The difference between Piccolo and every other restaurant in Minnesota can be more or less summed up in two words: jellied celeriac. Jellied celeriac, of course, sounds like the sort of food that would be meted out as punishment to heroic young orphans in a Lemony Snicket book—not like a preparation that enchants the senses and engages the intellect. But at Piccolo, the new restaurant of celebrated Minneapolis chef Doug Flicker, jellied celeriac is a dish that does just that.
First, the senses: This particular celeriac arrives at the table in a single slice, the ghostly, subterranean-pale segments of the root arranged like ivory piano keys in a sunbeam of sparkling jelly. On one side lies an open-rose swirl of Speck dell’ Alto Adige, the intense prosciutto-like ham from northern Italy; on the other, a bit of allspice-touched apple butter. Take a forkful of this jellied celeriac and it tastes open and light, like a Midwestern kitchen garden, though if you pair it with the speck, it suddenly becomes European, reminiscent of Michelin-starred cooking of the most elevated hotels. And then, if you pair it with the simple apple butter, the dish becomes American again: The hearty, homey, licorice notes of the celeriac suddenly shine through, making you wonder why jellied celeriac isn’t as popular as baloney sandwiches!
Now, for the intellect: This jellied celeriac announces the return of Flicker, formerly of Auriga, and before that a top cook at D’Amico Cucina and the Loring Café. It also functions as the rough equivalent of road flares in announcing that this is the restaurant of a chef who has stopped cooking for the madding crowd, and now cooks for himself —as well as the two- or three-dozen people who can fit into this vest-pocket-sized restaurant.