Strolling around the historical town centre of Lucca, you can find traditional bakeries and deli shops, all guaranteed to rouse curiosity in even the most seasoned traveller. One of the most interesting of these is Pizzeria da Felice, the oldest pizzeria in Lucca (and home to the best pizza in Lucca). Find it on Buia Street, a narrow alley just behind San Michele.
At first glance, you might consider this place just another pizza al taglio (takeaway slice) shop, of which there are many around Italy. But this pizzeria holds a fascinating history.
For many centuries, Felice has been a meeting spot. In medieval times, it was a “locanda,” an ancient hostel where travellers and pilgrims could find safe shelter for them and their horses. On the ground floor there was a restaurant and a small stable for animals, and on the first floor were bedrooms where guests stayed overnight. During the dinner the host usually served zuppa di farro, a traditional soup made with red beans and spelt, and nowadays a typical recipe in Lucca.
After World War II, the shop transformed from a trattoria to a pizzeria — the first one in Lucca. Today, the shop is simply decorated, with vintage wooden furniture that creates an old-fashioned atmosphere.
Here, pizza is kneaded daily, following an old process, and is garnished with fresh mozzarella fior di latte and hand-peeled tomatoes and cooked inside a wood-burning oven. This is the best pizza in Lucca and everyone enjoy it — not just tourists, but locals as well.
At Pizzeria da Felice you can taste other traditional and seasonal recipes, such as cecina. At first, you might confuse this dish with an omelette. Cecina is a flat, yellow cake made from chickpea flour, water, salt and extra virgin olive oil, cooked in a wood oven. That’s it. An easy and simple recipe. Cecina is crunchy, but very savoury. You can even taste it inside a focaccia together with stracchino (a soft Italian cheese).
Autumn is chestnut season in many Tuscan towns, and in Lucca, people celebrate with local cakes. Chestnuts have been very important throughout Lucca’s past, as they were the only food available where nothing else could be cultivated on the mountain. Chestnut flour is very nutritious and traditionally people use it to make pasta, polenta and bread to survive the winter. They also used the leaves for the fireplace and the wood to build furniture. Nothing wasted!
Pizzeria da Felice carries on this tradition and, from September to November, produces castagnaccio and necci con ricotta each day. Castagnaccio is a flat cake made with chestnut four, pine nuts, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil and rosemary. This is the type of typical sweets Tuscan people eat during the autumn months. Necci con ricotta are crepes made with chestnut flour and garnished with ricotta cheese and honey, fruit forest jam or Nutella for those with a sweet tooth. This is delicious and we usually find them during autumn festivals in Tuscany.
When you turn the corner of Buia Street at lunch time, you’ll likely see a long line of locals, buying delicious pizza and the best cecina in town. Pizzeria da Felice not only produces quality pizzas and snacks, it’s also one of the cheapest places in Lucca to take a break. Buon appetito!