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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

In Italy, the real story is always about food

Above: Rigatoni with eggplant and ricotta di pecora, as served at Ristorante Taverna 58 in Pescara, Italy.

Several years ago, I read a book titled “The Miracle of Castel di Sangro.” Written by the late Joe McGinniss, it details a season in the life of a soccer team from a tiny village in the Abruzzo region of Italy.

For reasons I can’t remember, I was able to score a phone interview with McGinniss shortly after its publication. As someone who had just been to Italy, I was intrigued by McGinniss’ book, by his passion for soccer – and by Abruzzo. I recall McGinniss’ being a generous, interesting interview subject.

In the intervening years (the book came out in 1999), I’ve visited Italy several more times, but I’ve never had the occasion to visit Abruzzo. Until now.

As I write this, I’ve been in Italy for a week. I landed in Rome, spent the night, then trained with my wife to the city of Lecce, which sits in the southern region of Puglia. Accompanied by friends who live in Lake Como, we spent the next couple of days driving around such towns as Ostuni, Alberobello (site of the famous Trulli houses), Villanova and Locorotondo.

Then yesterday, we trained to the coastal Abruzzo city of Pescara. Abruzzo is known mostly for its mountainous interior, which is rated as one of the greenest spots in  Europe. But we have only one full day to spend here, and we’re without a car, so Pescara is our only stop.

And while it’s no mountain retreat, it does offer a refreshing view of the sea (especially from the terrace of our room in the Hotel Maja). And we’ve spent most of the day walking from one part of the city to the next.

This is Italy, though, so instead of talking about museums or churches, I need to talk food. Last night we had some of the best pizza I’ve enjoyed outside of Naples. Trieste Pizza offers small, individuals pizzas in a variety of tasty combinations. We ordered four, from mushroom to artichoke to potato and sausage to cheese and pesto, and we finished every crumb.

And today we walked (and walked and walked) and ended up eating lunch at Ristorante Taverna 58, an eatery built on an ancient Roman site and sitting down the street from the birthplace of the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. We opted for the set (three-course) lunch menu of the day, which was … well, the word scrumptious comes to mind.

More important, the service was superb, the servers solicitous to our every need – and they even endured our poor Italian with an abiding courtesy.

We leave Pescara tomorrow on our way to Florence. But a bit of the Abruzzo will no doubt stick with us.

Thanks to a book about soccer and its author, Joe McGinniss.