Table of Contents
- 1 Destination: Modena, Italy
- 2 Mode of Transport: Balsamic Vinegar
- 2.1 A rotund tenor from Italy – Luciano Pavarotti
- 2.2 Michael Schumacher
- 2.3 Sport of Formula One
- 2.4 Working on Madison Avenue
- 2.5 Osteria Francescana
- 2.6 We met in Bologna and headed to Modena
- 2.7 We all walked into the train station hand in hand and looked at the departure board for our train.
- 2.8 At our Bed and Breakfast, Quartopiano in Modena.
- 2.9 Quartopiano in Modena
- 2.10 Beautiful and comfortable
- 2.11 Mon Cafe in Modena
- 2.12 Lambrusco for Brenda and I
- 2.13 Stylish Locals in Modena
- 2.14 Caffetteria Drogheria Giusti
- 2.15 Ferrari Museum
- 2.16 Balsamic Vinegar
- 2.17 Franceschetta 58
- 2.18 Lambrusco, the wine of choice in Modena
- 2.19 Modena is also home of Maserati and Lamborghini
- 3 Brenda’s Quick Travel Guide to Modena.
- 4 Getting to Modena:
- 5 Stays in Modena:
- 6 Eats:
Destination: Modena, Italy
Mode of Transport: Balsamic Vinegar
As a child, every once in a while, my parents would allow me to stay up late night and watch Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, as he would have great musical guests on from time to time and they knew I loved watching live music performances. I also loved the opening monologues, which I only half understood at the time, and in those days, plaid jackets with large lapels were favored by Johnny, along with having cigarettes during the broadcast. I thought he was the coolest guy on television. However, like most 12-year-olds, once the show cut to commercial, I usually ended up falling asleep and never making it to the musical guest.
[Tweet “plaid jackets with large lapels were favored by Johnny, along with having cigarettes during the broadcast. I thought he was the coolest guy on television.”]
A rotund tenor from Italy – Luciano Pavarotti
I would wake up many mornings asking my father what I had missed. He would always make me feel better by telling me that I didn’t miss anything. One night, I actually stayed up all the way through and the musical guest was a rotund tenor from Italy that I had never heard of. I was so upset. At 12 years of age, I was looking forward to something a little more contemporary. I sat through the performance and was transformed. I grew to appreciate a new genre of music that evening, all thanks to the inimitable Luciano Pavarotti.
It was a bit after noon on a Sunday, at Pete’s Tavern on Irving Place in New York City , when my friend Harry, who was a large man with an equally big smile, walked in with his wife wearing matching red jackets they had purchased at a Formula 1 Grand Prix event they had attended in Montreal. All the talk at the bar was about how dominant this guy Michael Schumacher was in the circuit and how he was nearly unbeatable. Schumacher was the lead driver for the Ferrari Race Team.
Sport of Formula One
Having Grown up in the city, I didn’t drive (and still don’t) nor did I have an affinity for cars. Moreover, I didn’t know much about the sport of F1, but enough to know that Ferrari is known to be the manufacturers of arguably the greatest motor works in the world.
Harry was about 10 years my senior and he took it upon himself to educate me on the sport.
Through this education, my inherent love of sports in general, combined with my many travels abroad, I became to know the popularity of the sport and grew a true fondness for it. Now I try to catch a race on television whenever possible. Harry passed away abruptly 15 years ago, and every time I see a Formula 1 race on television, I miss him and picture him walking into the bar in his red Ferrari jacket.
Having worked in boutiques on Madison Avenue for many years, I had become friends with many of my clients. One of my favorites is a quickly mouthed lady named Elyse. She would usually pass by on weekends, and I relished the many hours we took to know each other through travel and food talk. There was one summer in which our travel itineraries somewhat mirrored each others, and we had a blast keeping each other posted on our plans.
But if there was one single thing she was looking forward to most on that trip, it was her dinner reservation at Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana. She couldn’t stop talking about this chef, who supposedly turned Italian cuisine on its head with his unorthodox creations. Osteria Francescana is currently rated as one of the top three restaurants in the world and holds the much coveted Three Michelin Star rating.
