Monte Sant’Angelo is perched high on a southern ridge of the Gargano peninsula, overlooking the plains of Puglia below. We made the trek to this tourist mecca over our better judgment on the advice of the proprietors of Torre dei Preti, the wonderful agriturismo where we stayed on the north side of the Gargano near Peschici. They were right to suggest it, and we were glad we made the drive over rugged terrain and narrow winding roads. Yes, it was full of tourists, mostly Italian Catholic pilgrims, but the dramatic setting is worth dealing with even bus load after bus load of the faithful. This small hill town (ridge-top town, really) has one of the most amazing views I can remember seeing from its high promontory, south forever down the Adriatic coast and across the Puglian plain: unforgettably dramatic. And the spectacle of all those bus loads of tourists is a pretty dramatic phenomenon in its own right!
Wending our way along the crowded main pedestrian street we held out little hope of finding a decent meal, but it was lunch time, so Joe used his unerring instincts to guide us off the beaten path (amazingly, it didn’t take many blocks to find ourselves well out of the pilgrims’ way), where we came upon a terrific little place, Li Jalantuumene, orchestrated by an energetic chef with a larger-than-life personality, Gege Mangano. He had a good grasp of English, made great suggestions, and offered up hearty local specialties with great gusto. My orecchiette, the pasta shape most associated with Puglia, was a hearty multi-grain version, with the freshest of basil-accented tomato sauces and strong salty cheese. Joe had quadrotti — large ravioli — stuffed with cheese and with a brocolli rabe sauce. The house rosato was excellent, a marvelous time was had by all, and we were greatly entertained by our chef holding forth with us and the other diners, even when we couldn’t follow his Italian.
Chef Mangano asked if we had come because of the New York Times article; I had read it before we left but hadn’t remembered the restaurant because I wasn’t then thinking we would bother with Monte Sant’Angelo. The article does capture many of our own impressions, though we can’t imagine staying anywhere but Torre dei Preti!
Joe insists that we can’t end our Monte Sant’Angelo post without mentioning Padre Pio and his bread. I had never heard of Padre Pio (and in a sense I still haven’t, except as a running joke between Joe and Michele), but he was everywhere in evidence here where the archangel Michael has been said to visit.
If you should find yourself anywhere near Monte Sant’Angelo, make the effort to take in the sweeping view, and if you find yourself there at lunch- or dinner-time, seek out the hearty food and hearty chef at Li Jalantuumene. Tell Gege the guys from Los Angeles sent you!