Andrea Ferrini estimates he’s seen 22 new businesses open on Harvard Street in Coolidge Corner in the last 25 years. His has been a constant in that time, doling out plates full of al dente pasta, sandwiches, and more dishes prepared in the style of his hometown, Florence, Italy. Today, Bottega Fiorentina remains a fixture of the Coolidge Corner neighborhood, a casual Italian restaurant and retail shop that is welcoming to both regulars and newcomers alike.
Bottega has been part of the Brookline landscape since its opening in 1994, so much so that Ferrini has seen college students return years later with their kids in tow. He also has a rotation of regulars — some who don’t even wait for the doors to open at 11 a.m. before they’re lining up for coffee and lunch.
“We’ve been here like an institution,” Ferrini says. “Only Rami’s now across the street has been here longer than us. It’s busy. We’re always busy.”
Bottega’s Coolidge Corner location wasn’t always a standalone operation — a second location on Newbury Street in Back Bay was open for about six years, and Ferrini briefly opened a Newton location in 2016, eventually closing it in late 2017. Through those cycles, Coolidge Corner held steady, eventually garnering a Best of Boston award from Boston Magazine in 2017 (Best Neighborhood Restaurant, Coolidge Corner).
“I couldn’t believe it,” Ferrini says.
Bottega has also received media attention for its proximity to the Boston Marathon route: For example, it was listed as a suggestion for where to carbo-load for the race in 2013, Ferrini says, as the restaurant sits just steps away from where the race passes on Beacon Street.
Ferrini, 73, considers his work at Bottega a part-time job. If he doesn’t have to go to the market, he’s in the restaurant around 9 a.m. and will leave around 4 p.m. In the evenings, Ferrini and his team will decide the next day’s specials, and they’ll bring in produce from the markets and breads from the North End.
When he opened the business in the early 1990s, people estimated he wouldn’t last longer than six months, Ferrini says. But soon enough, he was converting what was predominantly retail space into dining space, adding 12 seats and taking suggestions from visitors about what to make, while drawing on his own roots in Florence, the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region.
“First year was a little tough, like every business. Then it started picking up,” he says. “It changed because a lot of people were asking me, ‘why don’t you make this, why don’t you do more cooking,’ so we started doing that, and fortunately we did good all these years.”
When Bottega first opened, it served prepared foods, and Ferrini drew inspiration from Tuscan cooking.
“I started doing it myself, learning from books, learning from trying, learning from my mom,” he said. “She wasn’t a typical cook that made pasta; she just gave me a couple good ideas.”
One of those ideas became Bottega’s most popular — and trademarked — sauce, Fedora, which is named for Ferrini’s mother and is made from tomatoes, garlic, rosemary, and cream.
“It’s still one of the bestsellers after so many years,” he says.
Items on Bottega Fiorentina’s menu vary, but Ferrini says that with a goal of serving family-style “fine fast food,” he and his staff serve dishes ranging from risotto to rabbit, osso bucco, lamb shank, and al dente pasta, with roughly 15 house-made sauces.
The pastas are 60 percent cooked already and are then fully cooked to order, tossed with a customer’s sauce of choice.
“We’re still maintaining our ideas of the real Tuscan, Northern Italian food,” Ferrini says.
Bottega also makes focaccia, bringing in other breads from Boston’s North End, and it makes gnudi, a type of gnocchi that means “naked,” because it’s not covered in semolina flour, but made with spinach, cheese, ricotta, eggs, and flour. For dessert, Bottega sells its own tiramisu, along with cakes, cannoli, and bread pudding.
Ferrini says he used to visit Italy almost every year, but after his mom passed away a few years ago, he doesn’t return as often. Still, it serves as the inspiration for his sauces and approach to hospitality in the neighborhood.
“If I try something new, most of the time I give the name of the place. I have a list of my sauces we invented here,” Ferrini says. “In doing this, it’s always made me proud of what I make.”
Though Ferrini already considers his work schedule to be part-time, he anticipates slowing down further in the coming years and is contemplating a retirement where he moves closer to his daughter in Washington, DC, spending part of the year in the United States and part of the year in Italy.
“I’m getting there,” he says. “I’m still here for now. I’ll see what happens [with Bottega]. If I find somebody that really wants to do something good, I wouldn’t mind. But it’s like giving away your pet. Before you give it away you want to know what kind of people are gonna have your pet.”
Thinking of retirement, he says that he would miss the “good people” who patronize Bottega, but it’s unlikely he would have trouble finding people to talk to — Ferrini says he would love to teach community cooking classes.
“I’ll make it small classes, not for the money, just to have fun,” he says. Also, “I want to write a book, even if I will never publish,” he says. “I want to write a book about all my 26 years of experience in the food business in Boston. Just for my own ego.”