My mother, downtown maven that she is, discovered Piazza di Vino long before I realized that it existed. By way of an excuse, the place is easy to miss. It's nestled within a series of small shops along 9th Street that all have limited front space but stretch backward, giving off an air of mystery hidden in their depths. Piazza di Vino, for instance, surprises through the presence of its upper floor. The owner is more than happy to describe how the upstairs space was previously wasted. Not anymore. Despite its low ceiling, the space is bright due to the presence of a large window overlooking the bustling street below. Comfortable wicker furniture encourages long conversations about, perhaps, whether to buy one painting or two. The walls are practically covered floor to ceiling with art. As compared to other cafés-cum-galleries in town, Piazzo di Vino feels far more like a gallery than a restaurant. Rather than feature a single artist, they have pieces by many local artists on display (the pieces change every two months). If one stays just upstairs--glass of wine in hand while perusing the paintings--one can almost pretend it's First Thursday all month long.
I, however, being 1) poor and 2) a restaurant reviewer, am mostly concerned about the food. Art is nice to look at, I suppose, but I much prefer the aesthetics of a well-executed sandwich. Piazzo di Vino has these. Although their menu is currently far smaller than their large wine assortment, it is expected to grow soon. For now, they offer a nice selection of Italian-inspired soups, salads and sandwiches. Much of the food comes from Villano's, because their kitchen space is rather limited. Just beyond their small kitchen is a bar for either eating or sampling wines (like other wine bars in town, they feature "wine flights"); opposite are cute metal tables nestled close under the work of a featured artist.
My mother enjoyed what has become a weekly treat for her--their vegetarian mezzaluna. Although it didn't look as much like a half-moon as I had hoped, the sandwich did look exciting. Pine nuts, spinach, artichokes and ricotta rolled or stuffed in a bread-like thing. It reminded me of an omelet, sort of. Hard to describe, really, but not hard to eat. They also have a meatball version which I tried on a different occasion. Equally good, but a bit heavy for a summer lunch. I had the Monte Cristo sandwich; I really liked the combination of flavors. In a nod to those Thanksgiving favorites, it combined turkey and cranberry on whole wheat with an interesting mustard-like sauce, chives, and melted cheese. It was delicious, but I thought a bit over-priced for its size. I also enjoyed a cup of their soup of the day. It was one of the better lentil soups I've had in a while, and I wish I had ordered more.
After all this, we somehow had room for dessert. I was disappointed that they did not have their honey and orange ginger cake (because it sounded absolutely delicious), so I "settled" for the chocolate romance. It was a chocolate custard adorned with pecan praline. I was surprised to find that I actually thought the custard was a bit too heavy and actually preferred the praline. This could have been a dessert in its own right. The pralines melted in my mouth and I fought my mom for the last piece. I'd highly recommend Piazzo di Vino for lunch, but save the chocolate romance for after dinner, over a bottle of burgundy.
--Jenny Hurst never leaves home without her anise toothpicks.