Over a languid glass of wine at Vinosofia in July, Brenda and I planned outings during our visit to Spello. Brenda and Graziano are enviably tapped into the Umbrian dining scene, and Brenda always has fabulous ideas for experiences, not just eating. I was sinking into the purr of her words as she tossed around ideas for this place or that, when I was stalled by her saying, “grand buffet.” Buffet? Wait, I thought buffets were only for American suburbia. My mind conjured up a stone farmhouse with the inside walls lined with hot bars covered with sneeze guards set with more indifferently-prepared food than an entire Peruvian village could eat in a month. Brenda laughed at my perplexed expression and explained that this restaurant, tucked into the hills above Bevagna, offered a buffet of antipasti. Color me intrigued. Would it be the Italian version of Golden Corral or Super-Asian Jade Garden Explosion?
The sun was setting when we arrived in Torre di Colle, a town of less than 40 people. We drifted through the narrow alleys towards expansive views of the olive tree blurred hills. Torre di Colle is one of those partly-populated Umbrian villages where the ghosts of the past still whisper softly, and it was bliss itself to settle on a stone wall and listen. Nicolas, being less of a romantic, was far more interested in seeing how high he could literally climb the walls.
Finally, the sound of our hungry bellies grew louder than the ghosts of Umbrians past and we made our way to Serpillo. We sat outside, on the “street” so to speak (though there are no cars in Torre di Colle). The light was waning, so our meal was lit by candles and conversation. I, of course, was eager to investigate this buffet I’d heard tell about. We ordered, then Brenda ushered us inside where we could help ourselves to antipasti.
A highly polished wooden bar was set with slate platters of the most extraordinary little bites. There were fava beans and zucchini sott’olio (marinated and under oil), home-cured capers and olives, an array of cheeses each with its own drizzled accompaniment (balsamic as thick as molasses, hazelnut honey, candied fruit), stuffed mushrooms, puff pastry filled with pistachio cream, blini with smoked salmon, a staggering variety of cured meats, vitello tonnato, bruschette with lardo, fluffy vegetable mini-muffins. And that’s just what I remembered the next day to write down. Our primi and dolci were excellent, but it’s the antipasti buffet that lingers in my memory. That, and the pleasure of enjoying beautifully prepared food with friends in a village that time forgot.
Update: We returned to Serpillo during our April 2017 trip to Spello. With the cool weather, we sat inside the "grotto" where there was a blazing fire. I still heartily recommend this dining experience for a shade of the old with a modern spin.