ONLY IN ITALY: A 7-HOUR LUNCH!
I recently had a wonderful meal experience – an adventure, to be honest! – when a longtime California friend, Fr. Jeffrey Keyes paid his annual visit to Rome and asked if I would be free to have lunch at one of his favorite restaurants, Rifiugio San Gaspare!
This unique place is in Umbria, thus – full disclosure – the round trip car trip (car and driver) comprised 4 and a half hours of the 7-hour lunch!
It was the perfect October day – a delft-blue sky and Indian summer temperatures. Anytime one can leave a big city and drive through the countryside is a real treat, almost a retreat in away. The word “rifiugio” means refuge or shelter, and this rustic building high on a mountain-top indeed seemed a refuge!
There is only one menu and a fixed price but most luncheon guests already knew that and those who did not, ended up totally delighted, as I was. Every table in the main room was occupied the day we were there, as were several in an adjacent room. The final cost is about $35 a person!
Angelo came to our table to greet us as he recognized Father Jeff from previous visits. He and his wife have run the restaurant for the last 50 years! The building is owned by the town of Giano and he pays rent for the premises.
The restaurant opens at 12:30. At that same moment, wood is burning briskly in the huge fireplace and, as it burns, creates piles and piles of embers that are used to bake the bread and cook the meat – including wonderful sausages! – before our very eyes.
The dough is placed on a surface in the fireplace, a metal lid about 2 inches deep is placed on top of the dough and burning embers are places on top of that lid and, in minutes, we have fresh bread or focaccia!
The sausages and other pieces of meat are placed on a grill over burning embers, and are constantly turned and checked for doneness.
The freshly made bread is brought to the tables as guests are served an antipasto of salami, prosciutto, olives and cheese, followed by a divine linguine with truffles (it was divine because tartufi or truffles can often have an overbearing flavor but here it was perfect and well-balanced), platters of mixed, grilled meats, a choice of vegetable or salad and a choice of desserts.
Water and wine are included in the price. When the staff sees an empty pitcher of wine (usually a half liter for two people and liter per four people), they refill it immediately!
Lunch that day was not just a treat, it was also part entertainment. I will long remember my 7-hour San Gaspare adventure!
Now, of course you want to know who is San Gaspare?
Known as San Gaspare del Bufalo, St. Gaspar Melchior Balthazar del Bufalo was the founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, He was born on the feast of the Epiphany, the reason his parents named him after the Three Kings, His feast is October 21.
St. Gaspar was born and raised in Rome where he was ordained to the priesthood. In 1808. Along with other clergy who refused to take the oath of allegiance to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1809 after the deportation of Pope Pius VII, he was sent into exile to northern Italy and imprisoned for four years.
From the website of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood: “After Napoleon’s defeat, he returned to Rome in 1814 and threw himself into his preaching ministry. Through spreading the Good News of the Gospel, he believed he could help heal and revive a Church that had been sorely tried and tested.
“On August 15, 1815, St. Gaspar founded the Congregation of the Most Precious Blood (C.PP.S.) in Giano, Italy. It was a very small congregation, with only four members (including St. Gaspar). They began to preach in towns throughout central Italy. As they preached mission after mission, igniting the fire of faith in God’s people, they began to draw more members to their new Congregation.” Founder – Missionaries of the Precious Blood (cpps-preciousblood.org)
The spiritual center of the Missionaries is in the ancient abbey of San Felice in Giano, Umbria, not a long ride from the San Gaspare restaurant.
PS. Giano is 30 minutes by car from Spoleto, 45 from Perugia, 50 from Assisi and 70 from Orvieto.