In Pavia, unlike in New York or Bristol, you’re always walking by bars that serve coffee and cornetti. They look similar, offer similar things and, usually, aren’t all that inspiring. This one, however, caught my eye straight away. It’s nestled between the university bookstore and canteen (or mensa). As I flew by, I tried to suss it out: who goes there, where do they sit, is it any good. I couldn’t figure it out; I’m not yet that in tune to Italian culture to be able to discern these critical points from walking by. Luckily I have about eight/nine more months to figure out this culture.
I wasn’t going to go Caffè dell’Arte straightaway (not for any particular reason), but then my mother mentioned this bar to me as a place I might like to try out and I knew I’d stop by sooner than I anticipated. There are so many different cafes in Pavia, I have a hard time choosing which one to go to to get my weekly cornetto. It’s nice to have a suggestion, even from someone who has never seen the place.
I bounded out of the house last Thursday and eagerly sped my way to the bar, ready to taste and ready to experience. A cornetto sounded fantastic. Good coffee sounded fantastic. Sitting down, reading and breathing for a moment sounded fantastic. I just hoped that Caffè dell’Arte could provide me with what I wanted.
As I approached the cafe, I took a deep breath to get myself ready for the uncomfortable ordering experience. I saw a student eating a chocolate-filled cornetto in hand, wrapped in a paper napkin while walking down the street. While it made want to laugh out loud, it also calmed me down. He probably went to Caffè dell’Arte. There are students there and not just random citizens of Pavia. I like being around my fellow students, even when we don’t have a language in common.
I entered the small cafe, saw a free table and walked to the counter. Instead of reciting my usual order (cappuccino e cornetto vuoto), I used my new cultural knowledge and to order a cappuccino e brioche vuoto. Apparently in the north, they say brioche instead of cornetto. Yes, this is annoying. Yes, I wish someone had told me. The barista told me that they were in the top left corner of the display case and I realized that he expected me to take it out myself. While I was touched that he thought I was capable enough to do so, it sort of freaked me out. What if I accidently sneezed while choosing it? Was there a proper way to do so? Can I even reach it? It was fine, the glass cabinet didn’t collapse. I chose a good one.
There was a large plate on the counter on which I put down my cornetto. Not knowing if there were any other seats upstairs (there was a staircase and outside a small sign that read sala interna, inside dining room), I sat down awkwardly amongst left over copies of La Provincia and Gazetto dello Sport. My cappuccino and a small plate of biscotti (from a bag, I recognized pan di stelle) quickly arrived. For a moment I entertained the idea of eating my cornetto like an Italian might, wrapped up in a paper napkin. I soon realized that it took about 85.23% of the pleasure out of cornetto eating for me and proceeded to rip off tiny bits, like I would do with a croissant.
I sat there, pulling apart my cornetto, dunking it in my cappuccino and engaging in the oh-so-American practice of reading from a kindle. My ideal morning indeed. The cornetto was unique and tasted different from every other variety I’ve sampled thus far It was light and fluffy inside, much more like a brioche than a croissant. There were no layers, yet there was a distinct textural difference between the inside and outside. Outisde wasn’t sticky and wasn’t to sweet, but had a satisfying crunch that almost melted as you bit into it. There was a little bit of that Italian flavor, but not so much that it felt as if you were eating dessert as opposed to breakfast as can sometime happen. I liked the lack of sweetness, but could have done without the drops of sugar on top.
The coffee was good as well, one of the better ones I’ve drunk. I’m not head over heels in love with Italian coffee, but I’m getting used to it, forgetting the brilliance that is Variety Tea and Coffee. If they could just sneak a bit more coffee into the cappuccino, I’d be much happier.
Overall, it was an entirely pleasant experience. I enjoyed my brioche. I enjoyed my cappuccino and I even enjoyed my awkward seat. Next time, however, you’ll find me upstairs because, yes, there are seats up there. I have a feeling I’ll be back.
Do you prefer self serve options or do you like people to choose your food for you?