An anti-fascist, an anarchist and a humanist. Three eras, three stories, three generations. And a trattoria. It would be easy to talk about Sora Maria and Arcangelo from its famous cannelloni with veal pâté, or black pork liver with figs and cooked must. Or one of the other recipes, historic or more recent, that have made this place in Olevano, an hour from Rome, the destination of a gourmet pilgrimage that has lasted for decades. But the dishes speak best for themselves, with their aromas and flavors, when eaten with the dressing of chatter and laughter. No, perhaps to discover the soul of the place it will be more useful to look at the stories of those who filled it with ideas and passion, not just behind the stoves.
The first figure that emerges from the past now far away is that of Arcangelo Milana, the founder. At the beginning of the last century, he convinced his young wife, the one who would become Sora Maria, to abandon a “safe” and prestigious place (she was a cook at the British Embassy) and to try an adventure: open her own tavern. of Pigneto, a Roman district now the center of nightlife but at the time a district that could not be more popular. The first customers are in fact the carters, who brought vegetables, eggs, meats and cheeses from the province to the city. We are in 1910, and between efforts and projects, everything seems to be going well for the young couple. But soon after, the dark shadow of fascism falls over Rome and Italy. Hard man, Archangel, stubborn, libertarian. Many say no, he does not lower his head. And he is targeted. So much so that the two, in 1930, to avoid the worst trouble, are forced to close the tavern and flee from Rome, to Olevano, the country of origin. And they start from scratch: they first open a small bar, then a pastry shop. Until the big leap, in 1949, of the opening of the coveted restaurant, in the site which still houses it. A simple and tasty cuisine for big appetites. But already in germ with this cleansing of flavors and this taste of raw materials that we still find today. In 1950, for example, a historic dish was born, both rustic in name and refined in the mouth: pappardelle “alla bifolca” with white court stew with juniper and citrus fruits. A dish that discovered, appreciated and praised an indefatigable traveler of taste, Luigi Veronelli.
Here, the name of Veronelli allows us to pass the baton to the second protagonist of this story: Arcangelo’s son, Primo Milana who, together with his brother, took over the reins of the restaurant. Another freehead, an anarchist to be honest. And perhaps also for this reason, between the owner and the prince of gastronomes, heretical by nature and anarchist at heart, a relationship of esteem and affection develops (certainly supported by the delicacies of Primo’s wife , Rita Rocchi, who very young she started cooking). The 60s and 70s were years of consolidation and success. The rumor is spreading that in this restaurant in the province of Rome we eat well and we are better. And the fans, not just the Italians, the guides, the awards are starting to arrive.
We welcome travelers, and at the same time we travel. The host Milana is a refined ante litteram gourmet, who whenever he has a little time travels around Italy to try the best restaurants of the time, a little out of passion and a little for the “mise professional update”. Taking with him a restless and curious child, to whom the great kitchen enters the blood. This child becomes a man, and at 22, after the premature death of his father in 1989, he takes over the business and becomes a cook. The talent is there, the experience is lacking. But it’s time for it, just look at the hands and follow the heart of mother Rita, a strong woman who runs the kitchen like a general.
“The morning of the day I was born – says Giovanni Milana – my mother was in the kitchen here in the trattoria. In the afternoon she gave birth and three days later she was back. Here is literally my life too. That’s why I call myself a humanist. When people ask me ‘why, with all the success you have, don’t you open a second place, maybe in town?’ I always answer no, I want to stay here, among these pebbles, with my family, which now also includes employees. I need human relationships, slow times, to do the right thing and not overdo it”.
Under his leadership, his well-known restaurant entered the small group of the best trattorias in Italy, one of those that it is impossible not to mention. “The real boom took place in 1994, when we entered the Slow Food Guide. But if I have to indicate the period that best defined the essence of Sora Maria and Arcangelo, I would say the economic crises of 2008 and 2012. Hard times, which almost forced me to rethink my work, its meaning . These are the years of research on the territory, of discovery of small producers. The years in which I understood that this approach could be the future of trattorias”.
And before going out after a meal it will also surprise you for the price, pauses for a moment to capture one last image: on the threshold of the kitchen at the end of the service, as in the calm after the storm, mother Rita, 85, in the kitchen for 70 years, stands up to greet customers. Looking at his tired but serene look, you will understand why there is not only food here.