However, Franceschetta58, its casual cohort or “little cousin” according to its website, was very much part of the hopeful itinerary during a quick jag to Modena. The day to Modena was relaxed; unorganized, too. We were running later than expected as we got into the city and nearing the end of the lunch service, and without reservations. After getting out of the station, we flagged a cab and after some confusion about whether or not to scrap Franceschetta58 and just head to the nearby Ferrari museum, we decided to make our way to the restaurant, which was somewhat more than the six-minute walk Google Maps had mistakenly shown the night before.
The eight of us stumbled somewhat into the quaint wedge-shaped sliver of a restaurant somewhat obliviously. There isn’t much to the airy, inviting space; tables seating about thirty people and a fairly thin communal strip of wood seating about ten more. I surprised that it was a small as it was. As the lead for our hungry group, I was met very affably, and in decent English, by the front of the house twosome, each of whom proved friendly, energetic, and very helpful. They also seemed to love their jobs, as my mother later commented to one of them, who then smiled broadly. No luck: they were fully booked. We milled about the front for maybe ten minutes deciding what to do. I was about to ask for them to call us taxis to a café that they recommended, as finding food at that time in Modena on a Monday was not easy, but then they said that diners were leaving more quickly than expected and that we could actually be seated if we didn’t mind not sitting together. I quickly responded that that was no problem, and thanks – there was only one complaint among us that was forgotten with the advent of the meal and wine – and the eight of us were sat among four small tables.
A fixed three-course menu with five choices for the first and second courses, Smart Lunch at €25, is the only option for lunch at Franceschetta58. It is an excellent value. Mostly Italian and mostly Emilian in cuisine, but also featuring global dishes and influences, I found nearly all of the choices tempting and likely would have been satisfied with any of them. As my starter I went with what proved to be an artful presentation of beef tartare with chives, mustard, yogurt, and thin slices of green apple and cucumber. I didn’t have enough tartare the night before and, though tempted by the “Emilia Burger by Massimo Bottura,” I couldn’t quite pull the trigger on a burger as my first course. My brother did and quite enjoyed it and its petite patty. My father and nephew had nearby tables each made very quick work of the beautiful platter of salumi and cheese. Everyone was greatly pleased with their choices. As for the wine, the list is not long but there are plenty of welcome choice including a number under €25. A Sauvignon from the Collio did the trick again for my table.
When asked, our server recommended for the second course over the roasted octopus the “Chitarra” spaghetti with anchovy cream, chicory and an impressive amount of crispy chile-spiced bread crumbs. The chitarra was a nod to the fresh spaghetti-like pasta made Abruzzo region, traditionally by a guitar-looking device that renders a noodle with a square cross section. Heavy on anchovy flavor, saltiness and bread crumbs, this was a pleasantly assertive dish with toothsome pasta that I really enjoyed; a fairly simple dish, nicely upgraded in a clever, chef-y fashion. It was the favorite among Italian patrons according to our server. Italians were outnumbered in the dining room when we were admitted. Both tables next to me, about a foot-and-a-half away, were occupied by Americans, as were at least another or two, plus British accents from the wealthier strata were heard when exiting. Though I like being about the only tourist at a restaurant, it didn’t detract at all from the experience. The conviviality of the place along with the evidenced enthusiasm and knowledgeability of the other diners helped to enhance it. Especially so, the folks next to us – between two tables of us, actually – were in the hospitality industry and had recently stocked with meats to cook at their rental from lauded Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini, from whom my family had a great steak luncheon several years before.
Dessert was Zuppa Inglese, which was chocolate custard, pastry cream and sponge cake, and with a bit of cochineal tea poured over it, if I heard the server correctly. Nicely bitter, it was enjoyable and different, if not quite a mouthwatering finale. It was an excellent lunch on all counts.
Franceschetta58 is truly “an unexpected deviation from a traditional osteria” as it advertises. It served the most unique food that we experienced in a couple of weeks of dining in Italy. The restaurant was not just eminently inviting, but also one with a palpable world class pedigree along with evident talent and passion throughout.
Via Vignolese, 58, Modena, Italy, +39 059 3091008