Flavorwire Travel Guide: Capturing the Spirit of Italy in Miami

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Whether it’s Fellini films or pizza, Italian culture has always had a certain pull for us in the States. When we think of Italy, we think of aesthetic elegance, romance, and a laid-back, joyful way of life. Or maybe that’s just what the Italophiles like me, who’ve been taken in by the genius melodrama of a Verdi opera, or the sublime flavor balance of good pistachio gelato, think. We are the type of people who wonder if you can spend a whole weekend exploring Italian-influenced art, architecture, music, and food — practically pretending to be on vacation in Italy — in an American city. After all, we crave the enchantment of Italian culture, and we’d like to find it closer to home, in places we can explore without dealing with customs and international flights.

Inspired by the recent arrival of the FIAT 500 on American shores, Flavorwire sent me to Miami, New Orleans, and San Francisco to find out if it was possible to recreate Italian grandeur right here stateside. In these cities where you might not expect to pull off a weekend jaunt all’Italiana, I discovered a surprising number of spots that retained their local flavor while staying true to the Italian spirit. Click through to explore the first of three action-packed weekend itineraries that will show you where to find the magic of Italy without having to cross the Atlantic.

Roaming around Miami, you’ll undoubtedly hear Spanish more than Italian (or even English), but don’t be fooled by it: Italian art, design, cinema, and food are thriving in the city’s art and design districts and on Miami Beach. So you don’t limit yourself to South Beach, rent a car — preferably a convertible for maximum sun exposure. That way, you’ll be able to check out the following locales, most of which are situated off the usual tourist circuit.

Evening: Aperitivo Hour

Machhialina. Photo credit: Alexia Nader

The Italian aperitivo is like our happy hour, except in the Italian version, wine cocktails, usually herbal and bitter, are the standard. They make exceptional ones at Macchialina, a new Italian restaurant located on Alton Road in South Beach. For a classic aperitivo cocktail, try the Italiano with prosecco, a splash of Campari and a twist of lemon. To get in the Miami mood, try an Italo-tropical hybrid: the Capri classic with cocchi Americano, muddled cucumber and mint.

Segafredo. Photo credit: Alexia Nader

After a few hours in the lively atmosphere of Macchialina, you’ll need to simmer down with a quiet dinner at Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante, located on a section of South Beach next to the water that’s as low key as it gets. A mixed plate of homemade mozzarella, an assortment of roasted vegetables, and imported prosciutto is a good prelude to a big plate of malloreddos, typical Sardinian pasta shaped like tiny seashells, which is topped with lamb ragu. After dinner, if you can still move, and drink, finish your night at Segafredo L’Originale, a Lincoln Road staple and a good place to lounge outdoors, people watch, and practice your Italian with the indulgent waiters.

Macchialina: 820 Alton Rd.; (305) 534-2124; drinks $9-$11. Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante: 1801 Purdy Avenue; (305) 531-2228; Appetizers around $14, Mains around $35. Segafredo L’Originale: 1040 Lincoln Road; (305) 673-0047; Drinks around $10.

Morning: Caffeine Calls

Panther Coffer. Photo credit: Alexia Nader

Spots with excellent Cuban coffee are a dime a dozen in Miami, but to start your day with a top-notch caffé latte or cappuccino, you’ll need to head to Panther Coffee in the street art-adorned Wynwood district. You’ll see it from a mile away because of the loud, psychedelic pattern painted on its exterior. But the coffee drinks served inside are anything but brash; nutty and silky, they’re what you want in a morning pick-me-up.

2390 NW 2nd Avenue; (305) 667-3952; Coffee drinks are all around $3.

Afternoon: Italian Design, Old…

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Photo credit: Alexia Nader

Drive down the coast to the estate of James Deering, a turn-of-the-century baron, who, because he was both a Europhile and a wildlife conservationist, built one of the most unique villas in the country. There’s no better proof than the estate gardens that Italian design and tropical materials make a winning combination. Grottos, hedge mazes, statues of Neptune and his ilk: they’re all there, but given tropical twists. In the middle of a Renaissance-style garden set piece, there’s a giant bromeliad; the grottos are modeled after those found in Italian Baroque gardens but feature shells collected in the nearby bay and in the Florida Keys. As you stray farther away from the main house, the European order of the gardens gives way to a wilder landscape.