[Tweet “Pavarotti, Ferrari & Bottura. Three very influential figures, all born in the Italian town of Modena”]
Luciano Pavarotti and Enzo Ferrari (Founder of Ferrari Auto) were the leaders in their respective fields, both leaving an indelible mark. Massimo Bottura is at the top of his game and considered to be a leader in his industry and will certainly leave his stamp on the food world. Three very influential figures, all born in the Italian town of Modena.
We met in Bologna and headed to Modena
I had flown into Bologna from New York and was to meet Brenda and Bailey at the train station. I hadn’t seen them in over two weeks and I had felt very lonely without them. I was also in need of a vacation. I arrived at the train station before them and went ahead and purchased our tickets to Modena. After the transaction, I walked out of the station to see if they had arrived. From a distance, I saw the two of them, their complexion a shade darker, both dressed in all white.
We all walked into the train station hand in hand and looked at the departure board for our train.
I was filled with excitement to see them, and they me, as I was approaching them. We all walked into the train station hand in hand and looked at the departure board for our train. It read, partenze 14:08 (departure), binario 3 (platform). I looked at my watch which read 2 o’clock in the afternoon. We had to hurry in order to catch that train. The next one was a good hour away, and waiting in the Bologna terminal was not ideal. After a light jog with all our luggage in tow, I was nearly out of breath when we got to the platform . But, of course, the train was behind schedule. So much so that Bailey and I had enough time to purchase ice creams from the vending machines at the other end of the platform.
When we arrived in Modena, we took a taxi to our hotel. Passing through town, Brenda and I noticed that the town looked to be robust. We passed many businesses, mostly eateries, that seemed to have been thriving. It wasn’t a town on the tourist radar, and it was obvious, at least at first glance, that the people we saw walking, drinking and eating at the cafe’s and restaurants, were the town’s inhabitants.
At our Bed and Breakfast, Quartopiano in Modena.
The taxi driver dropped us off on a very narrow street where our Bed and Breakfast, Quartopiano, was located. We rang the bell, but nobody answered, so we called one of the proprietors to inform him that we had arrived.
“Si, sono Famiglia Tolentino”
Quickly into English, “ah, si, you have arrived. This is Alessandro, I am at the restaurant. I will be there shortly.”
Along with the bed and breakfast, they also ran a popular cafe in town.
Within minutes, from the corner of the street, a bicycle was heading toward our direction. On it was a gentleman dressed in nicely pressed pants and a tailored polo shirt. He was quickly approaching us, and without breaking stride and or a sweat, he introduced himself to us as Alessandro.
Quartopiano in Modena
He showed us to the Bed and Breakfast, which was on the top floor of a 5 story building. It was an apartment unit, and in it were two large bedrooms that acted as hotel rooms. Both having en-suite bathrooms. The second we walked in, we knew that we were staying at a special place. Every detail, curated by the owners, was done at a high taste level. Not necessarily the level one would find at a 5-star hotel, it was more recondite.
Beautiful and comfortable
Nothing about it contrived, just beautiful and comfortable. The common room, or living room was akin to a Swiss chalet reading room, with beamed ceilings and a sunroof, just shrunk to almost doll-house size. Our room, more Provence than Emiglia-Romagna in aesthetic, with cut dried flowers laid inside an open vintage suitcase along with slightly strewn hardcover copies of classic books. From the common room one can reach a second level, up a small spiral staircase, which led to the most beautiful little rustic kitchen. This is where we would, as a family, end up sitting to play cards in the mornings.
Mon Cafe in Modena
Alessandro invited us to their restaurant, Mon Cafe, for lunch and for a little meet and greet. The restaurant is perfectly situated on one of the main thoroughfares, Corso Canalchiaro. Antonio, Alessandro’s partner was there to welcome us when we arrived. In the restaurant, which was also done at a high taste level, we were seated at a corner in which we were able to look out into the street. One couldn’t help but notice well-heeled women navigating the cobbled streets with ease and men wearing fitted gabardine suits zipping by on their scooters and bicycles.
