Café Centrale: When a Restaurant Becomes More Than a Place to Eat

The quiet Italian town of Riomaggiore. (Photo by Lauren Klamm)

Café Centrale in Riomaggiore, Italy will forever hold a place in my heart. Not because of the food, but because of my summer experience on their small outdoor patio.

This restaurant offers an indoor and outdoor eating area. The outdoor eating area is a large covered rectangle located in the middle of the main walkway of Riomaggiore. It is hard to miss!


After finding a seat in the large crowd of people, my friend and I ordered a glass of Cinque Terre red wine and sardine bruschetta to share. This was my first experience with sardines but the waiter jokingly said they had ‘the best sardines in the world’!

Where else would I eat world class sardines? I had to try them.

At first I was thrown off by the salty flavor of the sardines and convinced myself I didn’t like them. But as I continued to gobble down the appetizer my mind changed. The toasted crunch of the Italian bread, paired with the thick sweet coating of butter, flavorful basil and tomatoes complimented the sardines to create a flavor so robust I couldn’t help but love it.

We enjoyed the bruschetta so much we had to sample more of their food.  I ordered cheese ravioli with tomato basil sauce. It was sweet and delicious.

While we were eating our main course, an Italian band consisting of a woman and two men began playing music near the restaurant. She sang in Italian and played a guitar, one man played a drum and the other played the flute. During their first song, the gentleman who was waiting on our table sat down with us. He quietly observed the musicians, tapped his foot and would send us an occasional smile.

This was when my trip to Europe finally felt real. What was going to be a quick dinner, turned into a pivotal moment of my summer adventure. Suddenly, I was completely immersed in the Italian culture. The smell of my ravioli and the sea, the sounds of the flute, and the joy of the people around put my Italian experience into a cliche package. This was the epitome of Italy for me.

Café Centrale may not be the fanciest restaurant, or have ‘the best sardines in the world’. But, it offered a truly authentic experience.

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