Piccolo Cafe’s Porchetta Panino is the Real Deal
There are some foods that I just find irresistible. Porchetta is a perfect example. Fatty, well-seasoned, roast pork with the skin on? How can anyone but the strictest vegetarian turn that down? I sure can’t, which is why on a recent trip to Piccolo Cafe (Madison Ave. btw 37th+38th), I was sold on their Porchetta Panino as soon as I saw it on the menu.
The Porchetta Panino is a special at Piccolo Cafe, but according to the staff it’s always the special, you just won’t see it on their online menu. That’s a sneaky move, but I’ll forgive them, because I haven’t seen a proper porchetta sandwich anywhere else in Midtown.
At $10, the Porchetta Panino comes on a fairly large and immensely good ciabatta roll. The bread is yeasty and soft, but with a supremely crunchy crust, especially after a toasting trip to the oven that leaves it with a nice char on top. But enough bread, you want to hear about the pork.
Lot’s of places in Midtown, Treehaus for instance, offer porchetta that is sliced thin on a deli slicer. It’s tasty, but lacks the unctuousness (and crispy pork skin!) that you get from a good thick slab of the stuff. Piccolo gives you a slice of pork that’s a good half inch thick, with plenty of pork skin. The skin itself is not as crispy as it could be. It’s more chewy instead, but still offers a textural contrast, and is still tasty. The meat itself is moist and juicy, with plenty of fat mixed in, and you can definitely taste the herbs that porchetta is normally stuffed with, especially rosemary. The slice of pork didn’t perfectly fit the roll, leaving some corners porkless and sad, but the porchetta was really good, so I can forgive that.
Accompanying the pork is some lightly sauteed red onions, which compliment it nicely, and arugula. There’s also a drizzle of balsamic vinegar that I think was reduced down to a more syrupy consistency and, together with the peppery arugula and red onions, cut through the fattiness of the pork quite well. The whole package is, simply put, a nice simple sandwich.
One small complaint though, besides the skin’s lack of crispiness, is that the sandwich could use some more seasoning. Porchetta is usually pretty heavily salted, so I was surprised that I needed to add any. If you’re like me though, you stockpile salt and pepper packets at your desk for precisely this sort of situation, so it’s not too big a deal.
I didn’t go to Piccolo Cafe intending to get porchetta. I was actually going to try their Tuna Focaccia, which Serious Eats recently recommended in its guide of ‘Where to Eat Near Penn Station, NYC’. We haven’t given Piccolo’s sandwiches the most shining reviews in the past, so I was skeptical but willing to give it a shot.
Like its Porchetta Panino, Piccolo Cafe’s Tuna Focaccia is a simple sandwich: ‘melted’ Sicilian tuna, black pepper, tomato, and focaccia. But like the Porchetta Panino, it’s also quite good.
When I first looked at the $9 tuna sandwich, I didn’t want to like it. It looked kind of small and, come on, it’s just a tuna sandwich. But after a few bites, I was sold. There’s just something about its simple combination of ingredients that just works. The toasted focaccia tastes of good olive oil, the tuna is well-seasoned and not obliterated by too much mayonnaise, and the tomatoes are ruby red and ripe. It may not be worth $9, but it’s still a well-made sandwich, though I expect it loses something when tomatoes are out of season.
So there you have it. Piccolo Cafe can put out some tasty sandwiches. If you’re a tuna sandwich lover, by all means give their Tuna Focaccia a try, but if you want the good stuff, get the Porchetta Panino. It’s pretty irresistible.
Piccolo Cafe, 274 W. 40th (btw. 7+8th), 212-302-0143