Thursday, August 6, 2015

I Love This Bar, Part II

Cesar & Lilli

" I love this bar
It's my kind of place
Just walkin' through the front door
Puts a big smile on my face
It ain't too far, come as you are
I love this bar..."  ~ Toby Keith & Steve Emerick

I mentioned yesterday that Bar Santo Stefano is a 15-second walk from the apartment I rent when I'm in Bologna.  In all honesty, there are four bars that are all within a 30-second walk from the apartment, and even more within a two-minute walk. Walk five minutes in any direction, and you'll find more bars. They are all over the place.  I've not seen two right next to each other, but I have seen them across the street and a few doors away from each other.

At any rate, not long after I arrived in Bologna last year, Cesar and Lilli closed Bar SS for a few days so that they could clean, paint, and refresh the place. During that time, I visited most of the bars in the Santo Stefano area. While one can get some food at Italian bars, they are not restaurants,. As I mentioned yesterday, they are not really coffee shops, nor are they bars in the sense of American bars. They are a hybrid combining the best of both worlds—a place to go for liquid refreshment of any kind.

Bar Santo Stefano's espresso machine & coffee grinder (on the right)
The centerpiece of the bar is the espresso machine (above).  You won't find coffee pots in the bars as caffe in Italy is different from coffee as we know it.  Caffe in Italy is espresso (below), and Italians joke that caffe americano is "dirty water."  Adding a "little" sugar to espresso is okay, but cream? Wimpy.

(Side note:  I have to admit that I have a problem drinking coffee for a few weeks after I return to the States from time in Italy.  I miss the strong, smooth espressos.)

By the way, cappuccino at one bar is not the same as cappuccino at another bar.  The coffee makes a difference, and I'll admit that most of it is pretty good no matter where you go, but the way the barista makes the cappuccino makes a big difference.  I've had some that contained so much milk that there was little foam and the espresso was too weak. I prefer a good amount of foam and a little milk so that the taste of the espresso comes through.

Italian coffee = espresso
By the way, decaf coffee is not an option in Italy.  If you need decaffeinated coffee, you order "caffe d'orzo."

"What," I asked Cesar last month, "is orzo?"  I had heard a few people order it, and while it looked like coffee to me, he used a different machine to make it (below).

"It's made with a grain," he told me.  A coffee-like beverage made from barley, orzo has a long history in Italy.  Originally made by peasants who could not afford coffee, it has grown in popularity among people who cannot tolerate caffeine.  I've never tried it, but I understand that the taste is smooth and a bit bitter, and it takes some getting used to.  Since I have no problem with caffeine (unless I *don't* have it early in the day), I won't be trying orzo anytime soon.

Instant orzo machine
I think I may have mentioned this before, but Italians don't drink cappuccino after 10 am because, according to what I've read, it's hard to digest warm milk.  I don't know if I believe that, and when I'm home, I make a cappuccino every afternoon.  When I'm in Italy, I tend to stick to the cultural norm and drink espresso after 10.

One afternoon when the heat and humidity had the best of us,  Mike decided to try a frullato—a fruit and/or vegetable drink.  Frullati are similar to smoothies except that they usually don't contain milk or yogurt products and use natural juice and ice cubes as the base.  Cesar and Lilli keep all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables (below), and instead of having a limited number of frullati on their menu, they allow customers to choose what they want in their drinks.  Mike chose cherries, strawberries, oranges, and pineapple.  It was so good that I tried one the next evening—pineapple, lime, cherries, apricots, and oranges.

Cantaloupe, lemons, apples, oranges, pomegranates, bananas, pineapples, limes, kiwi, cherries, apricots, pears, strawberries, and more

In the time that we've been home, I've tried to make frullati using frozen and fresh fruit. Unfortunately, the frozen fruit makes the drink too thick.  I don't quite mind that, but Mike prefers it to be more liquid, so I've defrosted his fruit before I make his.  When I go back to Bologna, I'll have to have Lilli and Cesar show me how much fruit they use so I can make mine a little better.

Moi with a cherry, apricot, pineapple, and orange frullato

While most Italians use bars as a place to get a quick beverage, some us the more comfortable ones as a gathering place where they meet friends to talk politics, sports, or life.  Such is the day at Bar Santo Stefano.  Every morning, friends meet to have their cappuccino or espresso and spend time with each other. 

Tomorrow (or Saturday), I'll introduce you to the men and women of Bar SS.

Morning at Bar Santo Stefano

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