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Bites Nearby: Piccolina's

Piccolina’s serves up northern Italian cuisine in an elegant and romantic atmosphere.

If the warmer weather has you dreaming of being whisked off to Italy to enjoy a long, lazy dinner at an outdoor café, then treat yourself to on McLaughlin Run Road.

Piccolina’s has the elegant, yet simple, feel of the countless family-owned eateries along every street in Italy. In addition to the romantic indoor dining area, ample bar and banquet room, the ristorante features an outdoor dining area nestled alongside Chartiers Creek. Guests who eat on the patio can relax and enjoy the rippling water, fragrant blossoms and perhaps even the occasional visit by a passing doe. It's not Florence, but it's almost as relaxing.

The cozy northern Italian restaurant serves up a full menu of antipastos, zuppas (soups), salads and entrees guaranteed to make your pants feel a bit snug. Owners Debbie and Ed Curigliano define northern Italian cuisine as "Italian with a French twist."

This means lots of sauces: red, white and garlic. Piccolina’s chefs make all of the food fresh every day. The popular marinara sauce is made fresh three times a day. The only edibles not made on-site are some of the pastries, which are bought from a top local bakery.

Ed and Debbie opened Piccolina’s June 1, 2001. Debbie spent many years managing others peoples’ restaurants and figured it was time to do it for herself. The name comes from the Italian feminine form of the word for "small one," which is a nickname that has been bestowed on petite Debbie.

They chose Italian food for their eatery because Ed’s family is from northern Italy. And because Italian food has such a broad appeal. "Italian food is comfort food. It’s versatile and there is something for everyone," says Debbie.

The ample menu has evolved over the years to include recipes created by the chefs, recipes handed down through the family and other recipes that were discovered along the way.

Start your meal with antipastos that range from calamari to stuffed cherry peppers. And, of course, fresh bruschetta with or without shrimp. Then move on to the next course with a bowl of homemade soup and a choice of salads. For the main course, choose from a wide selection of seafood, chicken, veal and pastas.

Or select one of the delectable House Favorites. Try Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Fresh Spinach Aglio Olio, or Veal Roulade with Seasoned Jumbo Lump Crab Meat and a Trio of Sauces. Or select the Veal & Lobster Fra Diavlo Sautéed with Julienne Banana Pepper and Fresh Tomato Basil Sauce over Pasta.

I enjoyed a melt-in-your-mouth piece of Back Sea Bass with Shitake Mushrooms, Pink Peppercorns, Grilled Shrimp and an Aged Balscamic Glaze. It was as good, if not better, than any meal I’ve had in Italy.

Of course no Italian meal would be complete without some vino (wine). When Debbie and Ed opened their restaurant a decade ago, they set a policy to charge $30 above the cost of every bottle, no matter what the price.

“We do this to encourage people to try something they wouldn’t normally try because they don’t have to invest a lot of money to do it,” says Debbie.

If a Chardonnay is $20, you pay $50. If a Pinot Noir is $100, you pay $130. This is an unusual move considering most restaurants sell bottles at double or even triple their cost.

Piccolina’s has at least 100 different wines on hand at any time. Debbie and Ed take an active role in tasting and offering a wide selection from Australia to California, and everywhere in between. Wine is available by the bottle, by the glass and by smaller bottles that pour two glasses. Debbie even jokes that Piccolina’s is actually a winery that serves food.

Piccolina’s is family owned and family oriented. It’s comfortable atmosphere, competitive prices and authentic Italian cuisine have made it a regular spot for lots of local residents.

A sign on wall in the dining room sums up Piccolina’s philosophy, “May all who enter as guests leave at friends.”

Piccolina’s is located at 1580 McLaughlin Run Road. Hours are Monday – Thursday, 11:30 am – 9 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Saturday 5-10 p.m.; and closed Sundays.

Reservations are strongly recommended on weekends and holidays. Take out is available. Visit http://www.piccolinas.com to learn more.

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