Many Middletown residents will recognize Anna and Dave Madden as the creators of Run 4 Downtown, the run/walk to raise money for a downtown beautification, or as the owners of Something Sweet Café on North Street.
The couple opened the café in 2004, but like many, the pandemic has prompted them to rethink their priorities. Therefore, they decided to reimagine the work as a celebration of Anna Madden’s Italian heritage and her maiden name. The result is the newly opened Piccolo Cocina e Vino, which held its ribbon cutting on June 9.
“Since the beginning of Something Sweet, I wanted to offer that Italian part of my heritage, but it never worked,” Anna Madden said. “I knew that if I wanted to do this kind of list and ideas, we had to change everything.”
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Maddens has kept the original cafe open throughout the pandemic, prioritizing employees who can keep them. With people returning to a new normal, the café faced staffing challenges, Madden underwent surgery, and equipment began to fail. Then, to start this year, the café lost two key players: the baker and the cook.
“We’ve been really struggling for a year and a half because of all the issues,” Madden said. “Everything was going well.” “We really had to start thinking about what we were going to do to stay open and in business. I didn’t want to do that.”
So they got started, and they brought Autumn Brown, a permanent and intermittent employee of Something Sweet Café, as general manager of Piccolo Cucina, who hired chef Giuseppe DiFranco, who owned a wine bar in New York City. Maddens, Brown and DeFranco revived the Piccolo Cucina e Vino.
“We brought the universe together in time,” said Madden, who has a degree in pastry arts from New York’s Restaurant School.
“I know what I want to see and give (DeFranco) the freedom, let him do what he knows how to do. We definitely work together.”
On the menu, diners will find a variety of appetizers, soups, and pasta including Cavatelli alla Contadina (with spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano) along with starters like summer branzino and panini made with the freshest ingredients. For dessert, don’t miss the pastries placed in a glass case next to the bar.
Diners can purchase olive oils, pasta, and other ingredients the restaurant uses in their meals, which are displayed on shelves in a small market area opposite the register.
When it came to the wine list, Maddens and Brown worked with a representative from Empire Wines and Liquors to identify wines that could go along with meals.
“Before, our menu was focused on a lot of local stuff, and we didn’t want to give up on that,” Brown said. “We focused on a lot of Italian wines, the perfect wine to have on your list, but also what no one had ever heard of or might know its name. Our thought was that we’d make something unique; maybe it be something you can’t pronounce and point to the list saying “This.” It ends up being your wine of choice and you look for it elsewhere.”
The right wine and food pairings were important to Madden, who said combinations are an integral part of Italian culture.
“I want people to understand how wine and food complement each other,” she said. “It’s part of Italian eating. It’s part of the culture, what wine does to food, what food does to wine. I want people to appreciate that as much as we do.”
The couple stresses that they want diners to enjoy their meal, not just a drink at the bar.
“People come in here, they sit down, they order a glass of wine, and they eat a plate of olives or cheese,” said Dave Madden. “It’s an experience she learned with her family – the association with wine and food – and it’s a great way to eat.”
It’s in the name
The restaurant, with 20 seats in the window-panelled dining room and nine along the bar, lives up to its name, where piccolo means “small” in Italian. But it’s also a well-known name in Middletown where Anna Madden’s father’s cousin owns Piccolo Market.
“There is a history behind the name and that is important to us because we are big supporters of the community,” she said. “We’re talking about being part of the community, not just being here and doing our own things. We want to be a part of everything.”
he goes: 17 North Street, Middletown; 845-343-2233; piccolocucina.com. Opening hours: Tuesday to Thursday from 11 am to 8 pm; Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 9 pm; Closed Sunday and Monday.
Heather Clark covers the openings and closings of businesses throughout the Hudson Valley. Contact Clark at [email protected]