I love Roman cooking. It’s simple and delicious, and no dish is simpler than cacio e pepe. A combination of pecorino cheese, black pepper, and pasta water, this creamy dish is a must-eat for anyone visiting the eternal city.
Now that I’m living in Rome again, I’m searching for the city’s best. My quest began last Friday night at Flavio al Velavevodetto in Testaccio. Read on for the verdict!
The quest for rome’s best cacio e pepe: Flavio al Velavevodetto
Website, locations, and opening hours
Via di Monte Testaccio, 97
Lunch: 12:30 – 3; Dinner: 7:45 – 11pm
Piazza dei Quiriti, 4
Lunch: 12:30 – 2:30; Dinner 7:30 – 10:30
The history of cacio e pepe
As the story goes, cacio e pepe originated in the hills outside of Rome, where it was made by shepherds who were out in the fields. They carried a few ingredients to sustain themselves, which included sun-dried tomatoes, hunks of guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino cheese made from sheep’s milk, black pepper, and dried pasta. This fare was light to carry and nutritious, and three of the ingredients became cacio e pepe.
The history of Flavio al Velavevodetto
Odds are, if you ask someone who knows Rome where to get the best cacio e pepe in the city, they’ll either say Flavio al Velavevodetto, or Felice a Testaccio. What I didn’t know until I started researching this post is that Flavio de Maio (the Flavio of Flavio al Velavevodetto), after a twenty-six year career in IT, became a chef at none other then Felice.
In 2009, he left, and opened his own place in the same neighborhood, and now there’s another Flavio in Piazza dei Quiriti near the Vatican.
An excerpt from the book written about him indicates that he comes from a family of women who loved to cook, and that they left a lasting impression on him. Chef Flavio seems to have brought aspects of this into his restaurant, which I’ll touch on below.
Eating at Flavio al Velavevodetto
I called to make a reservation at Flavio, and I’m so glad I did. The place was absolutely buzzing on Friday night. Luckily, it’s huge, and has several rooms, along with outdoor seating.
Flavio is nestled into Monte Testaccio, which is a hill which is mostly composed of the fragments of Roman oil amphorae. I repeat, the restaurant is tucked into an ancient pile of pieces of Roman pottery. They date as far back as 140AD. If you don’t think this is cool, go away.
White walls and stone archways greet you as you come in, giving the restaurant a bright feeling, despite the fact that it’s set back inside the hill.
Having waitressed for several years, I always notice what the staff of a restaurant looks like when I arrive. Are they stressed looking? Are they working together? Do they seem friendly?
My initial impression was that the servers at Flavio were cheery, fast, and communicated with each other. They were flying around the dining room, down the hall where the wine is kept, into the kitchen and back out again.
We sat down and opened our menus, and were informed of a few things right off the bat.
The next page revealed more.
Initially, these made me laugh, but after reading about Flavio’s family’s culinary traditions, these warnings made more sense. It seems like he’s trying to create a relaxing place to eat great food, but only according to what the cook prepares, kind of like having a meal at home, with family.
The wine list is about 1,000 pages long, so we just went for the house, and both bottles were great.
It took a while for the server to get to us, but it wasn’t a long wait for the food itself.
As I chatted to my friends and sweetheart over the wine, I wondered what the cacio e pepe would look like. I’ve noticed in the last year or so that the cacio e pepe sauce seems to be getting thicker and more abundant, and I’m not really sure I’m on board with that. It’s too much for me, and it makes me sad because I can’t finish the whole thing when there’s too much sauce.
Luckily, it looked exactly as I hoped it would when it arrived.
Flavio’s cacio e pepe is how I remember it when I lived in Rome years ago, in that the pasta is coated with the mixture of pecorino and pepper, but the plate is relatively dry once you’ve finished. There’s no sauce to fare la scarpetta with, which is what I want in a cacio e pepe.
Heat escaped as I twirled the pasta onto my fork. I inspected it as it went around and around. Creamy, but not too thick. A good amount of pepper, and a sprinkling of fresh cheese on top. So far, so good.
The first bite was heaven. My mouth is watering just thinking about it now. The salty pecorino, the heat of the black pepper, and the firmness of the tonarelli took me back to my first bites of cacio e pepe, when a friend recommended it to me and then I ordered it pretty much weekly for years.
I can’t remember the last time I ate something so fast. My friends were only about a third of the way through their plates by the time I had finished mine. I couldn’t shovel it into my mouth fast enough. And I wanted more.
We decided to get dessert, and went for the tiramisù. It arrived in a glass, with four small spoons.
The first thing I noticed is that it doesn’t come with the standard cocoa powder on top. At Flavio al Velavevodetto, it comes with a dollop of melted chocolate.
I dipped my spoon into the bright yellow sweet and lifted it to my mouth, unaware of the deliciousness of what I was about to taste.
The creamy part of the tiramisù, which is made of eggs and mascarpone, had a smooth, silky texture, but it was punctuated – surprise! – by chocolate chunks. Hints of coffee floated throughout, moistening the sweet Savoiardi that were layered here and there.
I love my friends. I love my sweetheart. But damn, did I wish I had ordered that whole thing for myself. Next time, rather than getting one tiramisù and four spoons, I’ve decided I’m going to get four tiramisù, and one spoon.
I’d also like to mention that the staff was very courteous and friendly throughout our dinner. The gentleman who worked at the register chatted to us after the meal, complimented our Italian, and joked around with us. That was the finishing touch on our night at Flavio, and it made me want to go back.
The verdict: Does Flavio al Velavevodetto have the best cacio e pepe in Rome?
The current answer, for me, is yes. Having had it probably six times over the last few months, between visiting Rome in the spring and actually moving back there over the summer, Flavio’s is the best in my world right now.
Don’t worry, Luggage and Lifers, I will continue my quest and update as necessary. In the meantime, go, have the cacio e pepe and a tiramisù, and let me know how you like it.
We have lots of friends coming to visit over the next few weeks. Sounds like the perfect time to taste test the cacio e pepe Felice, doesn’t it?
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