ONLY IN ITALY

Dining in the Slammer

At a prison restaurant in Italy, meals are prepared and served by inmates.

If you think getting into some of Paris's hottest restaurants seems hard, then you obviously haven't eaten at Fortezza Medicea in Volterra, Italy. Diners at the high-security prison restaurant (you read that right) have to submit to a background check and receive a security clearance from Italy's Department of Justice to snag a reservation at the 500-year-old facility just outside Pisa.

The restaurant, which is staffed with murderers and thieves, is an experiment in modern-day prison rehab: The idea is that reformed inmates can find work in the restaurant business upon release. (Since the program was launched in March 2006, four convicts have landed food-service jobs in Volterra.) In a cavernous space filled with simple wooden tables and benches, guards stand watch as sommelier Santolo, who's serving 24 years for murder, pours Chianti. In the kitchen, chefs Massimo and Giuseppe prepare mini frittatas served with fennel crisps, nonna Catozza (baked vegetables in a bread bowl), gnocchi with a fava bean purée, and a thick cheesecake garnished with chocolate. They also happen to be doing time for armed robbery and murder.

If you can look past the paper plates and the plastic cutlery, the Southern Italian dishes from Puglia, Sicily, and Naples (all hotbeds of mob activity) are rather delicious. "Several of our inmates have restaurant training, so they're trying to refine their skills," says prison director Maria Giampiccolo. There's even entertainment: Pianist Bruno, a murderer, plays classical music in the background. Fortezza Medicea also has a theater company; members have performed cabarets and plays by Bertolt Brecht, Jean Genet, and Shakespeare in the jail's courtyard. via del Castello, 011-39/058-886-099, volterratur.it, $34, allow at least two months to get a reservation.

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