No one can resist Anzio’s fresh seafood. Its straightforward flavors are inspired by Roman food traditions, expressed in local fish, especially low-cost oily ones, or pesce povero, the people’s fish, caught by small boats between Anzio and Nettuno. Over the years, the town’s restaurants have improved their cuisine, developing a new, modern and complete wine list and offering a wide selection of delicacies.
Anzio from 1997 to 2016
“They get their tans in San Felice Circeo, Sabaudia and Sperlonga, but they dine in Anzio”, was the opening of an article about Anzio published in a 1997 issue of Gambero Rosso. But today, ‘they’ are tanning in Anzio too, because the trendiest beach establishments, Tirrenino and Oasi di Ponente in the center, Rivazzurra and L’Atollo on the outskirts, have up-graded dramatically. Although they can’t compare with those in the most famous Italian resorts, Anzio’s seaside clubs do ensure a pleasant day: good music, simple but fine quality food, well-made drinks and interesting, varied nibbles at aperitivo hour. After dinner, no one needs to drive to nearby Nettuno anymore. Good cocktails are served at such places as Bodeguita, Beach Cocktail Bar and Zerotredici. Stampeggioni and Malaga are unrivaled coffee bars, the first for its pastry, and the second for its varied and creative food. Gelaterie have multiplied, although none can touch the rightly popular Conforti, which serves a limited number of delicious flavors based on seasonality and top-flight ingredients.
But despite all this polishing and shining up of Anzio’s facilities, the authentic character of this piece of the Roman coast is unharmed. The clarity and unfussy nature of its cucina, depending on small local fishermen and farms, has survived. Already at the end of the 19th century, the Baedeker guide mentioned the Turcotto trattoria in Anzio, helping to launch the reputation for local eateries the town still enjoys. That trattoria, now a restaurant, is 200 years old, and still owned by the Garzia family. Until the 1970s, Anzio was the culinary magnet for Rome’s politicians, businessmen and celebrities, but also for European aristocrats in general, thanks to its traditional seaside cucina expressed in such dishes as zuppa di pesce (fish soup), anchovy casserole and skate broth.
Enoteca Del Gatto and Da Pierino
“But the wines hardly mattered,” Franco Del Gatto observed. He and his wife Simonetta own Enoteca Del Gatto, one of the most distinguished wine bars in Italy. “There was white and red, at most four labels: Verdicchio Fazi Battaglia, Pinot Grigio Santa Margherita, Corvo di Salaparuta and Fontana Candida”. At the beginning of the 1970s, Franco decided to shift gear in the osteria that the family had owned since 1936. “I was 14 and I had a head full of ideas. I didn’t want to be an innkeeper. I began to travel around to wineries and meet producers like Barone Ricasoli and Josko Gravner. I was so young that they were especially kind to me. Priscilla Regolanti, whose father owned Alceste al Buon Gusto, and Roberto Giomo, who had just opened the restaurant All’Antica Darsena, followed my example. Both of them became passionate about wine and were the first ones in Anzio to develop a real wine list – in the 1980s.” As interest and enthusiasm grew, Sandro Catarinozzi, in his restaurant Da Pierino, focused attention on premium ingredients and lightness. “Sandro was the absolute top for over 15 years,” Del Gatto explained. “The best local fish went to him. The wine list was marvelous, offering the most appealing Italian and French labels, and his rum and whisky could satisfy any aficionado.”
Romolo al Porto
Walter Regolanti entered the scene, and fortified by family tradition and a solid background, vitality and boundless energy, he became a professional sommelier in 1993. After interning with great chefs such as Alain Ducasse and Moreno Cedroni, he pushed and pulled his family restaurant into unmatched standards of quality. Walter’s father, Romolo, had introduced cucina based on crustaceans, raw fish, and on varied antipasti offerings based on pesce povero: common Pandora, spotted weaver, mackerel, striped seabream. “The idea came to me when I was working in the kitchen at Alceste with my mother. She was against it right away. I told her not to come anymore, if she didn’t like the idea.” That’s how Romolo summarized the generational shift. Salvatore Spina, from three generations of fishermen, said, “Only fishermen ate silver scabbardfish. No one bought it. Romolo was the first to put it on a restaurant menu. He showed the world that it’s not the type of fish that matters, but how you prepare it.” That’s how the modern identity of Anzio’s restaurants started, and it is still one of the most attractive elements on this coastline close to Rome.
“Today, it’s not only the vacationing rich who eat out. Families take a day trip to the seaside, and they want to eat well too,” Walter Regolanti observed. So, alongside the historic places that are still 90% frequented by tourists, are a whole host of smaller places. The wisest among these new restaurateurs have opted for high-quality, fresh fish, offering less prestigious products that allow them to offer complete meals for 40/50 euros or less. Some places do offer tourist menus that feature quantity rather than quality. “The fish being auctioned isn’t enough for everyone, so smaller restaurants go to Rome’s wholesale fish markets, where the product that hasn’t been sold along the coast ends up,” Salvatore Spina explained. “Or fish that comes from small boats. Their numbers have quadrupled over the years, so the cooperatives are having problems. First we looked after the sea, and we knew where to go, according to the season, alternating zones and giving species a chance to reproduce. Today we have to go to the same places all the time, because the others are off-limits.”
What is still missing along the Roman coast, that is from Fiumicino to Gaeta, is a pizzeria with a capital P. There’s a real need for those, in addition to the restaurants, besides those in Anzio, such as Tino in Ostia, l’Osteria dell’Orologio and Pascucci al Porticciolo in Fiumicino, Satricum, Vistamare, Essenza and Claudio Petrolo in the Latina zone.
From Nero to the Allied Landing: celebrity villas and History
Anzio was a favorite with the aristocracy of ancient Rome, and emperors Caligula and Nero were born here. Nero chose it as his summer residence and built the majestic Villa Imperiale and the city’s first port. A project to protect and restore the ruins of these great architectural works of the first century A.D was launched in 1998, and much individual art is inside the archeological museum, Villa Adele. The Villa itself, owned by the town, is part of a complex of noble residences from the 18th century which includes Villa Albani and Villa Corsini-Sarsina. The latter two are occupied by town offices, including the mayor’s. The present-day port was built by Pope Innocent XII, who, after being forced by a storm to land on the Anzio coast, ordered the construction of a safe harbor. Anzio is also known around the world because on January 22, 1944, Allied troops landed here. They were headed for Rome and the expulsion of the occupying German troops. In memory of that event, there are monuments in Piazza Garibaldi and The Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial in nearby Nettuno. Villa Adele houses the Anzio Beachhead Museum with a small, well-curated collection of objects related to the amphibious landing.
This article will be soon available on the July Wine Travel Food issue
by Marco Castaldi