Sandwich Wars: All’Antico Vinaio

Battle No.3
The Challenger: All’Antico Vinaio
For rules, regulations and a fascinating review of sandwich history, see here. For our current rankings, see this blog’s side bar.
 
YES! It’s time for Sandwich Wars again!
Quick review: after the first throw down between Fratellini and Da’Vinattieri, we tossed in the first challenger, The Oil Shoppe. Sadly, they fell a bit short leaving Da’Vinattieri as the reigning champ with their killer Porchetta sandwich going into Battle #3 with Contestant #4.
 
I was really rooting for someone to come along and make a solid grab for the title this month. In the hopes of just such an event I was forced to face an old foe: the small but popular sandwich spot known as All’Antico Vinaio on Via dei Neri. This place has had lines and crowds in front of it since I first came to Italy in 2002. Like those people who avoid Harry Potter, I thought I was too cool (read: scaredy cat) for a place that was so clearly awesome. No surprise, as with many things that are popular, this place is popular for a reason. Like me, you’ll just have to learn to suck it up, jump into the fray, and elbow your way to the front like the old Italian ladies. It is more than worth it.

Contestant #4: All’Antico Vinaio
Via dei Neri 65R 50122 Florence, Italy (See map below)
Hours: Monday to Saturday: 8am – 9pm, Sunday: 8am – 3:30pmall_antico_vinaioWhen I moved back to Florence as a Masters student, I lived right across the street from All’Antico Vinaio for a year. Every day I saw the crowds form around its storefront, enjoying their sandwiches. Every night I saw people getting tipsy on wine and requisite aperitivo. Even my neighborhood wine guy got his lunch there almost every day.
 
The crowd was mostly locals and ordering looked a bit complicated. I would walk by, trying to figure out the system so as to avoid looking like a dope when I went in the first time. Alas, I could never figure it out. There was all this food and wine sitting out in the open and people went ahead and served themselves and then apparently remembered what they had (Italian honor system?) At least this was what I could piece together. I was younger, a bit more timid and well, it all seemed a bit scary to me. So I decided it was a fad, something I could skip and (gasp!) I never tried it. So now alllllll these years later, in the name of this blog series, I finally had to face my fear and find out what all the fuss was about. As it turns out, it was not a fad and there is a very simple reason why lines develop outside All’Antico’s doors around lunchtime every day – it’s really freaking good.
 
The place is run by a group of guys that rotate schedules with the exception of two that are the mainstays and always there. They are very nice, speak great English, but will humor you if you’re trying out some beginners Italian. They have an arrangement with the forno across the street which supplies them with a constant stream of freshly baked schiacciata all day long as well as some of their other fresh sandwich ingredients. They have a list of curated sandwiches, but it is not prominently displayed and most people come in either knowing what they want or just asking for “whatever is the best,” a legit request in my book.
 
When we went in we perused the list, but in the end we wanted to see what they would make off-menu. They did not disappoint.
Here is a visual breakdown of what we got:finocchionaFirst, imagine spicy eggplant and, my kryptonite, finocchiona (a salami cured with fennel seeds). This would already be an insanely flavorful combo, but then came “the spread” (indicated in the visual breakdown above). As I mentioned in our review of sandwich history, condiments are not really popular in Italy. This spread, however, is a wonderful compromise. It’s a blend – made of pecorino cheese, fennel and garlic – that functions both as a condiment as well as the cheese component of your sandwich. It gives a double hit of the fennel and softens, ever so slightly, the kick of the spicy eggplant. See, everybody wins! And it is a win-win-win because the stuff is straight delicious.
 
Second, let me address the size of this sandwich. When this photo was taken, I did not have a smartcar nearby to use as a comparison, so you’ll just believe me, it’s HUGE. It was entirely too big for me to eat myself (ok, truth: I ate almost all of it. But I think it was all I ate the rest of the day). aperitivoAt 6 Euro, the cost was higher than Fratellini, Da’Vinattieri, and the Oil Shoppe, but if I went back again I would definitely split the sandwich with a friend, making it half the cost. To boot, the location boasts up to 6-8 semi-comfortable seats and a small bench on Via dei Neri. In the summer a crowd mills about outside and occupies most, it not all, of the sidewalk and street talking and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere until the wee hours. It is, I am forced to admit, a great place with tons of exceptional sandwich options and friendly faces. They are also open for aperitivo, which I highly recommend for your typical tuscan snack options as well as some new ones (my favorite were the fried cheese mountains – imagine dollops of gorgonzola heaven, breaded and lightly fried). You really can’t go wrong.
 
SCORES:
1. Taste: 9.25 points (out of 10)
SUPER delicious all around. Da’Vinattieri has better (i.e. saltier) bread, but the number of amazing ingredients to select from cancels out its slight inferiority.
 
2. Cost: 4.25 points (out of 5)
It is a little bit too much if its just you, but split it with a friend and you are MADE. (This friend could also be a later in the day, hungry-again you.)
 
3. Location and general experience: 5 points (out of 5)
Indoor seating with space for about 6-8 and my favorite outdoor space by far. Plus they offer a friendly atmosphere that welcomes non-Italians.
Total: 18.5 points out of 20 = 92.5%
 
NEW CHAMP: All’Antico Vinaio!!!!
Check in next month for the next challenger! I feel bad for whoever it is…
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