New bakery thrives at Piccolo Mondo

Staff Writer

A long-established Hyde Park restaurant reopened after a two-week hiatus less one deli but with the addition of a vibrant bakery.

Piccolo Mondo, 1642 E. 56th St., an Italian restaurant that has been a Hyde Park staple for the better part of three decades, reopened in August with an Argentine bakery.

Diego Cureses said running his own bakery featuring pastries from his home country of Argentina is his dream come true.

The partnership makes sense, Piccolo Mondo owner Norberto Zas said, because European immigrants to Argentina strongly influenced the culture, especially food.
The café opens at 7 a.m. and includes breakfast specials exactly as Cureses said he would find in Argentina.

Breakfast specials offer more variety than a traditional American breakfast café would offer.

Each special comes with a 12 or 16 ounce café con leche — coffee with milk — two ounces of fresh-squeezed orange juice and choice of pastry. Customers can choose either two medialunas, Argentine croissants; one alfajar, a chocolate covered cookie with a dulce de leche filling; or a toasted miga sandwich. The toasted migas offer a choice of fillings, including cheese with ham, tomato, pastrami or turkey, on three pieces of very thinly sliced English bread.

Cureses moved with his wife Lucy to Hyde Park from Evanston to open the café because if he was going to start work at 4 a.m., he said, he wanted to live closer.
He attended pastry school in Buenos Aires and moved to Chicago after graduating in 2006.

His grandmother was a traditional Italian grandma, the kind who would cook a pasta dinner on Sunday night for his whole family. His mother he said was also a “very, very good cook” but she liked baking better. He began helping her when he was probably 6 or 7.

When he first joined a culinary arts program he found baking challenging until he took a side course on it.

He enjoyed the course so much he dropped the culinary arts track and did two full years of pastry school, he said.

One of his surprise hits has been the pastafrola — a small tart filled with quince, a sticky, thick fruit filling — in Italian dough.

To accommodate both American dessert tastes and Argentine tradition, Cureses fills the pastry display with big single-serving desserts and a collection of small treats. Patrons can choose between a full piece of the dulce de leche cheesecake or a one-inch square piece.

As the weather cools down he expects the submarino will become more popular. The submarino is served as a cup of steamed, hot milk with a bar of dark, unsweetened chocolate on the side. The chocolate is submerged, like a submarine, in the milk and it begins to melt into a not-sweet and not-bitter hot chocolate drink. Cureses recommends trying it with one of their butter cookies on the side.

He and Zas said the bakery should begin catering breakfasts soon and Cureses would like to offer small six-inch cakes daily. He currently offers them for sale by special order.