In the Roman neighborhood of Testaccio, which I’ve written about before, speaking of La Torricella, is a trattoria called Agustarello, where locals flock to find some of the most typical Roman dishes of their traditional cuisine.
Now run by the namesake’s son, Alessandro, his wife Antonella and their son Alessandro Jr, unpretentious Agustarello has maintained a small, cozy spot with few tables and a terrace outside for summer dining.
Agustarello in Testaccio epitomizes cucina povera (peasant cuisine) which is simple, nourishing, sustaining food that doesn’t cost a fortune. In Rome – a city that encapsulates an enormous variety of people, from politicians, ambassadors, movie stars, priests, taxi drivers and the workers who pick up the trash – places like this are beyond affordable and reliable, they are a cultural equalizer.
Historically, the lower classes only had access to vegetables and grains like farro – a kind of spelt, also known as einkorn – since meat was an unaffordable luxury. Then, when it was possible, they could only get the cheapest cuts, for example offal like tongue, oxtail, liver and other internal organs, locally called quinto quarto, the fifth quarter. With great savvy and ingenuity they learned how to make these typically lowly ingredients into something tasty. This makes sense in Testaccio, which developed around the former slaughterhouse.
Agustarello is one of my favorite places in the city not only for its food but also for the warm, welcoming atmosphere. Alessandro, the chef, is always busy in the kitchen and even with just one assistant he’s constantly smiling. Antonella and Alessandro Jr. are in the front greeting guests and serving.
On the menu you’ll find the classic Roman pastas, like cacio e pepe, amatriciana and gricia, which is a favorite of my friend Rachel, who lives around the corner. In the spring fresh broad beans and local sheep’s milk cheese or pecorino will be served as a starter, along with bruschetta covered in garlic and olive oil or tomatoes.
The entrees are classic Roman and if you like oxtail Alessandro’s is the best in the city. For those more squeamish there are options like lamb and pork that is either roasted or grilled and sometimes polpette (meatballs) or involtini, which are beef rolls stuffed with vegetables and simmered in tomato sauce. The house wine is local and pleasant but there are options for something better in a bottle, some of which organic.
The go-to dessert is Antonella’s famous crostata di visciole, a wild cherry tart, and it is the tastiest that I’ve had outside a Roman home. A buttery crust with a cherry filling, it is the perfect ending to the meal, along with a digestivo, like amaro or grappa, and a coffee to help close the marvelous meal.
On certain holidays, Romans often have their lunch at a restaurant. My son and I will go to Agustarello if I’m too exhausted to cook knowing that the food is delicious, the ambience familial and comforting plus when I get home, I have the luxury of taking a nap without worrying about tidying up. It truly is a perfect holiday lunch.
Via Giovanni Branca, 100 – Tel. +39 06 574 6585