I recently returned from a trip to Bologna in order to take a week-long language course, though I was also there to eat well. This site is one place I've culled information from, so I'm giving back my culinary reviews. This trip was December, 2004, my second trip there.
First, some generalizations. For Italians in general, food is still more of an important part of the culture than in the U.S. That being said, it is still possible to get mediocre food there. And though on this trip it seemed that even the most casual bar served an excellent wine as their every day choice, not every bar had good sandwiches (quality of prosciutto, etc.), not every pastry was heavenly, and not every gelato worthy of mention. Also, the breads just aren't anything to get excited about in Bologna in terms of pure grain excitement - the kind that comes from a good sourdough loaf, pizza crust, freshly ground corn tortilla, etc. Their starchy forte is their egg pasta, where they truly excel. A two-block stroll in any direction will take you past some pasticerria's store window stacked with trays of filled pastas whose dough is the golden color of (dare I mix geographic metaphors here?) a late summer Tuscan sun.
For this trip, I only ate dinner at one trattoria because of my classes, which was Trattoria Anna Maria (via Belle Arti, 17A), which recently got a mention in a Bon Appetit spread. It's a warmly lit and inviting space, pleasant servers, superior tortellini in brodo. I also had a dish with cardoons and sausage that was also outstanding. Their house wine was a Sangiovese di Romagna, fruity and straightforward. A quartino of that (which came with a dish of mortadella cubes and some parmaggiano) plus these two dishes ran 27 E.
The remainder of my eating was done more casually, so let me arrange the reviews by type. Hope this helps someone else enjoy this wonderful city. A note that, as per tradition, many stores are closed from about 1:00-3:00 in the afternoon.
One of the consistent superior pastry makers there is Paolo Atti e Figli (via Drapperie, 6), of which there are two stores, around the corner from each other. Items I kept coming back to included their delightfully moist Panetone a Milano, filled with candied fruit and made with a natural leavener (like a sourdough). This made for an incredibly moist crumb with a complex flavor which, luckily for me, they sold by the slice during the holiday season. They make amazing riciarelli, an almond macaroon from Sienna that so far are the best I've had. Also an individually sized torta filled with prosciutto, artichoke, cheese and egg that was my lunch many days. I also like that at the end of the day, they run out of certain things, so that I know they're fresh the next day.
Two of the city's touted gelaterie were closed for the season (Ugo Gelato and Gelato Stefino), but if you're there in April or thereafter, try them out (Ugo is on via Ugo Bassi, the other on via Galliera). However:
Sorbetteria Castiglione, via Castiglione, 44, remains one of my favorites for their milk-based gelati, which seem a little richer than the usual Italian-style. Flavor hits include almond with almond macaroon, almond with caramelized pine nuts and hazelnut.
Le Vele Gelateria, via Saragozza 63/E. I've never seen this mentioned anywhere, but it should be. They make Sicilian-style granitas, as well as some incredible milk gelati (didn't like their fruit ones as much - not as intense). They have one called "Indian [something]" the color of darkest mahogany, that is made with chocolate and brandy; this is a personal favorite. Their Fior di Panna is also excellent.
Il Gelatauro, via San Vitale 82. Wonderful fruit gelati, very nice milk ones. I liked their cinnamon and squash, ginger, persimmon, and especially fennel seed. Though I just ran into it by chance, after arriving back home, I saw this glowing review from Faith Willinger (http://www.faithwillinger.com/travel_...). They advertised that they made panettone without preservatives, though I didn't have any.
BAR-PASTICCERIE and BARS
So, a place to go have breakfast Italian style, with a pastry and caffe or cappucino (cappuco in the local dialect). Also a place for your mid-morning caffe, your mid-afternoon sandwich and caffe, etc. Since the term "bar" connotes something different than, say, an American Hooters, let's imagine a spectrum of What An Italian Bar Can Be: on one end is a small place that does not make their own food, perhaps bakes pastries from frozen doughs, and puts together some sandwiches. They serve coffee, wine, amari, spremuta (fresh squeezed fruit juices). Even though the food might not be spectacular, their coffee can be. On the other end is a place which makes their own pastries from scratch, and probably also biscotti, candies, maybe pastas. Their bar serves the same things (coffee, etc.), but they have no savory items (sandwiches). In between are the hybrids.
