Piccolo Forno sits on Butler Street, in the up and coming Lawrenceville neighborhood. I am not that familiar with Lawrenceville. I hear of different shops and restaurants spaces opening – I have heard of the greatness of the Coco Cafe brunch, the lure of the places like the Inner Vagabond and Arsenal Lanes, and the growth of the area attributed to the opening of the new Children’s Hospital. I have forced myself to drive down Butler Street, simply so I wasn’t totally clueless should anyone ask my opinion on L-ville. Thank goodness The Boy offered up a true excuse to explore the area on Saturday night – dinner at Piccolo Forno.
As you may know, The Boy and I enjoyed 2 amazing weeks in Italy back in May. We stuffed ourselves full of hand made pasta, delectable sauces, succulent meats, and luscious pizza. We were particularly taken with the cuisine of Tuscany – simple, rustic, fresh, comforting. Would we be able to recreate this at home?
Well, now we may not have to. Piccolo Forno truly transported us back to Tuscany. Although the interior of the restaurant is not exactly as one might find in the Tuscan countryside (a bit more modern, bright) I enjoyed it. Piccolo Forno is casual – patrons had on everything from summer dresses to jeans to shorts and flip flops..
When we arrived around 6:30 PM on a Saturday, the place was packed with couples, families, friends – parties even spilling out the door to fill a few tables set up on the sidewalk. We were told there was a 15 minute wait and the hostess took our cell number. Piccolo Forno is BYOB – something The Boy and I love. Wine turns any meal into an occasion, an experience. Being able to have that experience at a reasonable price is much appreciated!
We wandered Butler Street a bit – not exactly bustling, but all the new stores and boutiques are promising. As discussed in this post, we even stopped at Dozen Bakeshop.
We were summoned back to the restaurant within the 15 minutes and settled in. The menu consists of appetizers, salads, pizzas, and pasta. This was fine with us, but just know there are not really ‘entrées’ here – no lamb chop or steak.
Everything sounded delicious, although I was a touch disappointed not to see more vegetarian pasta options. I am not vegetarian but had so many amazing vegetable based pastas in Italy – I was hoping to see something similar. Veggie options included pasta with pesto, pasta with marinara, and a swiss chard based dish.
We decided to order meatballs for an appetizer (The Boy’s pick!). We also ordered an arugula and radicchio salad to share. The Boy then ordered a braised rabbit pasta (with pappardelle) and I went with the swiss chard option ( with cavatelli – which I was told was being served with broccoli rapini instead of chard that night – I believe rapini is otherwise known as broccoli rabe).
The meatballs came out first. They appeared to be baked and tasted heavily of pork. They were enjoyable but a bit on the dry side. A generous portion of an extra herb filled pesto ‘salad’ accompanied the meatballs and helped the dish. These were definitely good but just not outstanding.
The salad came next. It was piled high with fresh arugula, walnuts, radicchio, parm, and cherry tomatoes. It was lightly dressed in a vinaigrette – it did not appear to be balsamic based and The Boy thought it tasted of lemon? I’m not sure. This salad was borderline entrée-sized. I would recommend splitting one if you plan to have multiple courses. It was extremely fresh and well dressed and the ingredients were of good quality. The waitress told us most of their produce comes from the Strip District. There were probably 4-6 other salads on the menu – I would love to try them all!
We sipped our wine (mmm, Barbaresco) and the pasta arrived. Heaven. Both of us had a ‘moment’ with our pasta. There is just something about hand made pasta – the chew, the tenderness – it can’t be beat! My cavatelli were tiny and delectable, paired with broccoli rapini, white beans, and tomatoes. The Boy’s pappardelle were coated in a earthy braised sauce dotted with carrots and other vegetables. His sauce was surprisingly light – not greasy or heavy at all.
The pasta portions were generous and I went home with more than half of mine. American portions are bigger than Italy portions, even at Piccolo Forno..
Seriously, go here. Particularly if you love pasta. The Boy and I plan on returning ASAP – we have to try the pizzas! We could not think of another place in the ‘burgh where we have had food like we had in Italy (save for possibly some of the pastas at Lidia’s). The prices were also very reasonable, especially considering the time and care that must go into making a tiny pasta like cavatelli. Our bill was under $50 (excluding tip but including a $5 corking fee). One word of caution: only limited reservations are available and only for parties over five. There may be a wait, but its worth it.
Service was friendly. I can’t wait to go back.