It was closed.
The good, popular, famous and historic cafe in Vicenza was closed for vacation when I walked by on the morning of 23 February. I wanted to be disappointed. Wasn’t I missing out on a healthy dose of Italian AUTHENTICITY (or something like that)? Yet, I couldn’t be sad. Not with a beautifully silly cafe near my albergo with plenty of seats and the illy label. It’s the kind of place you probably wouldn’t go unless the historic, famous cafe was closed and you didn’t feel like tromping around on a Saturday morning before breakfast. Which I clearly didn’t.
Espressamente is a chain cafe owned and operated by Illy, the famous coffee company from Trieste. There appear to be several throughout the country, all focused on Illy quality, whatever that means (I, frankly, am not a fan of Illy). The chain aspect may seem counter-intutive to the Italian coffee ethos, but it’s really not. Most Italian bars are provided with an espresso machine by a major coffee manufacturer. This company — from major national entities like Illy and Lavazza to regional ones like Caffè Janko and Caffè Kimbo — services the espresso machine, gives the bar beans and trains their baristas. Essentially, if you go to a bar that is serving Illy coffee, it should be the same in a chain-like manner all over the country. It isn’t, I would argue, that different from Starbucks.
I went in, said my perfunctory good mornings to the baristi, and walked to the back to take a seat. In a few seconds, a woman was asking me what I wanted. Un brioche vuota e un cappuccino scuro, of course. As she quickly repeated my order back to me, I heard that she said brioche con marmellata. I quickly corrected her. My, how things have changed since I ordered my first brioche on 21 September.
In a few moments my cappuccino and brioche arrived. They looked good, the dusting of powdered sugar now expected and no longer feared. I ripped off the corner of my brioche with my fingers, because I’m just too
cool American, and took a bite. Surprisingly good.
The brioche wasn’t buttery, but it was light and flaky. With the powdered sugar on top the flavor was almost like that of french toast. Since I am a french toast lover, I wasn’t upset. Yet, I’m always a bit surprised when my brioche is light and airy without that buttery taste. There’s a brioche dead zone. I either want something dense with that wonky orange flavor or something light, airy and buttery. Oh Italians, you always surprise me with your pastries. At least they are never boring!
My cappuccino was very, very good. Just that morning I had woken up craving a brilliant, creamy cappuccino from Ninth Street Espresso. This wasn’t exactly what I wanted, it was that Illy coffee taste that is completely unmistakeable, but it was better than average. The milk was rich and creamy with a good amount of foam and not overwhelming amounts of milk. You could taste the coffee but never once thought you were drinking a cortado.
Overall, I had a good experience in Vicenza’s Espressamente. It’s a Gambero Rosso Bar d’Italia and for good reason. If you find yourself in Vicenza, head there. That is, if you aren’t in the mood for a brilliant, historic cafe experience. But sometimes we just need a little modernity to start our day.
Do you like going to historic eateries when you travel or do you prefer to try the modern places?