Three years after opening at CityCenter DC, chef-owner Amy Brandwein brings her essential all-day Italian cafe Piccolina to its full potential with twice as many seats, more wood-fired capabilities, and parade of seasonal spritzes.
The five-time James Beard Award finalist, who also runs upscale Italian mainstay Centrolina right across the alley, grew Piccolina into the next-door space formerly occupied by antiques store The Great Republic (973 Palmer Alley NW). After a three-week closure, Piccolina unveiled its polished new look and menu on Sunday, August 28 (963 Palmer Alley NW). Hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“We’re at the point where we’re ready to completely blossom and do a lot more things. It’s [now] one long, beautiful space that’s going to function more like a little restaurant,” Brandwein tells Eater.
The small, rustic cafe became a more affordable, portable alternative to established Centrolina when it opened right before the pandemic with pizzas and panuozzo sandwiches, but demand for its reliable wood-fired fare caused takeout traffic jams and need for more space and cooking equipment. A new wood-burning grill above the broiler opens the floodgates to roast all kinds of vegetables, seafoods, and meats like ribs and pork and lamb sausages.
“The possibilities are endless,” she says.
Piccolina 2.0 caters to an after-5 p.m. crowd that’s trickling back to work near its shiny complex dressed with string lights.
“This is the first normal fall we’ve had in several years. I’m really looking forward to D.C. coming back to life,” she says.
Centrolina bartenders assemble a debut spritz list starring peaking produce like cherries and tomatoes. Piccolina’s pastry chefs create a black currant and lemon verbena syrup for the “Viola” alongside vodka, lemon, and prosecco. Certain spritzes can be spirit-free.
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.
“D.C. knows me well enough now [to know] I am not tethered to specific menu items – it’s about what’s available at the moment,” she says. “It’s all about fruit right now.”
Late summer brings stone fruit like peaches, nectarines, and plums to the table.
A wood-burning oven that maintains a temperature of around 650 degrees will continue to largely fuel the shop. She says Piccolina’s pizza is “a bit thinner and lighter” than traditional Neapolitan style, with a crispier crust. To start, there’s a classic Margherita, spicy diavola, and seasonal pie topped with zucchini flowers and a sunny side-up quail egg.
Returning hits include all-day omelets, octopus on a brioche bun, veggie or porchetta panuozzo sandwiches, and multi-layered eggplant Parmesan.
Pastries and baked goods are now produced in a larger, separate area. That includes some of the city’s best fluffy focaccia, made with a 24-hour fermentation process that develops the dough’s flavor. An expanded sourdough selection is also part of the bigger bread program at Piccolina 2.0. Fun carb-centric additions include challah Fridays and build-your-own cannoli. The daily pastry program includes slices of quiche, savory scones, Italian cookies like baci di dama, and tea cakes in almond olive oil and blueberry ricotta varieties.
CityCenter DC’s all-day carbs scene recently grew with the addition of Boston’s Tatte Bakery and Cafe in the former home of David Chang’s Momofuku.