This article has been edited with updates about the menu and restaurant renderings—4.24.2019
It was a whirlwind week for Chef Amy Brandwein, who had just wowed a series of discerning palates in New York with a dinner cooked by an all-female team at the James Beard House. This was not her first time in the renowned Beard kitchen, nor is it the first time she’s assembled an all-female team.
Brandwein is a three-time nominee for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic, a member of JBF’s Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, and holds nominations for Restaurant of the Year as well as Rising Culinary Star. Brandwein also recently won Chef of the Year at the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) RAMMY Awards.
Throughout her career, Brandwein has helped to reshape how women are perceived as restaurant leaders. Her first restaurant, Centrolina, took four years to just gather funding because she was a woman with no male partners in the business. When she finally scraped together the funding needed in 2015, she appointed an all-female management team. Since its opening, Centrolina has been a perpetually-booked hit in the nation’s capital; a true testament to Chef Brandwein’s grit and talent. If you can’t get a reservation, fear not; there’s always the equally-popular Centrolina market section, which specializes in imported items and prepared foods.
Brandwein’s approach to Italian cooking is identical to her approach to business management—simple but powerfully disruptive. “I want to look at innovative ways of cooking things that haven’t been done before.”
Now, she’s doing just that on a bigger scale.
“I’ve been wanting to expand operations and the Centrolina brand a little bit,” Brandwein explains.
Fortuitously, a 1,200 sq.ft. bakery space right across the street from Centrolina opened up.
“The space was a great opportunity to expand on a more casual experience. We have such a demand for it in our market. We do a lot of grab-and-go prepared foods and we run out of it at the market so quickly. This is a great way to expedite production and offer people an improved way to eat what we’re currently selling.”
Brandwein has been in the process of completely gutting the old bakery to transform it into Piccolina, which translates to “little one”.
“The infrastructure was there for equipment but we needed to bring every heavy-duty piece of equipment in,” Brandwein says. Among this equipment is the star of Piccolina’s show—a state of the art wood fired oven.
“I have a history of doing wood fired pizzas and sandwiches. It’s something I’m very familiar with,” she states. “This little restaurant is based on that. I kept trying to come back to things I could make without a wood-fire oven and came up blank.”
It was a joy to see Brandwein in action with a wood fired oven, deftly sliding layers of stuffed dough in and out of the flaming mouth. What was fun to watch was even better to eat.
When it comes to Piccolina’s offerings, think casual Sicilian street food, like Scacce—a Sicilian stuffed dough—, and breakfast all day. Specific menu items include:
- Wood Fired Omelet with Ratatouille and Gruyere
- Wood Roasted Grapefruit
- Scacce |Lamb Sausage, Rapini, Caciocavallo
- Eggplant Parmesan & Traditional Lasagna
- Seasonal vegetable sides (served hot or cold) | Tumeric Roasted Carrots with Yogurt and Blistered Zucchini Agrodolce
- A growing collection of homemade bread, including Rosemary Focaccia, Ciabatta, Sardinian Sheet Music, Buttery Brioche, and more
According to Brandwein, Piccolina will be, “using innovative ways of cooking things that haven’t been done before.” A few menu items will be breakfast only. Other than that, Piccolina will have an all-day menu. Diners will be able to request an omelet or crepes with eggs for lunch or dinner. Most dishes will be available any time.
As with all of Brandwein’s endeavors, the primary purpose is reimagining and delivering excellence.
“I hate using the term fast casual,” she says. “But how do we provide excellent quality food the way I like to eat it in a fast environment? How do we make sure we’re delivering that to our customer?”
Judging by her determination, her work, and the bites of Scacce I indulged in, Brandwein’s biggest challenge—hyper fresh food in a fast environment—is sure to be her biggest success yet.