Osteria Del Cappello in Bologna: Modern Eatery With An Ancient Past

Osteria Del Cappello in Bologna

The osteria has a long history and rich tradition in Italy. As far back as the 14th and 15th centuries, men gathered at these rustic taverns (in Italian, osteria in the singular and osterie, in the plural) to socialize, play cards, and drink wine. Although patronized primarily for drinking, they also offered simple and inexpensive meals and snacks.

Contemporary osterie

These days, the alcohol vs. food emphasis has switched. Osterias still serve alcoholic drinks (as do almost all food establishments in Italy, a land where wine is cheaper than soft drinks) but now osterias are mainly visited for their tasty, traditional cooking.

Virtually indistinguishable from Italy’s other ubiquitous eateries called trattorias, an osteria is far less formal than a restaurant (ristorante, in Italian) with a more limited menu that is less expensive. Because of their favorable prices, home-style cooking, and relaxed ambiance, osterias are typically filled with both tourists and locals at meal hours.

The homey cupboard at Osteria del Cappello
The homey cupboard at Osteria del Cappello

Nestled in the heart of Bologna

Osteria del Cappello in Bologna is located in the historic center of the city, not far from the Piazza Maggiore, in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, Although you couldn’t tell from its tasteful interior décor, it is one of the three oldest osterias in Italy that has continued to serve customers at the same location for centuries—this one since 1375. Its signature dish at the time was “exquisite roasted partridges covered in lard and accompanied by garnished toasted bread.”

Another important historical note: During the 15th century when Jews were expelled from Spain, the Bishop of Bologna pointed to the Osteria del Cappello as the sole place where Jews passing could safely stop as they passed through the city.

Dinnerware with symbol of old osteria
Dinnerware with symbol of old osteria

The intimate two-room eatery is located on a narrow winding street beside a four-star hotel, Hotel Cappello Rosso (translated as, with red hat) but the eatery is operated independently from the hotel.

Large windows front onto the street and simple wooden tables and chairs evoke old world charm, as does the wooden cabinetry in the larger room with a bar. The wall in the dining room is painted the traditional red color of Bologna.

Relaxed dining room at Osteria del Cappello
Relaxed dining room at Osteria del Cappello

Paper placemats have squares with the names and symbols of some 50 historical osterias that once existed in Bologna; only this osteria and Osteria del Sole still remain.

In the center of the table, a glass holds a pair of dice and a bottle cap. Our server explains that these are the essentials of an old board game, Giocco dell’Oca, once played by wayfarers, and hands us a card with instructions if we want to play as we wait for our plates.

Giocco dell’Oca, an old Italian board game
Giocco dell’Oca, an old Italian board game

A blackboard on the wall lists a variety of local wines available by the glass, notably Pignoletto, Trebbiano, Sangiovese and Lambrusco.

Wine board at Osteria Del Cappello in Bologna
Wine board at Osteria Del Cappello in Bologna

What’s old is new again

Glancing at the menu and looking around, it’s clear that Osteria del Cappello in Bologna is a perfect fit for the times:

  • The setting is casual, thus attracting many young people who study in Bologna, both as customers and wait staff. Our server, Viola was a political science student at the University.
  • The dishes are based on traditional recipes that have been handed down over the years. Many of the dishes are designed to be shared over conversation.
  • The ingredients and the wines showcase sustainable products and are truly fork-to-table. The wines are so local that they call them “0-kilometer wines.”
  • Diners know where everything comes from because producers are listed on the menu.

Our meal

Viola places two small ramekins on our table along with freshly baked breads, served in a small wooden crate. One holds some lardo seasoned with sausage and spices; the other has grated Parmigiano cheese.

Lardo and Parmagiano Cheese
Lardo and Parmigiano Cheese

She explains that you spread the lardo on the breads, crescentine and tignelle, and then use a spoon to dust the top with the cheese. It is warm and delicious. (Every region in Italy has its own typical breads that may even vary from city to city).

Then we order a wood board with a very generous serving of the typical cured meats and cheeses of Emilia Romagna. For our next course, we order passatelli, a dense, long spaghetti and tagliatelle Ragu.

Board with Proscuitto di Parma, Pink Salame Rosa, Mortadella and Squacquerone Cheese
Board with Proscuitto di Parma, Pink Salame Rosa, Mortadella and Squacquerone Cheese
Tagliatelle al Ragu
Tagliatelle al Ragu
Passatelli asciutti
Passatelli asciutti with grated bread, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and eggs

Although the menu is limited, typical of most osterias, it offers an ample choice of grilled meats and fish as well.

When we thought we couldn’t eat another thing, we couldn’t pass up the dolci (sweets), all made in-house. The panacotta, served as a slice, was worth the additional calorie splurge. After all, we rationalized, we had done so much walking around Bologna during the day.

Food like grandma used to make

“Our foods are not modern,” explained Viola. “The biggest compliment we get is when someone says that our dishes taste like the foods of their grandmother.”

What a nice tribute to Osteria del Cappello in Bologna, an eatery offering delicious fare steeped in tradition.

Silvia and Viola behind the bar
Silvia and Viola behind the bar


Similar Posts


  1. I’ve not yet visited Italy but when I do I would love to visit an osteria. They remind me a bit of old-fashioned diners here in the U.S. that I love to seek out when I’m in the mood for comfort food. The food looks so good and the wine prices look great, too! Yum all the way around!

  2. Your posts always make me hungry, Irene! It looks like Bologna has an amazing culinary scene. Although I’ve never had a bad meal in Italy. Would love to visit Bologna someday. Thx for the share.

  3. It is barely 6:30 a.m. in Greece and in reading this my mouth is salivating for a plate of pasta! Loved this look at this beautiful osteria, they sound as if they are going the way of the similar kafenion in Greece – those once-gathering-places for the old boys. Some of the best Italian food we’ve ever eaten was in Bologna. . .you’ve made me think a return visit is in order!

  4. Wonderful! We loved the food in Bologna too, really like good old fashioned Italian cooking. My MIL who is Roman born and bred and is a cook in real life is quite fussy when it comes to food, but she had nothing to say about food in Bologna when we treated her to a few days vacation.

  5. Your post ( and that photo of Passatelli asciutti ) has made me want to hurry back to Bologna! What a charming idea to have the old board game, Giocco dell’Oca for patrons to play while they wait. Were you able to figure out how to play or are the instructions in Italian? .

  6. Yum. We\’re spending all of May in Italy, and I\’ll definitely return to this and many of your other posts for reference. I enjoyed your quick history of osterias. Ciao!

  7. Your title certainly drew me in — Modern eatery with an ancient past. What a wonderful combination of offerings this restaurant has. You presented their menu in such a comprehensive way and the photos just make my mouth water!! Excellent article on Osteria Del Cappello in Bologna, Italy!!

  8. I love Bologna. The food is wonderful and less expensive than in many other Italian cities. I try to begin and end my travels to Italy in Bologna. Now I have a new reason to return. Thank you for the history lesson on osterias. I found that interesting. The food at Osteria del Cappello looks delicious.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *