We see the sign every time we go down the hill to do our weekly ‘big shop’ in Trodica, an unremarkable and mainly commercial, small town just off the dual carriageway that runs down to the coast. “Caffé Pasticceria Gelateria Spreca,”it says, in large blue letters on a white background. It sweeps across in front of us as we round the curve of the roundabout in the centre of the town and quickly disappears behind a low-rise block of flats as we take the exit that leads to the supermarket. It is almost impossible to catch even a glimpse of the café itself, though, as it is set back from the roundabout and is obscured by the cars filling the small, permanently busy car park in front of it. All that is properly visible are the flats above it on the three upper floors of the bland, 1970s building. Perhaps we’ve been spoilt, but compared to the cosy little Caffé del Teatro in Montelupone’s medieval main square with its stunning views of the Sibillini Mountains from its sun-drenched terrace, it seems distinctly uninviting and so, for a good three years, we just pass on by.
But then, in the wake of the post-Covid ‘ripartenza’ (re-start), we join a hiking group – which turns out to use this very unprepossessing-looking place as one of its regular pre-hike breakfast-cum-rendezvous points. So at about 7.30am on a bright Sunday morning in May, we finally cross the threshold, fully expecting its interior to be as unexciting as its exterior; a café that does what it says on the tin, no frills, no atmosphere, just decent coffee, passable pastries and probably a small ice-cream servery tucked in a corner. As we open the heavy, tinted glass door and step inside, though, we are greeted by the irresistible aromas of baking and freshly ground coffee, and even at this early hour, the place is bustling with life. Above the cheerful hum of conversation that fills the bright, airy space rise the vigorous hiss of the coffee machine and the constant clatter of cups on saucers – that between them just about mask the sound of our expectations shattering to pieces on the sparkly grey marble floor tiles. “Wow!” we say in unison and pause briefly to take in our surroundings.
A couple of waiters in smart black trousers and matching polo shirts move briskly among the small round tables, efficiently clearing the newly-vacated ones or elegantly delivering orders to the newly-occupied ones. We weave between them towards the illuminated glass cabinet that runs the length of the right-hand side and along the top of which are arranged tray upon tray of freshly baked pastries of every conceivable variety. Such is the concentration required to make a choice that it’s only once we have been served a maple and pecan plait (Mr Blue-Shirt) and an almond croissant (me) by the very patient woman behind the cabinet that we notice on display inside it the neat, multi-coloured rows of tiny, hand-crafted cakes, tartlets and macarons. Then beyond the patisserie and inside the furthest-most section of the cabinet, at least twenty generous stainless-steel tubs are lined up, each filled with a different flavour ice-cream, while on top, stands a pair of large glass vases containing teetering towers of homemade cones stacked inside one another. We move along to the black granite-topped counter to join the line of people waiting to order and pay and are still debating which flavours we would probably choose when our turn comes round.
“Allora….” says the woman standing by the till and glances at the plates we are holding. “….due brioche….” She taps in the code for our pastries. “E da bere…?” she asks with a smile – “And to drink?”
“Un cappuccino e un caffé americano,” I reply while Mr Blue-Shirt fumbles for his wallet.
She taps in our order and hits ‘total’.
“Cinque euro venticinque,” she says, handing us the receipt to give to one of the team of baristi further along the counter who are turning out coffee after coffee from the huge, state-of-the-art coffee machine with the usual practised ease combined with a good dash of flair.
“Five Euros twenty-five!” says Mr Blue-Shirt.
“I know! That’s the same as in the village. I thought it’d be loads more,” I say. “I’ll take our pastries and bag a table while you wait for the coffees.”
I ease myself from the knot of customers enjoying their morning espresso at the counter and head on through to the far side of the café, passing a tall chiller cabinet full of gorgeous-looking made-to-order gateaux and celebration cakes on the way. I sit down at a table that looks out through patio doors onto a pretty, tree-shaded terrace that is invisible from the road, but from which I can still spot any other likely hikers from our group arriving at the counter – and from which I now see Mr Blue-Shirt approaching empty-handed.
“Someone will bring our coffees over,” says Mr Blue-Shirt, sitting down opposite me. “She insisted.”
We’re barely half-way through our still-warm pastries when a waitress appears and places our coffees before us with such a flourish, her “Prego!” could just as easily have been a ‘Ta-dah!’ then bustles off back to the bar, clearing a table and straightening some chairs on the way.
“This place is amazing,” says Mr Blue-Shirt through a mouthful of crumbs.
“I had no idea it’d be so good. I’m sure this croissant is homemade,” I say.
“It probably is. While I was still at the bar a couple of guys in chef’s toques came out from the back carrying huge trays of freshly baked bread and cakes. And I’m going to have to have another cappuccino. The coffee’s delicious.”
“Looks like it’ll have to be another time,” I say, nodding over Mr Blue-Shirt’s shoulder to where I have just spotted a tall, athletic-looking man holding a backpack and a clipboard and gesturing impatiently at gaggle of people in walking gear at the bar. We gulp down the remains of our pastries, wash them down with the last of our coffee, pick up our backpacks and hurry out through the patio doors and round to the car park. As we take our place in the convoy of cars heading off towards the distant mountains, we are still marvelling at our fantastic find and agree we’ll definitely be back soon.
And since then, we have been back – often. So often, in fact, that most of the staff now know our breakfast order by heart. And so often that we can confirm that its patisserie, gelato and aperitivi are all just as good as its coffee and pastries. I just wish it hadn’t taken us so long to stop judging this delightful book by its unpromising cover.