Lambrusco for Brenda and I
While scoping out the locals, Antonio brought out to us a couple of glasses of Lambrusco. It was beautiful, red, and effervescent. Chilled perfectly for a hot afternoon. It was followed by a beautiful array of sandwiches served on a beautiful rectangular wooden cutting boards. Bailey preferred the Genoa salami in the soft ciabatta, while Brenda and I fought over the mini croissants with warm mortadella in the middle.
Stylish Locals in Modena
After lunch we took a stroll over to the main square. Standing outside the entrance of the cathedral, I noticed a woman, probably in her early thirties, dressed in a beautiful teacup length white and red polka-dotted dress. She had big sunglasses on, and was riding a really great looking orange Bianchi bicycle, with a basket on the front end. In the basket were brown paper packages, in which I imagined to be filled with a hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a bottle of balsamic vinegar. “God damn, that woman’s got style”, I thought to myself. As I continued to admire her bare broad shoulders and long brown hair as she was pedaling off, I felt a tug on my shirt. It was Bailey telling me it was time to go into the cathedral to say a prayer. The irony made me snicker in spite of myself.
Caffetteria Drogheria Giusti
After a long day of walking around, we ended our afternoon with an aperitivo at the Caffetteria Drogheria Giusti, where I was able to get a good negroni. It was served with perfectly chiseled ice in a heavy tumbler. Brenda had an Aperol Spritz which was served in a large open mouth wine glass and Bailey a glass of bottled water. With our drinks, came a plate of small tramezzini (soft white bread sandwiches with the crusts taken off), which was filled with cold cuts that came from their salumeria. As if that weren’t enough, it was accompanied with some nuts and capers. We loved the free appetizers so much that we ordered another round of drinks. This time, brought out to us to eat were little pizzetti, which Bailey commandeered.
Behind the service counter, was a hand-powered meat slicer and remnants from the days this location was a drug store, except the apothecary bottles were replaced by bottles of oil, vinegar, and spirits. Even in this modest cafe, it was easy to see, that strands of perfection and style seem to be the common denominator in the Modenese sensibility. It became even more evident when we visited the Ferrari Museum the following day. The cars were not only fast, they were works of art.
It had been a beautiful day, walking the outskirts of town when we visited the Ferrari Museum. It was one of the warmer days during our visit and the walk back to the Bed and Breakfast was almost torturous, but we had a mission and that was to experience a balsamic vinegar tasting. So we trudged along.
Balsamic Vinegar is probably Modena’s greatest exported product and it was time for us to indulge ourselves in some of the best available.
We stumbled into a specialty shop that only sold balsamic vinegar. The vinegar offerings ranged in age from 5 years to 30 years, and the prices also ranged from expensive to very expensive. The product was displayed and given the same amount of attention as good wine and good whiskey.
The woman drew us in with her smile. Without hesitation, she started laying out the wooden spoons and started opening up some bottles. There was very little conversation, except for the occasional, “Buono?”
After about half an hour, she directed us to a bottle she thought best fitted our needs. We got off cheap…
I drew the shades in our room and turned on the air conditioning. Bailey walked out of the room, walked up the small spiral staircase and helped herself to some cold water that was kept in an antique bottle in the vintage refrigerator. Brenda stretched out on the bed and studied the map of Modena. We were to go to Massimo Bottura’s Franceschetta 58 that evening (the less formal, sister restaurant of the aforementioned Francescana).
Bailey returned to the room and wanted to be the first to shower. There was a small skylight in the bathroom, which she had me open as wide as possible so as to feel as though she was taking a shower outdoors. This room was so charming that it brought the romantic out of my 10-year-old daughter.
