“Meglio non avere una storia che averne una noiosa.”
Better to have no story than to have a boring one – From the label of a bottle of Castello, a Friulian beer
As our blood sugars depleted while we meandered the fleeting shade of Lecce’s not so grand avenues near the station, I knew I could count on a secret weapon to get this birthday celebration started properly and assuage the demise of our collective spirits. My weapon of choice was; the Pasticiotto! This absolutely compelling oval of shortbread filled with pastry cream is essential to any nutritious Leccese breakfast and I was certain that each participant in this day of honor would be well served by ingesting one of these bad boys and washing it down with some of the killer locally roasted Quarta Caffe. We sat down at the famous Avino Caffe looking out over the expanse of Piazza Sant’Oronzo (one of the largest Piazzas in Southern Italy) with the ancient 2nd century Roman amphitheater to our left and the latest billboard sized fashion ad to our right, I felt immediately at home and at the same time had that all too familiar inquisitive feeling of: how did the object on my left lead to the object on my right? The temperature was now starting to climb quickly and as we crushed down our pastries followed by a béchamel bomb called a Rustico and we were off and running to get our Baroque on!
Of course we polished off 1.5 liters of water in the first hour of walking and Juliet and I hammered down a second Quarta Caffe as we proceeded to attack each sight in Lecce with renewed vigor all the while ducking the sun and staying close to the shadows cast by buildings, ancient walls, gelaterie, and very large tourists. At one point, in the famous Piazza Duomo, which has been recently uncovered from restoration, we had less than 30 square meters of shade and the remaining ocean of a piazza was bathed in Sahara-like sun. We had no choice but to run, cameras, water bottles, and books all trailing behind us as we fled to avoid scorching our non Pugliese hides. The rewards of shade on this day kept the hangovers at bay and after about 2 full hours of this dance our appetites began to return and the real reason for today’s excursion, the truth behind the early morning jog, the noisy nosy train ride, and the satanic sunshine was close at hand. It was now that the real promise of today could finally be realized. We were on our way to one of the culinary gems of Southern Italy, Ristorante Alle due Corti.
As we rounded the corner to the restaurant with our faces shaded from the violent sun and road crews ripping through 8 inches of concrete and cobblestone I was afraid my hopes of feeding this birthday bunch would soon be dashed on the rocks like my beloved polpo alla griglia (olive wood grilled octopus made from fresh 8 leggers that have been bludgeoned upon the rocks to be tenderized after being caught). Nevertheless, as the dust was beginning to blur the map on the iPhone we saw the cheesy rose embossed sign of the world's first restaurant with a Unesco Heritage cook. That's right, the Mamma making the goods in this joint is certified legit' and her food is a joyous ride over comfort and satisfaction.
The AC was just at that 75 degree level that creates boat loads of sweat on hot bodies, and the two guys in this group were hot with temperature and in need of a sink. My wife quickly reminded me that I knocked the holy hell out of my head the last time I was here on the 6'2" entrance to the restroom and so keeping my 9th concussion in mind I ducked into the restroom for a wash and a glance down at the toilet I should have needed after 2 coffees and 2 waters, but didn't , because I was at negative hydration long before I reached the charmingly short little pee room.
I managed to keep my head from being severed as I strolled refreshed from the bagno and gazed about at the standard issue wood tables with grandma's antiques on the wall. The Italian restaurant is not often a bastion of feng shui and this place was no exception. Tables are all close together to make for better eavesdropping and to allow two servers to manage more guests than 5 waiters would in the states. Ahh, the salaried server, only as busy as he has to be and rarely as nice as he could be. I am not a fan of Italian restaurant service and I know many Italians who aren't either. If you are an employer keep this in mind; incentive is the mother of good service. Give me a 38 hour work week, a low salary, a pension, 4 weeks of holiday, and at least 2 days off every week while throwing a bunch of ding- dongs who rarely speak my language at me, and I would very likely not give a shit either about being friendly, attentive, suggestive of specials, and especially about turning tables. In fact, I would hope that you would really just need the minimum of interaction and then leave me the hell alone and camp out all night at your table until I needed you to get the hell out so I could close down the dungeon, pop a Red Bull, then light a camel as I put on my scarf climb on my Vespa and putter off to the disco hoping to drown my day-to-day misery with techno and some ice-cold Coca-Cola. I swear there must be heroin in the Coke over here because they love to drink Coke any time day or night.
You would think from my bantering here that I was not happy to be here, but in fact I was completely jazzed as I was about to fully get my eat on and it began with a plate of breaded and ever so perfectly fried hunks of vegetables. Green beans, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, and even some artichoke on occasion are all fried beautifully here at the Due Corti....(to be continued)