The tables are filling up fast tonight in Gustavo Braceria. Carmela moves between the groups of diners, greeting them like old friends. Her relaxed demeanour conceals a flurry of activity as she passes from one table to another, directing staff to bring forth bags of bread, bottles of wine and a succession of dishes concocted by her husband Gigi, the chef.
Word is spreading about Gustavo Braceria, with its cosy dining rooms and tables in the garden in summer, beneath trees laced with fairy lights. The restaurant opened three years ago on the edge of the small town of Galatone, in the Salento, the southern tip of Italy’s Puglia region. The Salento draws its northern border from Taranto in the west to Brindisi in the east, and marks its southernmost point at Santa Maria de Leuca, the Land’s End of south-east Italy, at the very bottom of the heel.
Gustavo Braceria has become a firm favourite with a cosmopolitan crowd from northern Italy and beyond, who are arriving in the region in increasing numbers. They’ve come to snap up palazzi and masserie (farmhouses) for a song in this slowly gentrifying rural outpost.
But locals like the restaurant, too: Puglia’s gay, leftwing president, Nichi Vendola, is a regular. Vendola’s victory in 2005 over the rightwinger Raffaele Fitto marked a sea-change in the politics of this traditionally conservative and Catholic region. It also provided a more liberal backdrop for incomers sniffing out salty-aired escapes from the human stew…
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