3251 South Miami Avenue; (305) 856-8189; viscayamuseum.org; $15 adult admission.

You’ll work up an appetite and a sweat walking around the gardens at high noon, so a stop at Perricone’s, a few minutes north of Vizcaya in Downtown Miami, will give you some rest and a chance to cool down. The gelato there is a good choice, as is a panino made with freshly sliced salumi and a cold glass of an Italian white.

15 Southeast 10th Street; (305) 374-9449; Sandwiches start at $8.95; 3.95 for a single scoop of gelato.

…And New

MADinItaly. Photo credit: Alexia Nader

One look at the furniture, housewares, and art in MADinItaly, located in Miami’s Design District, and you’ll see that Italian design did not end with the Renaissance. The store displays the creations of Italian designers like Gaetano Pesce, and decorative items that are easier to carry home like colorful stemware made by Murano artisans. Wander around and admire the abundant whimsy: a bookshelf shaped like a robot; a lime-green chair whose back is molded to the curving lines of a woman’s seated backside.

4 NE 39th Street; 305-418-0452.

Evening: Dinner and a Movie

Harry’s Pizzeria. Photo credit: Alexia Nader

For top-notch pizza joints you have a choice: go with classic Italian flavors at Joey’s in Wynwood, or head to Harry’s Pizzeria in the nearby Design District, and try the restaurant’s crispy pizzas topped with Floridian staples and riffs on Italian classics, like rock shrimp and a tangy salsa verde.

Joey’s: 2506 Northwest 2nd Avenue; 305-438-0488; Pizzas $9-$16. Harry’s Pizzeria: 3918 North Miami Avenue; 786-275-4963; Pizzas $11-$15.

O Cinema. Photo credit: Alexia Nader

In this foreign film-loving city, finding the latest Scamarcio movie or an Italian cinema classic at one of the local indie theaters is not a rare event. O Cinema in Wynwood, the Tower Theater in Coral Way, and Regal South Beach Cinema on Lincoln Road are keeping Italian cinema in the spotlight here. This month, Regal South Beach Cinema will be showing Italian films as part of the Tenth Italian Film Festival. As part of the Tower Theater’s Cinema Italia Series, there’s a free screening of an Italian movie every third Thursday of the month.

O Cinema: 90 Northwest 29th Street; 305-571-9970. Tower Theater: 1508 SW 8th Street; 305-642-1264. Regal South Beach Cinema: 1120 Lincoln Road; 305-674-6766.

Morning: An Italian Spread Right on the beach, nestled in the back of the Soho Beach House Miami, Cecconi’s, serves a lavish spread of Italian dishes and brunch classics every Sunday from 11am to 3 pm. Recover from your weekend by stuffing yourself in the true Italian-Sunday-lunch spirit, enjoy the live music and grab one last chance to soak up the Florida sun.

4385 Collins Avenue; 786-507-7902; Brunch $35 per person.

Afternoon: Take ‘Em for a Ride

Roam vespa tour. Photo credit: vtravelled Blog

Your last excursion should be both quintessentially Italian and a South Beach favorite — a scooter ride. The Vespa rental company, Roam There, will drop off candy-colored bikes to your hotel. Then you join one of the company’s artist studio, art deco, or eco-focused tours, or take off down the shoreline on your own, lapping up the sea breeze.

1-888-760-7626; Rental rates start at $75/day; Tours start at $75 per person.

Stay

Room at Freehand Miami. Photo credit: Freehand Miami

Starting in November, the former historic Indian Creek Hotel will reopen as the Freehand Miami, a hotel perfect for rolling in large crews. It’ll be set up like a hostel — albeit a fancy, locavore one — and is located a block from the beach.

Rates start at $27-$67 per person; 2727 Indian Creek Drive; (305) 351-5651.