Bar Pasticceria Progetto/Gamberino, via Ugo Bassi, 12. Another example of a place that on its receipt says something different than the sign outside. Great, friendly staff, good coffee, excellent pastries. Some highlights include their light, buttery brioche with orange-scented cream, a pastry shaped like a rough ball and filled with either giandjuia or zabaione (I gorged on the former; just look for the golf-to-tennis-ball-sized balls coated in cocoa), sfogliatelle filled with ricotta (they had my favorite in the city). On one morning I did get a not-as-fresh brioche, but the other days I did. Also, a very good cappucino can be found here.
Caffe delle Drapperie, via Drapperie, 12. After many dull sandwiches I had as snacks (tasteless bread, mediocre prosciutto), they had the first sandwich I really enjoyed, though it was easily topped the next day and thereafter by the ones at Dei Commercianti below. At the "just a bar" end of the spectrum.
Pasticceria Bar Soverini (via Oberdan, 13) was recommended by Fred Plotkin in his book, and after 3 tries I couldn't muster enthusiasm for anything there except these sandwich cookies filled with giandjuia. The one filled with zabaione, the biscotti and the various brioches all forgettable. Coffee not that impressive, either.
Bar Dei Commercianti, Strada Maggiore,23/C (whose reciept says Caffe Mokarabia, the name of the coffee brand they use, very confusing). A very nice all-around bar with tables for light lunches or dinners. They also set up a nice spread of free snacks during "happy hour." This place had the nicest panini in Bologna (of the ones I tried), as well as a delicious torta with artichokes (like a quiche). The house wines were always excellent, and the staff there, composed of the owner and a number of college students, were all extremely friendly. They even remembered which wines I liked and started bringing them without my asking. A great place to relax and have a light bite.
Bar Roberto, via Orefici, 9A. Nice coffee, friendly service, I was not impressed with some of the pastries. I did, however, like his sfogliatella with ricotta and the cappucino. I was not able to try enough of the selection here, though, and I would definitely return and try more based on the level of service and that sfogliatella.
Caffe degli Orefici, via Orefici, 6F. Though this bar doesn't specialize in making their own pastries (though they do have these and sandwiches), the real draw for me is the area with tables on the redesigned second floor that seems to float above the attached coffee bean store and has a wonderful view of the street.
Enotecha Italiana (via Marsala, 2) is more like a wine store with a bar, no seats. A large assortment of wines and spirits, 20 or so available by the glass along with snacks, lots of interesting though expensive food gifts (chocolate bars, marmallata, etc.), the staff of older men there were helpful though disengaged enough to discourage too many visits.
The Godot Wine store (hard to find, had to keep looking for it, ha ha) is a casual bar with an enoteca in the basement. They serve about 10 wines by the glass, explained in detail on a blackboard each day, along with 5 or 6 light dishes (sliced meats, a soup, a salad, etc.). Very knowledgable and friendly staff. It's actually not hard to find at all, at via Cartoleria, 12.
A stylish modern wine bar that wouldn't be out of place in New York or London, I loved Bar di Geremia e Marchetti, via Altabella, 14A. They serve about 10 wines by the glass, and 3 plates of snacks. One day I ordered the cheese plate with mostarda, and for 8 E got a huge assortment of uniformly amazing cheeses and mostarde, too much for one person. Later I realized that even if I didn't order food, you got a small place of something with your wine - olives, prosciutto, bread, chips - it changed each day. A great, friendly staff who remembered my preferences, they had my favorite wines of the trip.
Majani (chocolatier, via Carbonesi, 5) was a fun visit, and their product is good. These are not the most modern-styled candies, nor the best I've had in Italy, but worth a visit.
For high quality olive oils and conversation about the state of wine and olive oil production in Italy, visit the Elaioteca at via de'Giudei, 3D.
Tamburini, via Caprarie, 1. A food-lovers paradise, always crowded, on the pricey side, but worth the visit. Meats, cheeses, the best breads I've had in Bologna, prepared foods. If you feel like snaking your way through the long line, you can eat in their cafeteria-style as well.
There are two markets that I'm familiar with (though there are others). They are open early in the morning, then close around 12:30, opening again from 3:00 or so to 6:00 or so. Mercato Ugo Bassi (or dell'Erbe), via Ugo Bassi, 2. This inside market is what my heaven will look like. Produce, cheese, meats, seafood in every nook and cranny. The other market, the Mercato Quadrilatero, runs up and down different streets (vie Clavature, Drapperie and Caprarie), all within a very small area that used to be where the city's craftsmen plied their trades, on delightfully crooked and narrow old streets. Luckily, this is also where many of these food destinations are as well (Bar Roberto, Caffe degli Orefici, Atti, Tamburini).