I'm back from Florence and eager to begin responding to the questions you posted before my trip. First off, Joe Routon asked about gelato, and readers Nancy and Christy chimed in to suggest Vivoli. While I agree Vivoli's a great choice, my vote goes to nearby Gelateria dei Neri (via dei Neri 26r), where the wide selection includes unusual flavors such as croccantino (a crunchy mix of caramel, almonds, and hazelnuts), pignolo (pine nut, available only in summertime), ricotta con figo (ricotta with figs), and a few soy milk-based products.
A friend who grew up in Florence steered me to Badiani, a five-minute walk from the soccer stadium. It's worth the trek! Badiani made its reputation with the one-of-a-kind, creamy Buontalenti flavor; chocoholics like me will be drawn instead to the dark, rich dolce vita, mixed with hazelnuts.
Joe also asked where locals go for ribollita, a hearty Tuscan bean soup (the name literally means "reboiled"). It's a staple on many restaurant menus in Florence, along with pappa al pomodoro, a bread-and-tomato soup. Da Sergio (piazza San Lorenzo, 8r, open for lunch only), Trattoria Mario, and Zaza are long-standing, reliable places to sample these soups. All are centrally located near San Lorenzo market, so brace yourself for some fellow tourists.
One of my favorite go-to restaurants in Florence—for classics and inventive dishes like fiochetti di pera—is Quattro Leoni in the Oltrarno. But I stuck with my goal of trying new places this time and wound up at Trattoria del Carmine, where I tried both soups and traditional crostini misti (toasted bread slices with toppings like liver pate). It's got an appealing location in the Oltrarno's Piazza del Carmine, complete with outdoor seating, and attracts mostly locals. But I came away feeling that the atmosphere was more memorable than the meal. I was more excited by Zeb Gastronomia, a combination food shop and trattoria that has racked up praise since opening in 2008.
Zeb plans to launch a cooking program, so Jennifer, who inquired about local classes, might want to follow up as her trip her family's April 2011 trip approaches. The restaurant and food shop Olio & Convivium hosts customizable cooking classes for groups of up to 12 (call Massimo, 011-39/055-265-7639), and we've previously recommended Toscana Mia, a school run by two sisters with locations in Florence and at a 13th-century villa in Chianti. Our recent column Trip Coach: Cooking Schools provides a sense of what to expect and the issues to consider before booking.
Check back for future posts about Florence's wine and aperitivo bars, advice for renting a car or an apartment, and fun stuff to do with kids and teens.
RELATED: Having trouble distinguishing crema from panna at the gelateria? We've got a handy guide to decoding gelato flavors and pizza toppings in Italy.