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Go For the Food: Yes, you can do brunch in Rome, with an Italian twist

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ROME - Rome is a sightseer's dream, and for many visitors, indulging in authentic Italian cuisine is one of the biggest draws.

But for non-locals, the first meal of the day can be a bit of a letdown. Breakfast in Italy is a stand-up affair: You crowd at the bar, scarf down a stale pastry and a shot of espresso, and in five minutes flat, the day has begun. Tourists quickly learn that if they dare to plop down at a table in the centre of Rome, they may be slapped with an extra "table service" charge and ushered out once when they've finished.

Long family lunches on Sundays are an established tradition in Italy, but a casual cross between breakfast-and-lunch with friends is almost a foreign concept.

But escaping from the hurried morning routine may be why weekends at Necci, a bohemian outpost in Rome's edgy Pigneto neighbourhood, have become something of an institution to the artists and creative types who live nearby.

"What we really thought was missing in Rome was a place where you could spend a lot of time, because Italian bars and cafes are places where you have to consume and leave," said Massimo Innocenti, the owner, sitting on Necci's spacious outdoor terrace.

Innocenti bought the place in 2006 from the Necci brothers, sons of the original owner who had opened it in 1924. He kept the bones of the historic bar but revamped it with kitschy-chic decorations and a round-the-clock menu, all of it cooked fresh in house.

Locals call it brunch. But if this is brunch, it's with an Italian twist and its own rhythm. "We don't do bacon, beans on toast and scrambled eggs," said Innocenti, laughing. "We are an Italian place."

Perhaps it's a brunch in stages. The bar opens at 8 a.m. and if you don't arrive before 11, you may lose your chance to grab one of the fresh-baked croissants. By then, savory bites such as half-baguettes with escarole, raisins and pine nuts, or Neapolitan-inspired pizzelle — puffy fried mounds of pizza dough sprinkled with chopped tomatoes, basil and mozzarella — will be filling the display case.

At 12:30 p.m., the tavola calda — hot plates — are added, including lasagna and eggplant Parmesan, and from 1 p.m. on, you can finally indulge in the full menu of traditional Italian dishes, plus the slightest nods to items that don't typically turn up on Italian menus but that will be familiar to non-locals: fish and chips, hamburgers and even bagel sandwiches.

Once you've had your fill, explore the area. Far from the tourist hordes and grand sites, Pigneto is a place where a different version of Rome emerges. A traditional working-class neighbourhood of crooked low-rise apartments, Pigneto has undergone something of a creative renaissance over the past decade as artists and immigrants flocked to the area and a new nightlife district flourished.

Browse the open-air market of flowers and fresh local produce on Via del Pigneto in the morning, stop by Lo Yeti, one of Pigneto's bookshop cafes, catch an art film at Kino cinema or sample the neighbourhood's best gelato at Fattori.

As the sun goes down, Pigneto wakes up for revelry. Via del Pigneto is the main thoroughfare for bar-hopping, but it also showcases some of Rome's tastiest ethnic restaurants. Pair a gin and tonic with curry at Tiger Tandoori or enjoy Asian-fusion bites on Yakikinu's patio. Nearby, Circolo degli Artisti always has a full calendar of concerts, dance parties and pop-up events.

Or you could just as easily return to relaxing on Necci's inviting terrace — dinner will be starting soon and you can stay as long as you like.

___

If You Go...

NECCI DAL 1924: Via Fanfulla di Lodi, 68,Rome, http://www.necci1924.com/

LO YETI: Via Perugia, 4, Rome, http://www.loyeti.org/

KINO: Via Perugia, 34, Rome, http://www.ilkino.it/

FATTORI: Via Alberto da Giussano 80

TIGER TANDOORI: Via del Pigneto, 193, http://www.tigertandoori.com/

YAKIKINU: Via del Pigneto, 209, http://www.yakiniku.it/

CIRCOLO DEGLI ARTISTI: Via Casilina Vecchia, 42, http://www.circoloartisti.it/en/

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