Italian, Fresh and Simple

Written By: 
Denise Mullen
Photographs by: 
Jon Stell

Caffe Piccolo serves up delicious fare in an intimate, inviting atmosphere

One step inside Caffe Piccolo and I was transported back in time to a holiday spree in New York City and the alluring downstairs eatery across from our hotel off of Times Square.

We couldn’t seem to help ourselves. With all of New York’s dining options that never fail to please, we would look longingly at that awning and, again, find ourselves melting into its charming warmth, ready and willing to try whatever the evening’s specials would bring.

Caffe Piccolo has that kind of seductive appeal. It’s dark and cozy with an entire chalkboard wall spelling out Chef “Jimmy’s” scratch-made, locally sourced offerings du jour, from appetizers to entrees and even a selection of craft beers.

Add in the fireplace glow plus the it’s-a-pleasure-to-serve-you waitress and you pretty much have a win-me-over ambiance.

Enter the bread and dipping oil.

Warm with a crust, the bread is outstanding, and if you’re a fellow garlic lover, you will be in dipper heaven.

Strong tastes would be the theme of our dining experience at Caffe Piccolo, which is not an unusual trait of independent, chef-based restaurants where you choose to dine for the house experience rather than at one that focuses on being a neutral palate pleaser.

The appetizer line-up hit on Italian faves like calamari in marinara; eggplant stuffed with pesto, mozzarella, prosciutto and roasted red peppers; mussels four ways; and meatballs of beef, pork, veal and ricotta.

The sausage and broccoli rabe sauteed in olive oil and garlic, spicy stuffed banana peppers, and herb roasted shrimp all stood out as interesting mavericks. But I kept looking over at the chalkboard and could not resist the burrata special. I am a huge fan of this buffalo milk cheese made from mozzarella and cream, with its solid shell and soft, silky inside.

Plump medallions of burrata were artfully arranged on a serving board with slices of prosciutto, candied pecans, caramelized pears and a toss of arugula salad in the middle. With the bread, it could have stood as a meal all on its own.

Entrees include a salad or bowl of house-made tomato basil soup. I threw in an extra dollar to have Caesar salad instead, but when I began to pucker from the lemon in the dressing, my accommodating server gladly swapped it out for the flawless soup.

The “land” section of Caffe Piccolo’s menu offers chicken ($23) or veal ($28) prepared in piccata, Marsala, francese or saltimbocca style. But veal scarpariello, with sauteed pepperoncinis, Italian sausage, a spicy demi-glaze and a white wine sauce, won over my husband as an Italian dish he had never tried.

Overall, the dish is a winning combination, especially if your favorite element is the tart taste profile of pepperoncinis.

Nothing speaks Italian more fluently than pasta, and Caffe Piccolo simmers up a spicy penne alla vodka ($18), classic bolognese with pappardelle ($24), fettuccine carbonara ($21) and penne with sausage and broccoli rabe ($22).

The mushroom ragu spoke to me, promising slow roasted cremini, porcini, white and shiitake fungi, cooked in black truffle marinara and served with thick pappardelle noodles. It was deep and dark and decadent and the serving was ample enough to send me home with leftovers.

If you have a taste for seafood, Caffe Piccolo serves shrimp ($24), scallops ($27) or a combination of both ($29) in marinara, Fra Diavlo and scampi sauces. Or you can have linguine with clams or mussels ($23 each), pan seared diver scallops over wild mushroom risotto topped by toasted hazelnuts and arugula, and scallops with pappardelle, shiitake mushrooms, parmigiana and a drizzle of truffle oil. Scallop dishes run $31 each.

Caffe Piccolo’s chalkboard regularly includes seafood plates, mostly dictated by the local catch, that range from fresh filets to lobster.

For lighter, greener fare, look no further than the roster of salads. There’s arugula and fried Gorgonzola with red onions in a lemon vinaigrette ($12) and a mozzarella caprese ($10). I’ve heard raves about the fennel salad mixed with Taggiasca olives, Italian parsley and orange segments with a citrus vinaigrette ($13).

If you’re headed towards the south end of the Grand Strand and looking for a novel place to eat, I suggest giving Caffe Piccolo a whirl.

Go hungry. Go curious. But definitely go!

Caffe Piccolo
9428 Ocean Highway
Pawleys Island, SC 29585
(843) 314-3424
http://caffepiccolopawleys.com/
Hours: Opens daily at 5:30 p.m.