There is the restaurant, there is the food, and then there is the restaurant experience. Some poeple go to restaurants because they pass a fancy test. Others risk places with a “we-are-about-to-fail-our-next-safety-inspection” ethos to claim patronage of “authentic” cuisine (forgetting that you can be authentic and hygienic at the same time). Then there are the visitors who want an authentic experience without risking infection or a damaged credit score. Piccolo’s delivers here, if the diner is willing to meet the kitchen halfway.
First off, I have to launch into a pet peeve that goes far beyond Piccolo. If you serve fried calamari, have chopsticks on hand. Calamari is too delicate a taste to withstand the poking and prodding of steel tines. Otherwise all you learn is what steel tastes like against the various sauces used to further disguise the fact that breading calamari is an art form. Eat it by hand if you have to.
While Piccolo’s fails here, I just happened to have my own wooden chopsticks handy, and can report that the dish was in fact delicately prepared. No salt, pepper, or dipping sauce needed. Their preparation brought out the subtle sweetness of the calamari.
In fact, much of Piccolo’s menu relies on looking past expectations and letting the taste do the work. Their specialty lasagna is actually quite delicious, but you have to be able to ignore the fact the dish is served as a formless, red-yellow blob.
The shrimp in garlic and butter is reminiscent of Paesano’s. It should be: Piccolo’s chef is a Paesano’s survivor. No curled rubber that you find in industrial restaurants, with each bite informing but not overwhelming the diner. This is a difficult balance, especially since shrimp refuses to accept most marinades.
The snapper dishes are also delicately prepared. Ours was flaky and tender, not smothered by pasta sauce. It takes a confident kitchen to hold back on smothering fish in butter or garlic or lemon. Refreshingly, Piccolo’s is willing to present difficult fare in a straightforward manner.
You can’t judge an Italian restaurant’s dessert offerings unless you try the tiramisu. While Piccolo’s version isn’t a standout, it was redeemed by the fact that they don’t use ladyfingers for a base, a hallmark of lazy Italian kitchens everywhere. Piccolo’s version may not have flipped my gauges, but at least it was an honest attempt.
A last note about appearances. Yes, the building is outdated. Yes, the murals are old. And yes, the wait staff looks pissed off that you interrupted their repose by opening the door in the first place. But it is a family restaurant, and an honest question about what it’s like to work there will result in broad smiles and stories that you will feel lucky to hear.
Because the food is already wonderful, why not add to the experience by learning about it? Walk in prepared to spend most of your evening at the table and you won’t be disappointed. •
Piccolo's Italian Restaurant
5703 Evers Rd
Close your eyes and you're in Italy
Lasagna, shrimp in garlic sauce
11:30am to 2pm Tue-Sun; Dinner 5pm to 9:30pm Tue-Sun
It's a family restaurant, so call ahead to confirm.