I just returned from Florence and will attempt to write a few thoughts on eating in the city. We tried to concentrate on places offering good regional food with a casual, relaxed atmosphere.
Nerbone. San Lorenzo Market/Mercato Centrale. This famous place, which is firmly on the Chowhounder map of the city, is located to the right as you enter the market. Nerbone is famous for their boiled beef sandwich, which does not disappoint. You wait on line with a cross sectiion of tourists and locals and ask for your sandwich "bagnato" which means dipped in the vat of broth. You will then be asked whether or not you want salt (yes!) and if you want green sauce, red sauce, or both. (Try both) The green, parsley-heavy sauce had run out by 1:30pm so we asked for the red version, spicy with peperoncini. The meat is delicious but there is plenty of fat on it so beware. Nerbone also serves up plates of pasta, soup, and other plates, which change daily. You carry your order, with wine or water, from the counter to one of a few shared tables a couple of steps away. The price is very inexpensive and this is a great option for lunch for anyone on any kind of budget. They are open for lunch only, until 2pm.
Cantinetta dei Verrazzano. Via dei Tavolini, 18/20. A few minutes walk from Piazza della Signoria. This is the enoteca of the Castello di Verrazzano wine estate in Greve in Chanti. It is popular with local people at lunch for its Florentine version of focaccia, which is turned out in various permuations throughout the afternoon. You go in the back to face the oven and choose your selection (peas with Fontina; prosciutto with mozzarella; tomato and mozzarella, etc.) Price is about 2.5 Euro each and you can eat at benches along the wall. They also have a chesnut dessert in season (castanaccio??)
There are also tables here. The room to the left as you face the oven is lined with shelves filled with wine books and oils from the estate for sale. We ate at the benches one day and another, at a table in this room. Mixed platter of crostini (lard; proscuitto; Tuscan salami, etc) with a small porcini panino. Brunello Novello to drink. There are wines by the glass and bottles, as well as coffee and dessert. For those who collect wine labels, there is a rack of them in this room for the taking.
Across the street from Cantinetta is Perche No? one of the city's best gelato places. A must!! Closed Tuesday.
All' Antico Ristoro di Cambi (Cambi). Via San Onofrio, 1 r. In the Oltrarno near the Vespucci Bridge. This is a brick-walled osteria where one of the walls is covered with beautiful frescoes. Very, very casual and jammed with what appeared to be neighborhood people. Less than comfy seating on wooden stools. Here we had two antipasti: marinated artichokes (from the large antipasti bar in the front room) and a plate of Tuscan prosciutto (sliced thicker than that from Parma) with small balls of mozzarella di bufala (bocconcini). Then one mixed salad (fair), one lombatina di vitello (veal chop pounded thin and cooked in olive oil and rosemary..delicious!) and one plate of ravioli with ragu (forgettable). While eating I looked around and realized that EVERY other table was chowing down on the Bistecca alla Fiorentina. And chowing down to the point that there did not appear to be one morsel of meat left on all those bones. I had eaten their filet of beef with balsamic and arugula (17 Euro today) a few years back and remember that it was excellent. I now realize that this is a place for beef, preferably the bistecca. The thing is huge and at 35.00 per kilo, offers some of the city's lowest prices, according to a local person I spoke to later. So: Go here if you want the Bistecca or a filet. Begin with something from the antipasto bar and skip the pasta. They also offer tripe, baccala, and the gamut of popular local fare. Our meal, with a liter of house red wine and water, cost 43 euro. Closed Sunday. www. anticoristorodicambi.it. (They have photos of the place on the web site)
Will post more on Florence, and on Bologna, too, very soon.