is still run by the family: his widow, Anna, and his sons, Enrico and Marco.
The menu consists of the classic Roman repertoire of pastas: carbonara, amatriciana, gricia, cacio e pepe plus mamma Anna’s ricotta and spinach ravioli in tomato sauce and seasonal specialties, some of the best being ‘mare e monti’ which curiously but deliciously mixes seafood ingredients with those from the mountains, like mushrooms, for example. As for entrees there is the classic Roman oxtail stew, involtini (beef rolls), cacciatora (hunter’s stew) and saltimbocca (veal with sage and ham) and some of the best Roman pork sausages with broccoli rabe to be found (it’s my son, Francesco’s favourite).
Located on Viale Romania, two steps from the army barracks and headquarters of the Carabinieri State Police, Il Grottino is filled daily with police officers, locals (my bicycle repair man is always there) and students from the nearby university. The television is always on so when there’s a soccer game (Gianni was a diehard Lazio fan, one of the two Roman soccer teams) people gather—even the police—to watch.
Parioli now has become a magnet for Roman and International lawyers, finance and equity managers, bankers, ambassadors and the like, but thankfully there are still pockets of its working class origins and Al Grottino del Laziale reminds us that amongst the chic restaurants and boutiques, it’s the workers who built this neighborhood.
Al Grottino del Laziale
Viale Romania 27
Tel. +39 06 807 9807
Elizabeth Janus is a passionate traveller, and makes it a point to peruse the farmer’s markets in every place she visits to get an immediate pulse of the city. For the last decade, she has been guiding discerning clients on food adventures at farmer’s markets, speciality shops and into her home for unique Italian meals to experience Italy as an Italian..