Scarpone could well be my favourite restaurant in Rome, which would make it one of my favorite restaurants in the world. It’s not a fancy place, just the opposite.
Scarpone is located just across the street from the entrance to Villa Pamphilli near Porta San Pancrazio and it’s huge, with two big dining rooms inside and two big gardens for dining al fresco in summer. Priests love it (the Vatican is nearby) and so do families. Not many tourists make it up here so it’s a real Roman affair.
The menu is completely devoid of the sorts of fancy experimental dishes that have started popping up in recent years. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the experimental but there’s something to be said for the simple and unadorned.
I love the vibe at Scarpone (or ‘Scarps’ to its friends). The waiters are mostly ancient and they’ve all been there forever. They are friendlier than most and, once they know you, they’ll linger and chat and remember your favourite dishes. My preferred waiter was always Massimo, ironically given the name, one of the shortest men I’ve ever seen (we fondly called him Minimo behind his back). His face was more or less at the same level as my own when seated, which greatly reduced the risk of miscommunication when ordering. Tragically, Minimo finally retired after 150 years of service and has since been replaced by a younger guy. The last time I was there, the people behind me were quizzing the aforementioned younger guy on his new baby and he proudly pulled out his iPhone to show them photos.
Scarps has been managed by the same family since 1849 and supposedly was a favourite of Garibaldi’s. ‘Scarpone’ means big shoe, the nickname given to the first owner by the Great Man himself because he had, I guess, big shoes. I have no idea whether or not this is true.
I’ve been coming to Scarps on a regular basis for at least 15 years and I reckon I’ve eaten there over 100 times. It was actually the first place I ate in Rome when I lived here briefly as a young classics student during college. The menu has never changed. I usually order the same thing. Boring, I know but it’s hard to resist the filet, which is always superb.
And carciofi alla Giudea, when artichokes are in season.
When they’re not, I often opt for a big plate of clams and mussels.
There’s also a mythic antipasto bar.
And be sure to have the little wild strawberries (fragolini) when they’re in season. Sorry, no picture–scarfed them down them before I remembered to snap.
Ristorante Lo Scarpone. Via di San Pancrazio, 15, Rome – 06 5814094