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Monday, June 15, 2015

Superb, Inexpensive Local Cuisine In A Countryside Setting

La Cantina di Baffone
Contrada Palombaro
Montecalvo, Irpino, Province of Avellino, Campania
Phone: +39-334-182-5144
Prices: $$$$$

Woman In Traditional "Montecalvese" Dress
An agriturismo in my paternal grandfather's hometown, we discovered La Cantina di Baffone when my relatives took us their for dinner one night. Not far from Montecalvo, a small, hillside town 60 miles east of Naples, the restaurant seems to be far from civilization in a relaxed and peaceful setting surrounded by olive and cherry trees. My cousin Gino called ahead for a table and we arrived at 9:30pm, not very late by Italian standards.

It did not take long for the attentive staff to come by to greet us and give us menus, we quickly ordered mineral water and the local wine with four of six in our party ordering their legendary pizza while Gino and I decided to try the local specialties.

My grandmother, although she and my grandfather met in the States, was born in Trevico, a small mountaintop town just 20 miles from Montecalvo, so her cooking was very similar to the dishes found in this region. The server, one of two twins that own the agriturismo, quickly brought out two platters of bruschetta (€1.50 each - FYI: the "ch" in Italian is pronounced like our "k', so it is pronounced brew-sket-ah, not brew-shet-a). Montecalvo is renowned for its bread in the Irpino region and it is said that there are so many ovens baking bread in town that it melts the snow on the streets in winter. The toasted slices of pane (bread) Montecalvese were rubbed with garlic and topped with juicy tomato chunks then sprinkled with diced basil and extra virgin olive oil.

Patane e Pupini
The pizzas, none over €5 and the cheapest I have seen in recent memory, were huge and perfectly cooked, the dough thin, but firm (not chewy, not burnt) with abundant ingredients. With the ability to have fabulous pizza around every corner back in Naples, my focus was on the cucina tipica (local cuisine), Montecalvese in this case.

For our first courses (primi), Gino and I both had the Cicatielli e Broccoli (€5). Cicatielli is the local pasta and is used almost exclusively in homes and restaurants. With just the right amount of perfectly cooked pasta, the broccoli was not overwhelmed by the light, creamy sauce holding the pasta together ... Buonissimo!

Gino ordered the Patane e Pupini (€5), a traditional combination of roasted sweet sausage, red and green bell peppers, and potatoes. It was as good as my grandma's with just a little char on the slices of sausage, potatoes, and peppers and delicious along with the local bread. I love veal and when I was told that the Spezzatino Montecalvese (€5) was a "veal stew", I had no other choice. Simmered for hours in its own juices, a little fresh tomato, olive oil, and salt were all I could detect being added to the sauce. The veal was tender, literally melting in my mouth, and the sauce sublime, a perfect yet simple combination of fresh ingredients. My Italian-born wife always tells me that it is "frowned upon" in public, but I could not resist to "fare la scarpetta" (to do the little shoe) with the leftover sauce, using a small piece of local bread to mop up the wonderful sauce I could not possibly have left behind. 

Although thoroughly stuffed, we could not resist the cheesecake (€2.50), a house specialty, coming either plain or drizzled with chocolate, caramel, or in our case a fresh fruit sauce with strawberry, raspberry, and cherry from trees in the adjacent grove. The graham cracker crust was thick and crisp and the filling rich and decadent, a dessert easily fetching more than twice the price in most stateside restaurants.

Cantina di Baffone is one of those hidden gems you come across rarely in life and we would have never gone there if it were not for my cousins, but am I glad we did! For a party of six, we ate extremely well for less than €10 per person, including drinks, making this restaurant an exceptional value. We only see my relatives every couple of years, but the next time we are in Montecalvo we will return to di Baffone for another delicious and inexpensive meal.

CombatCritic Gives Cantina di Baffone 10 Out Of 10 Bombs ... Value Does Not Get Better Than This ... More Bombs Are Better!

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Title: Superb, Inexpensive Local Cuisine In A Countryside Setting

Key Words: La Cantina di Baffone, cantina, baffone, Contrada, Palombaro, Montecalvo Irpino, Avellino, Campania, agriturismo, restaurant, Italian, Italy, review, menu, CombatCritic, travel, value

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