Our favorite monument in Rome is the Pantheon. Built in 27 B.C. as a temple to the gods of Ancient Rome, rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 127 A.D. following the burning of Rome and converted to a Catholic church in the 7th century, it is one of Rome’s best preserved buildings. The Pantheon boasts the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, with an oculus in the center that lets in the Pantheon’s only source of light. Today, the Pantheon is home to the tombs of famous painters, a composer, an architect, two kings and a queen.
Whenever we return to Rome we be sure to visit the Pantheon, and while we are there we make time to stop for some of the best gelato and caffè in all of Rome.
Gelateria Giolitti is just a few blocks away from the Pantheon. With its gigantic columns at your back walk straight ahead, passing along the right side of the fountain and down a narrow street called Via della Maddalena. Proceed three or four blocks until you reach Via degli Uffici del Vicario. Turn right and walk about a block and a half. Gelateria Giolitti is on the right. If you were to continue down that road you’d reach the Italian Parliament and Chamber of Deputies. Don’t do that, though. Stop and have a gelato, instead.
Gelateria Giolitti is not exactly a secret, so expect a full house and plenty of jostling and crowding to get your gelato. Don’t be intimidated – it is worth it! Stop at the cassa (cash register) first, and pay for your cono (cone) or coppa (cup). Take your receipt and proceed to the gelato bar. Practice being assertive – you will need to be in order to get the attention of the gelato servers. Hold your receipt up to demonstrate that you’ve paid already and make eye contact. Be ready to call out the flavors of gelato you want on your cono or in your coppa. If you can’t read the little flavor labels, just point. You can choose two and sometimes three flavors per cono or coppa, depending on the size you ordered. Some of our favorites are pistacchio (pistachio) and nocciola (hazlenut), although the fruit flavors are buonissimi, also. Your server will ask you if you want panna (whipped cream) on top. Say yes – this panna is natural and much less sweet that what we are used to, a perfect compliment to the gelato.
Of course, if all of this is too intimidating, you can just sit down at a little table and be served by a waiter. We won’t hold it against you if you choose this option; but know that you will not only pay a hefty surcharge for a table and wait service, you will also miss out on the adventurous and authentic experience of standing elbow to elbow with Italians and tourists alike to order your gelato from Giolitti.
Next, it’s time to get what many claim is the best caffè in all of Rome. Head back toward the Pantheon the way you came. This time, however, once you get back to Piazza della Rotonda where the Pantheon is, veer to the right past the fountain and keep walking with the Pantheon on your immediate left until to get to Salita de’ Crescenzi. Turn right onto Salita de’ Crescenzi. Proceed until you get to Via di Sant’Eustachio, which turns into Piazza di Sant’Eustachio, home to Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè.
Sant’Eustachio hasn’t changed much since it opened in the late 1930s. Its tight space sports the original decor, and the baristi are more formal appearing that elsewhere in Rome. They mean business; watch as they clear away used tazze (espresso cups) and set new ones out on the bar with rhythmic precision. Expect lines and crowding like at Giolitti. Follow the same routine of paying first at the cassa and then taking your receipt to the bar. Order the renowned Gran Caffè, a dense, creamy double-espresso. You will simply not find a better caffè in Rome, or perhaps anywhere. Do not order a cappuccino; those are for breakfast with your brioche. Do not order a regular caffè; you can get those everywhere in Rome. You are at Sant’Eustachio, and you must order a Gran Caffè. We hope we are sufficiently clear on this point.
If you do, you just may find yourselves doing what we do when we visit Rome – ensuring we make a visit to the Pantheon, and enjoying a gelato and a caffè while we are there.
Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40
Sant’Eustachio il Caffè
Piazza di Sant’Eustachio, 82
This map shows the Pantheon (B), Gelateria Giolitti (A) and Sant’Eustachio il Caffè (C).
On our most recent visit to Rome, we gathered three generations of family for a walk in the historical center, and of course, a visit to the Pantheon, Giolitti and Sant’Eustachio. Gelato was had by all – Flavio, Davide, Giorgia, Noemi, Luca, Damiano, Sean, Mery, Patrizio, Ivana, Andrea, Debora, Daniele, Valentina, Marco, Cara, Stefano, e Maria. Only the adults had caffè, though!
Crema di Caffè
If it may be a while before you have a chance to pop into Sant’Eutachio, here is a little trick you can use to render your home-made espresso more like a Gran Caffè.
When you make espresso, set aside a very small amount of the first coffee to come out of your espresso maker. This coffee is stronger and richer that the coffee that follows. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar to the reserved coffee. Stir rapidly until the sugar has dissolved and you have a dense, sticky, cream. This is called crema di caffè. Add a teaspoon or two of crema di caffè to each espresso you pour, and stir. The crema will render your espresso extra-rich and creamy.