Italy, Argentina come together perfectly in the form of sweets at Piccolo Mondo Restaurant & Bakery in Hyde Park

Sunday, July 12, 2020
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Piccolo Mondo serves alfajores, essentially soft cookie sandwiches, stuffed with dulce de leche and rolled in coconut or dipped in chocolate.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A 35-year-old Italian restaurant in Hyde Park has had a small bakery in the front for the last several years, but there's no cannoli, tiramisu or Italian pastries.

Instead, the focus is on Argentina, since that's the nationality of the restaurant's owners. There are several connections between Italy and Argentina, and they come together perfectly in the form of sweets.

For over three decades, Piccolo Mondo has been serving the Hyde Park community with its homey Italian fare in a large, historic building across the street from the Museum of Science and Industry.

Over the past six years, the Argentinian family who owns it has been quietly running a bakery up front that's become beacon for Argentinian ex-pats.

"We work with all traditional Argentine products," said Oriel Zas. "The Sandwich de Miga is a very traditional Argentine sandwich. It's a crustless sandwich and typically they come with ham and cheese with a slight spread of mayo and butter. In Argentina, sweets are huge."

Dulce de leche, that dark, caramelized spread of heated sweetened milk is everywhere.

"The Cañoncito de Dulce de Leche is a puff pastry, so it's crunchy on the outside, covered in powdered sugar and it's filled with that traditional dulce de leche from Argentina," he said.

Then there are alfajores, essentially soft cookie sandwiches, stuffed with dulce de leche and rolled in coconut or dipped in chocolate. Also, flaky puff pastries filled with either fruit or pastry cream.

"The membrillo - the quince jam - is also something very traditional, we use it on our pastries. And even more traditional than that is something called the crema pastelera which is like our vanilla custard here in the U.S." he said.

Zas says his family takes great pride in recreating the flavors they remember as kids, now sharing them with their customers in the neighborhood. One of his favorites: the submarino.

"Submarine, why? Because you submerge the chocolate into the hot milk. Instead of using syrup or cocoa powder, like we do here in the United States, we use real dark chocolate bars - comes from a tradition from Patagonia - when you come back in from the cold you need a hot chocolate and that's our traditional hot chocolate," said Zas.

Now in terms of finding Argentinian flavors in Chicago, it's always been pretty limited.

There was El Nandu on Fullerton doing empanadas; there's Tango Sur and Folklore doing steaks primarily; then on the Northwest Side, Buenos Aires Liquor and Deli, but when it comes to baked goods, this is it.

The bakery is closed on Mondays, and since the pandemic, they've pushed back their opening time to 9 a.m. each day.

Piccolo Mondo Restaurant & Bakery

1642 E. 56th St.