Founder and CEO, Tim McEnerey, welcomes you to another winner in the Cooper’s Hawk Family. There are over 50 distinctive, upscale, casual restaurants built on the belief that food and wine build lasting connections. While Piccolo Buco is part of the Cooper’s Hawk family, it is part of a new brand Extension (“by Cooper’s Hawk”). In essence, Piccolo Buco is a new concept from Cooper’s Hawk that was developed to bring new experiences to Cooper’s Hawk guests and wine club members. Piccolo Buco is the second brand in the extension – the first being ESQUIRE by Cooper’s Hawk at 58 E Oak in Chicago.
Esquire by Cooper’s Hawk at 58 E. Oak Street (formerly known as Cooper’s Hawk Esquire) has been reimagined and is the first restaurant to open under the company’s “by Cooper’s Hawk” brand extension. Guests and wine club members will enjoy a completely new way to experience the Cooper’s Hawk brand ethos, which is rooted in building community and celebrating life’s moments over food and wine.
McEnery and Luca Issa made a connection by sharing their passion for food and wine with the latest venture, Piccolo Buco by Cooper’s Hawk in Oakbrook. Luca and Tim both grew up in their families’ restaurants sharing a dream of hospitality. While other youngsters Tim’s age were engaging in sports and more typical endeavors he washed dishes in his uncle’s Frankfort, Illinois country club dining room. Tim’s dream was to own his own restaurant just as Luca dreamt to expand to America.
Piccolo Buco has the power to transport you from Oakbrook Center to steps away from the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) in Rome, Italy to indulge in the best Neapolitan pizza you have ever tasted. On a trip to Rome, Italy with his fiancee, Liz, Tim McEnery discovered Owner and Chef Luca Issa’s superb pizza in his inherited very successful business Piccolo Buco. They talked about the restaurant industry and Cooper’s Hawk enterprise. Tim left Luca his card and they both collaborated to bring Luca and his passionate dream to introduce his special pizza to America via Oakbrook, Illinois.
Luca researched pizza and decided Neapolitan Pizza was the best offering. Departing from the traditional Roman thin crust pizza served at Piccolo Buco Rome since 1916 Luca bucked history, despite his family’s skepticism. His father feared that the business would decline with this radical alteration, however, the restaurant revenue increased five-fold. Neapolitan pizza is a fresh type of pizza that originated in Naples Italy. Chef Luca labored continuously to perfect his artisan pizza over the last seven years. He created a pizza fit for the mythological Roman gods. It is crafted with fresh, simple, quality ingredients. Extra Virgin olive oil is imported from Puglia, Italy. His own homemade recipe for savory salami with coriander, fresh basil, and the creamiest, fior di latte mozzarella, translated as the flower of the milk is surrounded by a tall crisp crust on the outside that is heavenly, cloud light on the inside. This pizza will blow you away.
Although I heard Italians eat their pizza with a knife and fork, I was treated to an instructive personal tutorial by Tim. He rolls his pizza over and eats it like a hot dog. It worked beautifully. Three types of Neapolitan pizza are divided into three categories red, yellow, and white. Red is a classic tomato sauce, the yellow tomato sauce is slightly sweeter, and white is a rich, creamy carbonara pizza. There are five toppings offered for the red and four each for the yellow tomato sauce and the carbonara pizza.
Piccolo Buco is a clean contemporary 220-seat space with a nod to Italian history through its engaging tiled murals. The ginormous bar sits in the middle seating eleven on one side and a standing (Gusti) tasting bar on the opposite side. Dustin, the General Manager informed us it is a full-service bar and he designed two new specialty frozen cocktails, a pineapple sangria, and a passion fruit sangria, both perfect for the summer season. As with all Cooper’s Hawk restaurants on entering the foyer you are greeted by hosts in a lovely Napa-style room and retail gift store where you can purchase their award-winning wines and accessories. To make your dining experience infinitely easier the menu pairs the optimal wine tasting to each dish. My friend was pleased with Cooper’s Hawk Red a blend of merlot, cabernet, and petit syrah. The Vin Veloute wine of the month was just that. It is as smooth as velvet and exceptionally tasty wine. The menu lists the origin of the grapes and prices by the glass or bottle. Their wine production facility is in Woodbridge, Illinois. There is an energetic, grand circus vibe to the dining room with an open pizza kitchen at one end for guests to view and the main kitchen just adjacent to the demonstration window.
On the evening we visited we received a warm, gracious welcome from the staff and were immediately escorted to our table. Our server Katherine was personable and knowledgeable. She asked us if we prefer sparkling or still water. We chose both. I do love it when, servers bring you a carafe of water to the table, but are also there to pour it for you.
The appetizer we chose to share was the delicious Lucca Issa Caesar. This was baby romaine spears, wood-roasted tomatoes, balsamic red onions, crispy pancetta, gorgonzola cream chives, topped with a creamy Italian vinaigrette I could have licked off the plate. Next, we feasted on the savory Classic Margherita pizza with fresh basil. For our entree, we chose the innovative braised, seared short ribs with mascarpone polenta, garlic spinach, tomato confit, herb migas, EVOO chives, and Pecorino Romano cheese.
For our finale, we had a difficult time choosing a dessert. We wanted to sample all seven offerings. With the assistance of our server Katherine and her delightful assistant, another Katherine with a K, we finally settled on the Black Dog Gelato Trio–Hazelnut, Passion Fruit, and my absolute favorite olive oil. Do not shy away from trying this unusual pairing. It was so good. My friend’s favorite was the hazelnut gelato topped with toasted hazelnuts. The chocolate Hazelnut cake was also a winner with gianduja ganache. orange confit, créme anglaise, candied hazelnuts, and accompanied with vanilla gelato. We had a truly marvelous dining experience. We are anxious to return and try more menu items. They have Bucatinini pasta which is my favorite and you do not see this very often anywhere plus we have to try other pizzas, entrees, and desserts.
Piccolo Bucco by Cooper’s Hawk hours are Monday through Saturday 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. and Sunday 11:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. They are located 1818 Oakbrook Center near the PuttShack. Piccolo Buco’s phone is (630) 592-8885. Over 500,000 Wine Club Members can redeem their points at Piccolo Buco by Cooper’s Hawk and enjoy special perks. Of note is that Wine Club Member benefits are in full force at both Esquire by Cooper’s Hawk and Piccolo Buco by Cooper’s Hawk. For more information contact Cooper’s Hawk chwinery.com or Piccolo Buco by Cooper’s Hawk.
Photos: Courtesy of Cooper’s Hawk