The Italian Almanac

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St. Mark basilica

Pilgrims at Restaurant

A new `restaurant for pilgrims` is driving Venice prices down by offering cheap, quality lunches to visitors to St Mark`s Basilica. The eatery, which advertises three-course lunches for a tidy 13 euros ($17), has already caused a flutter around the famously pricey square. Three days before it threw its doors open to the public, reporters had already spotted ``new, competitive`` menus on sandwich boards in the area.

The La Basilica restaurant is run by a local catering company, SGS, on behalf of the St Mark`s Procurators, the board that manages the famed Byzantine cathedral. Since the Procurators are a non-profit outfit, SGS has been able to come up with a large menu for the lowest of costs, catering firm chief Augusto Piscella said. ``I was amazed,`` he said at the restaurant`s unveiling. ``Since all we have to do is break even, we can afford a choice of eight first courses, seven second courses and six side-dishes``.

``The Procurators` aim is to give a medium-high class meal to all those who visit the Basilica, expressing the Venetian Church`s desire to welcome people``.