111 Middle St., Portland
I ordinarily try to lay off the superlatives, but let’s get this out of the way at the start: Piccolo served the best brunch I’ve had in months. Maybe years.
I tried not to get my hopes up, but it was hard not to set high expectations. Piccolo opened last year on Middle Street, in the small space next to the Portland Police Department formerly occupied by Bresca. In that short time, Piccolo has earned high praise from many of Portland’s foodie cognoscenti. In a recent interview, award-winning chef, Duckfat owner and Chopped champion Rob Evans named Piccolo his favorite local restaurant.
Piccolo is owned by the husband-and-wife team of Damian Sansonetti and Ilma Jeil Lopez. The former New Yorkers also own Blue Rooster, an Old Port sandwich shop that serves the world’s best bacon-wrapped hot dogs and homemade tater tots. These two are highly skilled, creative and passionate about their food, and it shows.
My wife, 10-year-old daughter and I visited Piccolo on a recent Sunday morning and were immediately led to one of a half-dozen small butcher-block tables. Fresh, strong coffee ($3) arrived in a small glass mug that was frequently refilled. My wife ordered decaf, which arrived in a French press along with a plastic hourglass (the kind you get with board games) to mark the time until it was ready. We used that time to peruse the menu, which changes frequently, according to the chef’s whim and the availability of ingredients.
We started with a platter of zeppoli ($5), delicate, cloudlike Italian doughnut holes. On this particular Sunday, they were served with a heavenly, not overly sweet vanilla-orange dipping sauce flecked with citrus zest.
My wife ordered the buongiorno ($12), Piccolo’s take on a breakfast sandwich: a farm egg, pork belly, tomato, arugula, mozzarella and smoked aioli on a biscuit-like English muffin. Balanced by the richness of the pork fat and the peppery greens, this was a fantastic dish, if a bit on the messy side.
Initially disappointed by the lack of a carb-based option (Piccolo’s online menu listed some very enticing griddle cakes), my daughter decided to piece together a meal of sides and appetizers. She pronounced the insalata ($7) — mixed field greens, fennel and thin slices of pickled ricotta, lightly dressed with a bright, citrus-y vinaigrette — “the best salad I ever had.” The thick-sliced, smoked bacon ($5) was meaty and slightly chewy, with perfectly rendered, melt-in-your-mouth fat. Big chunks of Calabrese hash brown potatoes ($4) were magnificently crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside, and just a little spicy — our new favorite breakfast potatoes in Portland, hands down.
My choice, the campagna ($14), was another outstanding dish. A juicy link of mild, porky Italian sausage and two perfectly poached eggs rested gently on a bed of rich, creamy mascarpone polenta. The two slices of fennel-raisin toast on the side were not an afterthought; they added flavor and texture that elevated the entire meal.
The prices at Piccolo were a bit higher than at most places in town, but not unreasonable. Thanks to attentive service, a creative menu, locally sourced ingredients and flawless execution, this easily ranked among the best Sunday brunches we’ve ever had in Portland. I can’t wait to go back.
— Dan Zarin
Piccolo is open for Sunday brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.