We were two weeks into our Italian getaway before we realized we hadn’t eaten in a single restaurant. With all the veggie restaurants closed for August, we weren’t tempted. We used this time to give our budget a break and cook our own meals. By the time we arrived in Sermoneta, which is about 40 minutes outside of Rome by train, we were ready to treat ourselves. We were delighted when our Couch Surfing host, Martine, suggested we eat at Le Piccole Vele (The Little Sales), a small restaurant located in the Lepini Mountains, just a short drive from Sermoneta. The picture above may not look like much, but it captures the scene. After driving up the mountain, we parked the car and came around a bend to see these lights shining from inside a small house, and smoke coming off the barbecue. We knew we were in for a special meal.
The dining room was setup on the balcony. From our table, we had a beautiful view of the surrounding mountain villages. This was the night that it finally hit me. We were in Italy.
When we sat down, I was (foolishly) anticipating they’d bring us a menu. Not so. There’s no such thing as a menu at this kind of restaurant, just the meal of the day. We didn’t have to worry though, because Martine had called in advance to let them know there would be two vegans and two vegetarian in her group.
Our meal started when two large baskets of rustic bread and a bottle of olive oil arrived at our table. Shortly after, we started on the antipasto plates. First up, we had these beautiful, succulent grilled eggplants, which were drizzled with olive oil. So simple, but so heavenly. Our waiter handed over the plate and we passed it around, each taking one. I have to say, I really enjoy this style of community dining. We were at a restaurant, but felt like we were enjoying dinner in someone’s home.
Then we moved on to the roasted red peppers. Again, the simple combination of grilled vegetable and oil surprised us with a surge of flavours. How many times have I had red bell peepers? Hundreds? Thousands? Yea well, they never tasted this good.
As if we hadn’t had enough bread by this point, another round was passed. We sure didn’t mind. Like the peppers and eggplant, the olive oil they have in Italy is so…so…so…magical. Italians will only use the oil from the most recent annual harvest. You can tell the difference too, their oil absolutely beams with flavour. Who knows how old the olive oil sitting on the shelves of US and Canadian supermarkets is. It’s safe to say I have a new appreciation for olive oil. And when I return to Italy, I’m going to bring back as much as I can carry.
One last round of bread was passed, this time with fantastic, juicy, ripe tomatoes.
By this point, we were totally stuffed with bread, oil and veggies. Out came the main course: pasta with olive oil, zucchini, and lots of salt. It wasn’t the highlight of the meal, that’s for sure. We forgave them though, our appetite was under control and they’d already impressed us with the antipasto. They deserve a gold star just for trying. They definitely don’t get many vegetarian, and especially not vegan, requests.
We thought our meal was coming to an end after the pasta, but the plates kept coming out of the kitchen. They presented each of us with a small salad of lettuce and tomatoes.
They wouldn’t let us leave without serving something sweet for dessert. We enjoyed slices of cantaloupe and finished off the wine.
This was an incredibly special, and very memorable meal for us. One we didn’t even bother trying to top during the rest of our time in Italy. At the end of the night, we asked for the bill and were shocked to learn it worked out to only €13.00 Euros ($17.34 USD) each. This was with two bottles of wine, and a few beers. There really is no place like Italy.
In this post, I really wanted to showcase the experience of dining in Italy, maybe even more than the restaurant. If you are fortunate enough to make it to Italy, there are countless meals like this waiting for you. Just be open to new experiences and willing to try small, local restaurants. Especially those set in the mountains, with beautiful views. Unfortunately, I don’t have contact information for Le Piccole Vele. If you ever make it to the Lepini Mountains in Italy, ask a local. I’m sure they will be able to guide you.