Start with a sunny day. Maybe the first one when we can be out and about again. Head toward the imposing fortress of Rocca Calascio. Get out and climb. Build up an appetite. Back in the car, head toward the medieval town of Castel del Monte, and follow Strada 17bis out of town — toward Campo Imperatore — until you find yourself on an expansive plain surrounded by grand mountains.
You are on the roof of Abruzzo – Little Tibet, they call it — 1500 meters above sea level, among the Gran Sasso range and the Monti della Laga National Park. It is stunning, yes. But that’s just the beginning. Because, before you get to Campo Imperatore and the “Mussolini” hotel, you’ll spot something unusual: an American-style log cabin on the side of the road. And cars. And motorcycles. You must pull over. Your best lunch is here.
Welcome to Ristoro Mucciante, a roadside BBQ owned and lovingly operated by the three Mucciante brothers: Rodolfo, Roberto, and Gianni, from nearby Castel del Monte. They grew up in a family of butchers and today keep those traditions alive by offering their finest meat — arrosticini (thin lamb skewers), sausage, massive steaks and pork chops — along with wine, local sheep and goat cheese, homemade bread, and sweet ciambelline cookies to hungry travelers.
Go inside and order your food, and then take it to one of the many charcoal grills — fornacelle — outside. They are purpose-made for the arrosticini, exactly the right width to hold the skewer so it cooks perfectly. Wire baskets hold the steaks, chops, and sausages on the grill. Everything cooks quickly, so you can move to a picnic table before too long, open the wine, spread out the cheese and bread and indulge in one of the best (and most affordable, I fed five people for less than €50!) meals you’ll ever have.
The location takes your breath away. All those mountains. Blue skies and white clouds. Wildflowers. In the distance, sheep, cattle, and horses roam and, any minute, sheep dogs might be at your table, hoping for a morsel. It is an experience like no other.
But why is there a log cabin in the middle of this spectacular nowhere? Because in 1970, it was built for They Call Me Trinity — one of many spaghetti westerns filmed in the area. The Mucciante family bought it and had a vision to set up this roadside attraction that now draws tourists from all over Europe.
Rodolfo smiles and looks out on the crazy scene. “Abruzzo is a place I am so proud of,” he says. “And I want to share it and its traditions with everyone who comes here.” When things open up again, put Ristoro Mucciante right at the top of your list.
Ristoro Mucciante, Localita Madonnina, Castel del Monte 67023, 0039 086 2938357
Open June through October
By Linda Dini Jenkins