All refreshed and dressed for the evening, we were off to dinner. Brenda, having studied the map well, led us outside the arches of the old town and down a main road. This was a Modena we haven’t seen. It was very modern and industrial. Well kept and almost too clean to the point of sterile. After walking about half a mile, Franceschetta appeared on the right-hand side of the road. Sitting there, looking quite unflattering. However, upon walking in, the reflection of style that we were getting used to in Modena was again, apparent. It was no different than walking into an art gallery, in which the artwork was like a hidden treasure inside an ugly box. I’m sure this was done purposely, and it worked.
We were welcomed very warmly and shown to our table. Once seated, the pageantry started. It was like watching a play under great art direction unfold. We were all given different sized plates, all china, along with un-uniformed sized mouth blown Murano glasses. The table, graphite in color, was suddenly given color by the plates and glasses. This was just the setting presentation; the food had not arrived yet.
Lambrusco, the wine of choice in Modena
When in Modena, the wine of choice is a Lambrusco, There were two on the menu and the waitress suggested the less expensive, as she thought it to be a better pairing with the summer menu.
What followed was hands down the best meal we had in Italy that summer. The food seemed to be a play on the town’s dichotomy, which was the constant battle between tradition and modern cuisine. In some way, Chef Bottura, with his modern approach, is the most traditional Modenese chef. He is able to translate distinguishable tastes from the old world and somehow mold it into something extraordinarily new.
Modena is also home of Maserati and Lamborghini
The restaurant defines the sensibility of town itself. He truly mirrors the town with the food he puts on the plate. Just think, on the fringes of the burnt orange-hued old city, exists the site of Italy’s motor city. Along with the eponymous Ferrari, it is also the home of Maserati and Lamborghini. The mix of old and new have been mixing in this town for hundreds of years. This is a town grounded by innovation and it was no surprise that the cuisine we had that evening embodied the town’s history.
Walking out, Brenda noticed a table of three women, having a nice dinner together, laughing, and chatting at a high volume. They were all dressed impeccably with a fine mix of formal and casual. Having been in the fashion industry for years, she couldn’t help but appreciate their style. Suffice it to say that their taste in food equaled their taste in clothing.
[Tweet “He had a load of swagger. and he certainly had style. But, of course, he was a Modenese.”]
On our last day, in the taxi that was taking us back to the train station, I noticed on one of the corners we passed, an awning that read Pavarotti Cafe. Just the sight of it made me reminisce about that one evening in 1980, when I was able to stay up long enough to see the man himself perform “Ave Maria” on the Tonight Show. He had so much charisma, so much power and control. He had a load of swagger. and he certainly had style. But, of course, he was a Modenese.
Have you been to Modena? Please let us know in the comments and if you liked this story, please do share, we’d really appreciate it.
Brenda’s Quick Travel Guide to Modena.
Please read another travel story for inspiration about Modena.
Getting to Modena:
Modena was was a very quick local train ride from Bologna. Tickets were about 20 Euro and Bailey was 1/2 price.
Stays in Modena:
Bed & Breakfast de Charme
Via Bonacorsa 27
41121 Modena Italia
TELEPHONE & FAX
+39 059 875 54 87
Antonio +39 348 018 91 12
Alessandro +39 328 426 42 87
Mon Cafe which is owned by Alessandro and Antonio from Quartopiano.
Mercato Albinelli was a fantastic local market a short distance away from the Duomo di Milano. This is where we headed for many snacks, lunches and breakfasts.
From Monday to Saturday from 6.30 to 14.30.
Saturday and before holidays, winter time from 16.30 to 19.
On Saturday and before holidays, summer time from 16.30 to 19.30.
From June 1 to September 30, Saturday afternoon closed.
Franceschetta 58 – A great way to experience Massimo Bottura’s genius without spending a huge fortune.
Lunch Buffet “all you can eat”
12:30 to 15:00
Closing day: Sunday
- via Vignolese, 58
- 41124 Modena
- ph. 059.3091008
Enogastronomia Giuseppe Giusti srl
Open Monday – Sunday
Via Farini, n. 75
41100, Modena (Mo)
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