The menu at Caffé Firenze reads like a perfunctory recitation of familiar Italian-American delights: puffy calzones, panini, pastries, baked focaccia bread, and gelato. Comfortable, aromatic and inviting, the restaurant feels as if it were located on the most Italian street in Brooklyn’s Little Italy—not somewhere in Florence, Montana.
Owners John and Patti Stevens have done some cosmetic work inside (Mediterranean-style flooring, hand-painted mural walls, and European-bistro-type chairs and tables), creating a welcoming atmosphere of leisurely dining. Once you’ve been greeted by the scents of fresh herbs, pastas, and spices wafting from the kitchen, you’ll know you have come to the right place to sample the delicious fare of Mediterranean cuisine.
Noted for the ambrosial and simple, yet elegant, preparation of its local food, Northern Italy has become a prime travel destination for foodies. Caffé Firenze’s menu embraces this culinary style by highlighting the meats, pastas, and native herbs and spices that are characteristic of the region’s rich countryside.
“We are trying to offer all things unique in the art of dining and to bring them together: namely, Mediterranean cuisine, gelato, espresso, beer and wine, patio and drive-through dining,” says John Stevens, who oversaw the construction of Caffé Firenze and hustles daily cleaning tables, cashiering and waitering.
John and Patti’s niece, Savahna Galanti, is the head chef at Caffé Firenze. Originally from Eureka, Galanti married into an Italian-American family from Whitefish before studying cooking in Northern Italy. Her whimsical internship was at a restaurant that earned its first Michelin star (one of the most desired and influential culinary ratings in Europe) while she was learning there.
“I was quickly absorbed into Italian culture,” says Galanti. “When I was there, I realized that the culinary arts really allowed me to develop my artistic side.” For their lunch guests, the restaurant serves homemade soups and a variety of garden-fresh salads, which can be wrapped in an herb tortilla and taken to go, plus grilled panini filled with items such as artichoke hearts and roasted ham.
While the dinner menu at Caffé Firenze changes every week, authentic, old-world, Mediterranean recipes are perennial fixtures. “When you see the presentation of her dishes, you’ll notice that Savahna is truly an artist, and her cooking is an art form,” says Patti, co-owner and the interior designer who coordinated the restaurant’s colors and style.
“Gourmet is the key word to describe our dinner meals because they offer the convenience of take-out entrées and the comfort of sit-down dining,” says John. Caffé Firenze also serves a variety of delicious, freshly-baked desserts. Complementing these toothsome treats are sweet-scented coffees, cordials, an assortment of beers, and choice of wines imported from Italy.
Overall, the menu at Caffé Firenze is meant to be a commingling of Americans’ fast-paced, on-the-go lifestyle and Italians’ love for conviviality, wholesome food, and debonair eating habits. “The trick is to find food that isn’t too unusual, and that’s comforting and interesting,” says Patti.
The relaxed sophistication of the restaurant’s dining room resonates with its stylishly trendy décor, comfortable furnishings, muted lighting, and blend of soft and vibrant colors. The sizeable sleek space is surrounded by conversation tables and pockets of snug seating. The inside of the bistro showcases centerpiece murals that include deft depictions of Northern Italian streets, apartments, and Florence’s famous church baptistery, all of which have been hand-painted by Galanti.
The décor at Caffé Firenze seems luxurious, but you don’t have to wait for a special occasion to indulge because prices are not much higher than diner meals. But not many Montana restaurants produce food this unfailingly excellent, fresh, and diverse: the solid, popular entrées and sides are cooked with reverence; the vegetables have enough succulence to tell you they started out fresh.
“We want this to be a social place where people enjoy the cuisine and the atmosphere and stay long enough to have nice memories,” says Patti.“One thing that we want to achieve,” says John, “by being hands-on, everyday-type people, catering to families and being modestly priced, is to make this spot a community destination and a place that’s better for the community of Florence.”
Caffé Firenze is located at 281 Rodeo Drive in Florence, Montana. They are now offering call-ahead seating: (406) 273-2923 or www.caffefirenze.com