Originally published on Saveur, April 2015. 

Last month, I found myself strapped into the passenger seat of a Alfa Romeo Giulia next to chef Gabrielle Hamilton, zooming from Venice to Bologna in search of the ultimate bowl of tortellini en brodo. We were gunning it but there was no way we’d arrive in time for lunch, which in Italy ends at 2:30 p.m. sharp. I was getting nervous.

"Don't worry," Gabrielle said, "We can eat at the autogrill."

"I wanted to know what road trips looked like for real Italians: How do they eat when they’re on the road? What would an all-autogrill road trip look like?"

I found liters of olive oil, piles of salami, whole prosciutti, balls of provolone, jars of marinated artichokes, pasta of all shapes, towers of cookie tins, and mountains of chocolate bars. Bottles of Italian wines, limoncello, and beer lined the walls, almost all of it local. It was like an Italian grocery meets a convenience store meets a coffee shop: all the commercial bounty of an American gas station, with Italy's standards for quality. Even when on a mundane road trip, Italians refuse to compromise their style of eating.

"Many people used to have Sunday lunch at the autogrill, even if they weren't on a journey. It was thought of as a normal, good restaurant." These days, that tradition is long gone—and not every roadside restaurant is great—but the autogrill’s initial intent remains: to extend Italy’s eating culture to even its most utilitarian spaces.

Click here to read the whole story on Saveur.

Melanie Dunea