At Doubleshot Coffee Bar in Plettenberg Bay sits an exceedingly dapper older gentleman named Jack. His hat is a compact white fedora splashed with paint.
Paired with blue-rimmed spectacles, he’s definitely the most stylish individual in the joint. I have to know where he got that hat. Mykonos it turns out, rather disappointingly. “If you think those are cool, check out his socks,” his friend pipes up. And with the hitching up of a trouser leg, there they are in all their technicoloured glory.
“You should see his gatkes,” the friend offers next, although Jack isn’t as cooperative on that score (gatkes is the Yiddish word for underpants).
At the open-air food market down the road – an informal mash-up of cuisines and stalls selling beachwear and Thai massage – homemade pasta is on the menu.
Cavati is one I’d never seen before in my prodigious pasta-eating career.
Is it similar to gnocchi? I ask Angelo Roberto, the proprietor. No, it takes much longer to make, he says. Cavati, with its long, fat pieces of dough, has to be massaged laboriously with the thumb, he explains, mimicking the repeat back-and-forth motion.
Angelo relocated from Salerno in Italy to Plett almost two years ago, after a short period in Cape Town.
He had never been to Plett before he moved there.
He claims to be the only person in the country making cavati. It’s buonissimo, as they say in the land where cavati, presumably, is plentiful. I mentioned picking up a flyer advertising an Italian eatery on the Airport Road that I hadn’t heard of before. Yes, he said, that is Marco’s place.
Marco Mauri supplies Enrico Iacopini with homemade products, such as fresh mozzarella.
Enrico is the owner of Ristorante Enrico in Keurboomstrand, a 14-year-old mainstay of the local food scene.
Aldo Girolo, the father of an Enrico I know, was one of the original Italian restaurateurs in Cape Town with Hildebrand, located first in the city centre and then at the V&A Waterfront.
Enrico Girolo happened to be in Plett that week for the first time. Everyone he knew who had dined at his namesake, had sent him a photograph; it was time to make his debut.So off we went to Ristorante Enrico for lunch and, continuing our Italian tour, we ventured to Marco’s place: Ice Dream Land, Gelateria Latteria Italiana.
Despite our visit coinciding with published opening times, it was shut tight. They had been very busy the day before, the thickly accented woman explained when we called. As a result, they had decided to close today. She was terribly sorry and please would we return the next day?
So we did. And as we walked in, a figure straight from central casting in a white vest, braces and a long grey ponytail held court at one of the tables.
“Are you Marco?”
“Yes,” he said.
“I’m Dominique. I heard about you from Angelo in town. This is Enrico.”
“Italiano?” he asked us.
“Mio babbo è Italiano,” said Enrico, after which English ceased to be the language of conversation.
And right there in an instant we could have been sitting at a table drinking coffee in the region of Italy where both Marco and Enrico’s babbo (daddy) were from.
In a brief interlude where English became the predominant language again, I asked how many Italians were in Plett. The couple at the table with us were two of them, and after some fevered calculation in consultation with Marco, five more names were racked up.
Not all partners or spouses of the eight counted as they weren’t wholly Italian, it was decided.The road to the airport in most places doesn’t usually hold much in the way of whimsy.
But in Plett, a place where you can find a type of pasta purportedly not anywhere else in the country and septuagenarians who look as if they’ve been styled by GQ, the whimsy is built in.