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Trattoria Maga Magò, Where Rustic Meets Refined in Florence

9:00 AM EDT on May 31, 2023

Toni Mazzaglia|

Efrem Roberts outside Trattoria Maga Magò.

How an American chef's cooking odyssey led to a Tuscan renaissance.

Florence is bursting with traditional restaurants that offer predictable menus of regional dishes. Hence, locals don't rush to try a new place unless they’ve heard it’s doing something different, as is the case with Trattoria Maga Magò.

Opened by Lidia Fedele and Efrem Roberts in April 2023, the new trattoria sprinkles their daily menu with seasonal dishes, and elevates more traditional fare with added attention to flavor and presentation.

Such refined, rustic cuisine is the fruit of Chef Efrem Roberts’ long culinary journey.

Roberts started as a pastry chef in Los Angeles in restaurants including two-Michelin star Melisse, Michael’s in Santa Monica, and Caprice Fine French Pastries.

After short stays in London and Paris, he arrived in Italy, first working as a pastry chef for Peck in Milan.

Roberts then visited Florence and realized it was a better fit than Milan. “I was looking for old Europe, not new Europe. I was enchanted by this city. Florence is spectacular,” he says.

Roberts soon took a job as a night porter so he could remain in Florence, eventually being adopted by a group of wandering cooks.

Crostini Toscani at Maga Magò Photo: Toni Mazzaglia.

“We were waking up, working, eating together, living together," Roberts says. "It was very tight-knit. It was a cult of cuisine. We did that for four years, and then we all started doing different things."

After the others wandered elsewhere, Roberts found himself working with one of Florence’s greats.

“I went to work for Benedetta Vitali, one of the founders of Cibreo. I consider her the Grande Dame of Italian cuisine,” he says warmly. “I worked for her almost four years and really learned a lot. She gave me a really strong basis—not just fantasy, but tastes, flavor combinations, tradition.”

Eventually, Roberts and a partner took over Maga Magò in its original Tuscan location outside of Florence in Mugello, running it successfully for about 11 years.

Seeking a more intimate venue, Roberts and his now-partner, Fedele, chose a small spot in Florence’s Sant’Ambrogio district.

“Everybody, even Italians, thinks high-end food needs to be based off of the French ethic. But Italy has such an incredibly rich food history," Roberts says. "Go back to the Renaissance, seeing as we’re here in Florence. There's so much to choose from, so it should be based off of that, and not French food.”

His menu includes regional classics like crostini toscani, lampredotto, cervello fritto, tagliatelle with wild boar ragù, and bistecca fiorentina, but offers plenty of fresh ideas, like the fabulous mezza carbonara, while paying more attention to plating than your average trattoria.

Gelatina di Pomodoro (Robert's tribute to Benedetta Vitali). Photo: Toni Mazzaglia

Roberts' hearty dishes are as delicious to see as they are to eat, yet never become too dainty or pretentious.

“My kitchen is based off of tradition," he says. "I'd like to consider myself a custodian of those recipes because they're good. That's what food should be. It should be things that satisfy.”

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