Beyond the Five Boroughs: The Foods of Brescia

Mozzarella caprese at Locanda dei Guasconi in Brescia

This is the second part of our travel series on Northern Italy.

Brescia is an ancient city in Northern Italy sitting at the foot of the Alps. Although it is not normally thought of as a tourist destination, it boasts a number of Roman and medieval monuments, including a large castle sitting above the town, as well as a pair of impressive cathedrals. It is also in striking distance of beautiful Lake Garda and serves as a nice stopover between Lake Como and Parma. Importantly for our purposes, it also offers some terrific food.

We had just finished three glorious days in Bellagio, gazing at the lake and mountains, floating in the hotel pool, and enjoying pasta and seafood by the lakeside. A boat ride took us to the town of Como, where we rented a car and drove East, heading toward Brescia the long way, enjoying the scenery. It was bittersweet leaving Bellagio, but we were excited to be on the road. We were also hungry for lunch.

Lunch in Lecco

A casual pizza lunch in Lecco with a view of the lake and mountains

We stopped in the town of Lecco, which is situated at the Eastern foot of Lake Como. Given its location, we suspected we’d find someone willing to bring us pizza while we sat by the water looking at the Alps.

We were right. In the park that runs along the lake we found some outdoor tables under a tent, where a small friendly staff was turning out thin-crust pizzas to happy patrons reading books or watching their kids bounce up and down on the nearby trampoline. A pizza arrived with salt-cured anchovies, which added a nice briny flavor to the cheesy pizza. Another was my usual favorite, the “primavera,” which came topped with fresh tomatoes and peppery arugula, which wilted only slightly into the cheese.

It was a great detour. After a leisurely cappuccino by the lake, we got back in the car and continued our drive to Brescia.

Dinner at Il Santellone

Ravioli at Il Santellone
Zucchini carbonara at Il Santellone

We were staying at Il Santellone, a modest surburban resort about ten minutes from town, which offered some comfortable and affordable suites surrounding a peaceful interior garden. The resort also hosts a wedding venue and, happily, a good restaurant, which we chose to visit on our second night. (A review of our terrific dinner the night before at the Michelin-starred Due Colombe is forthcoming.)

I was delighted to find on the menu a zucchini carbonara, a vegetarian version of the pancetta-laden classic, which I like to make at home whenever I can find good zucchini. Like traditional carbonara, the creamy sauce was was made from eggs cooked with the steam heat of freshly cooked pasta, with no actual cream added. We also enjoyed a dish of ravioli, which were served simply with butter and cheese, a great preview of the next leg of our trip in Parma.

Lunch in Brescia

The main square in Brescia

The centerpiece of Brescia is a long rectangular piazza housing two impressive cathedrals: the “duomo nuovo,” which was constructed between 1604 and 1825, and the “duomo vecchio,” a rare circular cathedral dating from the 11th century. Inside the old cathedral, a modest group of churchgoers attended mass in the circular chapel. Outside on the square, a modest group of cafe-goers enjoyed croissants and cappuccinos under well-positioned umbrellas.

Fettuccini with robiola, beets, and spinach

A few blocks away, we found ourselves at Locanda dei Guasconi, which offers lovely outdoor tables on a wraparound covered deck overlooking a quiet street. I was looking for a change of pace after the seafood-laden fare on Lake Como, and I found it: fresh fettuccini with a robiola cheese sauce and beets over creamed spinach. It was a really distinctive, excellent dish, the cheese giving it a creaminess and a fairly strong flavor that was mellowed by the beets and spinach.

We couldn’t resist the caprese, which came with nice thick slices of fresh mozzarella and juicy cherry tomatoes, with just a little drizzle of olive oil. One of the better fresh mozzarella dishes of our trip, out of many.

We also enjoyed a dish of homemade crepes filled with spinach and ricotta and rolled up like blintzes. They were topped with a a creamy white sauce and a rich tomato sauce, with shreds of good parmigiano sprinkled on top.

Sirmione on Lake Garda

An affogato al caffè (right) with its refreshing friend

After lunch, we drove out to beautiful Lake Garda, about 45 minutes due East. We stopped in Sirmione, a local tourist destination, where a throng of happy weekenders (and some foreign tourists) were enjoying their day in the sun. People of all shapes and sizes were spending their time boating, sunbathing, and enjoying gelato in the old town. The town is surrounded on three sides by water, sitting out on a narrow peninsula that juts out into the center of the lake.

It was there that we found a real treasure of Italian cuisine: the affogato al caffè. Freshly brewed strong espresso was poured over cold vanilla gelato and served with a spoon and a straw. It was like the ice cream sodas of my childhood, but with the rich, deep flavor of good Italian espresso. So refreshing on a hot day.

We had a great time during our two days around Brescia, but we were excited for what lay ahead. The next day we were headed to Reggio Emilia and the town of Parma, the birthplace of ravioli, balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, and of course prosciutto. Some good eating was in our future.

Il Santellone Resort & Spa
Via del Santellone, 116/120, 25132 Brescia, Italy
Tel. +39 030 373 2998

Locanda dei Guasconi
Via Cesare Beccaria, 11G, 25121 Brescia, Italy
Tel. +39 030 377 1605

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  • Wow how gorgeous! Affogato al caffè? Yes please and with that view of Brescia on the side. That ravioli is exactly how it should be. I'm reaching my hand into the computer right now. You should go into travel agency. I think it would be a good field.

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