Within a dreary industrial complex off College Avenue in Avondale Estates is La Piccolina. Crack open the nondescript gray door and you're in for a charming experience.
The successful wholesale bakery, specializing in biscotti and bread sticks, began serving lunch at the beginning of the year. Though most baking is done at night, the air at La Piccolina (Italian for "little one,") is still infused with warm, toasty smells during lunch. The small eating area/retail space is set with three tables and wooden folding chairs. Shelves are lined with colorfully packaged coffees and nibblies.
What We Ate: The lunch menu focuses on Italian-style sandwiches (all $5) grilled lightly in a press. Focaccia is offered for an extra $.50, but stick with the freshly baked ciabatta. The star here is the Delizioso, thin prosciutto slices with fontina cheese and creamy artichoke pate.
The Tonnata -- a classic Italian tuna salad -- is moistened with olive oil, tinged with lemon juice and tossed with chopped boiled egg.
The Contadina with bresaola (like beef jerky, only good), pecorino Romano and arugula came off a little dry.
Pesto Serindipity: The day we ordered the Caprese sandwich with mozzarella, tomatoes and fresh basil, they were out of basil, so they used homemade pesto instead. I'm glad they did. The pesto is herbaceous, mellow and smooth with the flavor of parmigiana, not hot with garlic.
Special du jour: La Piccolina offers one daily special ($5), ranging from pasta salad to pappa al pomodoro (Tuscan bread and tomato soup). Friday is Lasagna Day, but don't go looking for ricotta between the noodles. This is the authentic version with velvety bechamel sauce and rich bolognese meat sauce.
Bonus Goodies: Finish off lunch with a mini cannoli ($1), the traditional Italian pastry with chocolate chips and pistachio bits suspended in sweetened ricotta, piped inside a deliciously toothsome shell. Homemade turtles and fudge brownies ($1 each for a little bag of four pieces) are also available. The counter is lined with samples tempting you to buy their biscotti baked with a touch of wine (perfect with cheese), or their new Georgia-inspired cake flavored with peach schnapps.
Service: Italian can be heard fervently rolling off tongues as mother/daughter owners Olympia Fiorentino Manning and Denise Bandini greet suppliers and regular customers. The two women are always on-hand with big smiles, ready to expound on the joys of La Cucina Italiana and offer you a sample of rum cake ($7.50) or tirimisu ($3.99 for individual portions). Grab a seat and snack on peppery, crispy bread sticks while you wait for your food. Orders may get a bit behind at the peak of lunch, but you probably won't object to lingering in the Italian frame of mind for a few extra minutes.
The only thing getting me to ClusterFuckhead is Umi.
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