Last Updated on May 11, 2023
If you simply look at my name, most can tell I am as Italian as it gets. Yet, I have only been to Italy a few times. My great grandparents came over from central and southern Italy at the turn of the 20th Century. As a family, we have always been proud of our heritage and are active members of the Italian-American community. So, the trip to Rome this summer was long overdue for this Italian girl!
It was luck, not planning, that brought my sister and me to spend 72 hours in Rome. Last year, at a charity auction, we won a package for three days in Rome, any foodie’s dream. Unlike me, my sister has spent a fair amount of time in the “motherland” and has decent Italian skills. So she was the perfect traveling companion to explore the rich history, culture and hidden gems of this world-class city. Our adventure began on night one when we discovered a “speakeasy” down an ally.
The Jerry Thomas Speakeasy was hidden in plain sight off of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, a main drag in the heart of Rome. We arrived at a door that was barely marked with a small sign that said: “members only.” Undeterred, we rang the doorbell and were greeted by a young bearded hipster who looked like he belonged in Brooklyn. He informed us that we needed to wait if we did not have a reservation, which we did not. After just a few minutes, we were allowed to enter and swiftly presented with “membership forms.” For 3 euros, you too can be a member of The Jerry Thomas. It was unclear to me if the membership was a cheeky way to overcharge or somehow allowed the bar to skirt some kind of regulations like staying open until later. The Jerry Thomas is strictly late night, opening at 10 pm nightly.
TAKEAWAY: Since its opening in 2010, The Jerry Thomas Speakeasy has been awarded by The World’s 50 Best Bars for five years in a row. This compliments the great effort done by four Italian bartenders dressed in Prohibition-era outfits to honor the memory of Jerry Thomas, “the father of American mixology,” by serving an array of delicious and surprising cocktails in a dark corner of the Eternal City.
This place was so dark I could not read the membership form or the drinks menu, even with the small votive candles on the table. I used the flashlight on my phone to assist me and was quickly chastised for ruining the ambiance. While I was annoyed at the time, the “speakeasy police” actually helped maintain the atmosphere and, more importantly, forced us to engage in the dusty tradition of conversation.
My sister and I ordered up some craft gin cocktails as we sank into a thrift store sofa. The bar is quite small so people often must share their table. After our drinks arrived, so did three American women who shared the other side of our seating area. Since using our phones was frowned upon, we struck up a conversation with our fellow American patrons. It turns out these ladies lived in New York City, like my sister, and worked at a university, as I do. What a great feeling to meet people thousands of miles away but who live close to you in real life! That is the blessing of travel.
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While the nightlife is great, I came to Italy to enjoy its famous food. So, for me, the highlight of our trip was the culinary class hosted by Vio’s Cooking. Our host and instructor, Violante Guerrieri Gonzaga opened up her family home as both a place to learn and eat. I have to be honest; as an Italian-American, I shy away from Italian cooking classes because I am set in my ways making recipes passed down from my grandmother. But, I figured, when in Rome, literally, I should give an Italian culinary experience a chance. And I am so glad I did!
Vio’s home sat high atop a hill in Rome providing us with breathtaking panoramic views of the whole city. We made a traditional Southern Italian pasta dish with fresh tomatoes, basil, eggplant, and mozzarella. This was followed by one of Vio’s Northern Italian family recipes of sweet and sour turkey filets. We finished the meal with a tiramisu. My sister and I learned some new cooking tricks and the food was incredible. Vio also offers many other custom options for visitors including visiting farmer’s markets and lavish dinners on her terrace. So you should come for the food, and stay for the hospitality and warm ambiance of Vio’s villa.
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Since we were Italian-Americans in Italy, my sister and I decided to try to search out anything that may share our family names. In our quest, we found a restaurant that shared our mother’s maiden name. We hopped in a cab and headed over to Borgo Pio, a street right outside of the Vatican walls. Much to our disappointment, when we arrived at the address of the restaurant we were looking for, it was both closed and did not share our name. However, my sister and I decided to make the best of our last night in Italy. Therefore, we wandered Borgo Pio looking for a place to grab a drink and rest our feet.
I noticed quickly, most of the restaurants on Borgo Pio had signs outside indicating they had gluten or dairy free options. It occurred to me that Italy is a difficult place to hold gluten or dairy free diet as pasta and cheese are usually the two main food groups. So, should you or someone you are traveling with have dietary restrictions, run, do not walk, to Borgo Pio.
Our 72 hours in Rome were any foodie’s dream, and they came to an end way too soon. Nonetheless, I hope to be back again to discover more off the beaten path experiences.