Piccolo Trattoria is almost too good to be true. This Ristorante Italiano is located in the Hopewell Valley Crossing Shopping Center just off Route 31 South at R Denow Road in Pennington. It offers an exceptional array of Italian dishes, including pizzas, pasta, and paninis, as well as appetizers, entrees, soups, and salads of all kinds.
Owned by Fami Elabed, it is one of three Piccolo Trattorias he has established, including two in Pennsylvania.
“This is my passion,” he says. “We’re set apart by our fresh ingredients, special recipes, and our presentation. We are brilliant at the basics! And we have many regular customers from all over the area and beyond. We are very popular with families, and we have a children’s menu.
Mr. Elabed’s passion for Italian cuisine, served to his guests as if they were his own family, is the driving force behind all three Piccolo Trattorias. At the age of 12, he entered the hospitality industry by working at a pizzeria and learning every aspect of the trade. After high school, he took the next step in his career by apprenticing under chefs who taught him the nuances of creating authentic Italian cuisine. And always, there was the underlying desire to own and operate his own restaurant.
This dream was realized in 2001, when Mr. Elabed opened the first of his Piccolo Trattorias, in Newtown, Pa., followed by the Pennington location in 2005, and then most recently, the restaurant in Langhorne, Pa.The spacious Pennington restaurant combines a pizzeria, bistro, and main dining room with seating for 170. Outside, patio dining accommodates 25 people, who can enjoy the attractive setting which features a large fountain.
The restaurant reflects an Italian ambiance with artwork and posters of Italian scenes decorating the walls. Handsome tile flooring is notable throughout the bistro, dining room, and pizzeria. White tablecloths, yellow and black napkins create an inviting setting for guests in the main dining room, while the pizzeria is more informal, with a relaxed down-to-earth atmosphere.
Lunch, dinner, and take-out are available at Piccolo, and catering has also become a big part of the business, “We bring the restaurant to your house,” reports Mr. Elabed. A complete variety of dishes is offered for every size and style of events, he adds.
“We also do a lot of corporate business, both catering at their locations and luncheons and dinners here.”
The menu at Piccolo is truly remarkable. The number and variety of choices offers a dish for every taste. Appetizers include the very popular Antipasto Rustico, with prosciutto, sopressata, sharp provolone, shaved reggiano, fresh mozzarella, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, marinated artichokes, and grilled marinated vegetables drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil. An assortment of calamari (fried and grilled) is another favorite, as are the restaurant’s signature crab cakes.
Piccolo is known for its bronzini fish dishes. This popular Mediterranean fish is baked and filleted, and served with black olives. Chicken Amali is always in demand, and salmone alla Piccolo (grilled salmon over sauteed cannellini beans and spinach in a port wine reduction), and shrimp scampi are other favorites.
“We also have specials every day,” notes Mr. Elabed. “We find that some people like to have their favorite dish every time they come in, and others like to experiment and try something different.”
Popular pasta dishes include numerous choices, such as fusilli matriciana (pasta tossed with a tangy sauce with grape tomatoes, sauteed pancetta, onions, fresh basil, and fresh garlic); fettucine alfredo (egg noodle pasta in a creamy parmiagiano and pecorino romano cheese sauce, with chicken or shrimp); and homemade gnocchi ( homemade potato dumplings in a choice of gorgonzola cream sauce, vodka cream sauce, mariana bolognese or pesto sauce, with chicken or shrimp), among many others.
Piccolo’s apple walnut salad with gorgonzola cheese in homemade Piccolo classic balsamic vinaigrette is another very popular choice.
And then, there are the pizzas! Just about every possible pizza combination one can imagine is available. The Brooklyn Old World Pizza is Piccolo’s signature pizza, with its thin crust, special plum tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, and a touch of parmigiano cheese.
“This is a real specialty for us,” says Mr. Elabed.
Many, many others are on the menu, along with the paninis, strombolis, and calzones, all Italian specialties.
Mr. Elabed points out that many gluten-free choices are offered. “We accommodate people who have special dietary needs, and we have many vegetarian dishes.
Homemade bread is also baked on the premises, and Piccolo is known for its popular garlic knots.
Desserts highlight homemade tiramisu and cannoli, among many others, including a variety of chocolate specialties. Cappuccino and espresso are available, along with a selection of other beverages.
Piccolo does not have a liquor license, but many diners bring wine or spirits to accompany their meal.
Prices at the restaurant cover a range, with appetizers from $7.99, paninis from $9, pasta from $11, and other entrees from $14.
Mr. Elabed is proud of the reputation he has established with his restaurants, and looks forward to continuing to please his customers’ palates. “We are in the hospitality business. Our goal is to make everyone happy from the time they come in until they leave, after having had a great meal. My passion is to make sure that whoever walks in is part of the Piccolo family. We welcome our guests. We want them to enjoy coming to dine with us.
“We also feel we are part of the community, and we always want to give back. I believe hard work pays off. We have established very high standards, and we continue to meet those standards. Customers can count on that. And I have a great staff, who give wonderful service. Many have been here since Day One.”
Piccolo Trattoria is open Sunday through Thursday 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday, Saturday, Sunday until 11. (609) 737-9050. Website: piccolotrattoria.com.