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Wood-Fired Success Piccolina Prepares to Double Down on CityCenter

Chef Amy Brandwein’s next-door expansion will add seats, skewers, and more breads to the Northwest neighborhood

A wood-fired Italian sandwich on a wooden board with a fork and knife to the left.
Piccolina’s wood-fired scacce fills Sicilian rolled and baked savory dough with fennel sausage, broccoli raab, caciocavallo, and mozzarella.
Scott Suchman/Piccolina

Piccolina’s pizzas and panuozzo sandwiches have proved to be so popular during the pandemic, chef-owner Amy Brandwein plans to double the size of her essential all-day Italian cafe by August.

The four-time James Beard Award finalist, who also runs refined Italian mainstay Centrolina across the way in CityCenter DC, will grow Piccolina into the next-door space formerly occupied by antiques store The Great Republic (973 Palmer Alley NW).

The small, rustic cafe became a more affordable, portable alternative to established Centrolina when it opened in 2019, but demand for its reliable wood-fired fare has created takeout traffic jams and need for more seats and expanded cooking capabilities.

“We don’t have enough space to do what we what we need to do to accommodate customers — it’s a no-brainer to fill in the space,” she tells Eater.

The wall between Piccolina and The Great Republic will be broken down to grow the cafe by 1,200 square feet in its upscale, open-air complex covered in string lights. Capacity will double to 70 seats across tables, banquettes along the facade, and its umbrella-lined patio out front.

The growth spurt also allows Piccolina to carve out room for a dedicated grab-and-go counter and introduce more salads and grains at lunch, appetizers, and rotating specials like osteria-style mains built with local meats and fresh fish, she says. New wood-fired capabilities above the broiler will let Brandwein debut skewered selections and add more wood-roasted vegetables into the mix.

“It will create more opportunity to do different things and specials we can’t do right now,” she says.

An alleyway photo of The Great Republic and Centrolina across the street, with string lights above.
Piccolina will grow into the next-door space that formerly housed The Great Republic.
Tierney Plumb/Eater DC

Production of pastries and baked goods will be relocated to a larger, separate area. Piccolina already makes some of the city’s best fluffy focaccia, thanks to Brandwein’s expert technique and a 24-hour fermentation process that develops the dough’s flavor. An expanded sourdough sector will also be part of the bigger bread program at Piccolina 2.0. When the expansion goes live in the summertime, customers can beat the heat with homemade Sicilian granita — a cold, sweet Italian speciality made from water, sugar, and fruit.

A wood-burning oven that maintains a temperature of around 650 degrees will continue to largely fuel the shop. Hits include all-day omelets, pizzas, octopus on a brioche bun, veggie or porchetta panuozzo sandwiches, multi-layered eggplant Parmesan, and braised meatballs.

A layered eggplant Parmesan in a white ceramic tray with a knife and fork to the right.
Piccolina’s eggplant Parmigiana is comprised of 10 layers of sliced eggplant, mozzarella, tomato and basil.
Scott Suchman/Piccolina

The reconfigured layout, complete with multiple cash registers, a new main entrance, and modified table service, hopes to streamline the ordering process and customer flow.

During peak times, there can be “uncertainty of whether people can get in or not. We’re making sure there’s a dual line so people are in and out quicker,” she says.

Piccolina’s original design team at HapstakDemetriou+ will handle the expansion project.

“It’s going to be beautiful — more of a full-service cafe, I would imagine,” she says.

CityCenter DC’s all-day carbs scene will soon grow with the addition of Boston’s Tatte Bakery and Cafe, scheduled to open this year inside the sprawling former home of David Chang’s Momofuku.

Piccolina

963 Palmer Alley NW, Washington, DC 20268 Visit Website

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