"The locals will tell you they have the best focaccia in Italy."
This article is by no means a deep-dive, granted, time was minimal and my feet couldn't carry me fast enough to more locations. Another hindrance was that Panificio Fiore was closed for a family vacation (though I heard from many locals that their focaccia is wildly over-rated since the son took over operations) and a couple other spots had odd opening times during the pandemic.
Nevertheless, with optimism colouring my strides, I made it a point to try two recommended by friends, one I had researched myself and two that were highly regarded by a few different locals on our one night out in Bari's pubs.
In the spirit of the internet, since people love lists, below is a ranking of the five I tried to save you the trouble if you also have limited time. As I have said a billion times before, this is my opinion and if you disagree you can simply ignore my blog and seek your own triumphs.
from worst to first
panificio veronese - f i v e / t e n
If this had been my first introduction to Bari style focaccia I may very well have thought the world infected by rabies and moved onto other local specialities. Thankfully by the time I got around to this place I had already eaten three excellent versions and therefore had some ground with which to lay comparisons. The thicker style here was just an exercise in boredom. Both the crust and the toppings suffered from blandness. You struggled to taste anything but plain, underseasoned focaccia bread. The tomato's were dull, there was a distinct lack of salt and the crust was rather mediocre. Unfortunately for them, this was the worst that Puglia had to offer.
panetteria spiga d'oro - s i x / t e n
Though technically not in Bari, but slightly down the shoddy path in Mola Di Bari, this small bakery churns out lunch to a loyal group of munchers. The focaccia was of the thinner, crispy type but the dough was dense and difficult. The tomato's had been taken to wonderful levels of char, but as with pizza, if the crust isn't the star then the accessories don't sway my vote enough. A fairly decent attempt, but a long way off the best.
magda - s e v e n / t e n
I generally prefer the thinner style focaccia over the fluffy kind, but Magda manages to make a thick version that is so divinely addictive. Maybe its the charred tomato's, the heavy seasoning or the lightness of the dough but whatever they are doing in the kitchen is definitely worth further explorations.
panificio santa rita - e i g h t / t e n
Like youthful infatuation you become instantly wrapped up in the moment, time stands still, the heavens part, angels hum My Bloody Valentine melodies... but then the reality of earth slowly falls like virgin snow and cools the fevers of excitement with a reality check.
This focaccia is excellent. Like, really good. However, it's the kind that is a full frontal attack on your palate, heavy on the salt, heavy on the cooking times and brutally drenched in olive oil. Tho these may all be perfectly authentic and guidelines people live by, for me personally I like a slightly softer approach. Therefore this wasn't my absolute favourite in Bari, tho if you only eat this one, you will be dining in the waiting rooms of paradise.
My advice would be to eat only one slice, any more and you start realizing the weight of guilt.
panificio dirello - n i n e / t e n
If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the road to heaven is paved with good indentations. Panificio Dirello was heavily recommended by a bartender in the know in the outer skirts of Bari's flittering gown. He pleaded with us to shake off the morning fog and walk out there (in sheets of rain) and sample the glory that awaited.
We arrived, communicated our orders to the lady in broken Italian and sign-language. She ushered us to sit. Then began a conveyor belt of free treats for us to try while the baker watched for the signal the focaccia in the oven were ready. Before we got to the main event, they handed us a caramelised onion focaccia to try with cheese and breadcrumbs embedded on top. It was a delight to behold. Fantastically tasty.
Next up came the house special. The thin style focaccia with crispy edges and just plain, sweet tomatos. The simplicity of this leaves nowhere to hide, yet the genius lay in the fact that you kept wanting to come back for another bite. The tangy seduction of the tomatos, the oily (but not too oily) crust that gave your teeth a workout, the salt that brought everything to life. Dirello had managed to master the subtleties of focaccia without resorting to intense bludgeoning or underwhelming attack.
This was perfection.
These recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.
"Tastes are subjective, so take everything with a pinch of salty tears"
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