There's a small but mighty caliber of homegrown heavy hitters inside the Milkhouse, a food hall-ish venue by Foxtail Coffee's Alex Tchekmeian and Iain Yeakle. Those deans of beans corralled the Ravenous Pig Brewing Co., Kelly's Homemade Ice Cream and two concepts by Bruno Zacchini — Bagel Bruno and Cicchetti — to join Foxtail Coffee at this very linger-friendly space in the heart of the Milk District's burgeoning food hub. Oh, sure it adds a bit of corporate polish to the neighborhood's indie streak, but that doesn't make it a bad fit. In fact, its presence only adds to the area's diverse food and beverage options, and diversity is a good thing.
Inside the Milkhouse, it's all low ceilings, industrial farmhouse and la dolce vita. And like a cold glass of latte, the Milkhouse hits the spot. Sì, there's a decidedly Italiano flavor to the offerings here — negronis sipped at the bar; cappuccinos frothed behind the counter; affogatos served over at Kelly's — though, really, the room belongs to Cicchetti.
Zacchini's homage to the inviting bacari of Venice, simple wine bars where small bites and quality quaffs lure in the after-work faithful, is an after-work lure itself. His cicchetti are a departure from typical bar bites and, in the case of warm, wild-caught sardines ($10), transportive. We snacked on this canned dish, also served with pickled cipollinis, full-fat butter and toast, in the City of Canals a decade ago. Zacchini adds fiery sambal to the mix, which I didn't mind at all. He also gets a bit playful with another bacaro staple, mozzarella en carozza ($10) or "mozzarella in a carriage," by stuffing the cheese between two slices of Wonder Bread, deep-frying the sandwich, then serving the hot blobs over tomato sauce. (The stringy core is said to resemble the reins of a horse and carriage, thus the name.)
Two other faves: a dip ($9) made from confit shallots and served with cacio e pepe chips; and beef tartare ($12) blended with confit garlic, fried shallots, anchovies, Dijon mustard and lemon. (The menu says it's done in traditional Piedmontese style but, c'mon man, for real? I mean there aren't any Alba white truffles shaved onto the meat, so check yourself, Zacchini.)
Kidding aside, Cicchetti is not the sort of place to serve a $50 snack, though you will find an $18 steak spiedini that has plush, charred morsels of ribeye folded onto skewers with cipollinis and shishito peppers. The meat is garnished with a lemon gremolata, yet something was lacking — salt, seasoning, some sort of marinade. Without it, the ribeye was a bit bland. Frito misto ($12) comprised a nice assortment of seafood — squid tentacles, octopus rings, rock shrimp and cod bits — served with peppered Kewpie mayo. With our drinks — a Baltic boulevardier ($12) and a seasonal coquito ($14) — we munched on a couple of different crostini: one with roasted cremini mushrooms and the other, a Sqirl-ish topping of hand-dipped ricotta, Florida honey and cracked black pepper.
Our server suggested we order the fritoles ($6), sugar-rolled apple fritters spiced with rum, cardamom and cloves, then dip them in Kelly's eggnog affogato ($5.25). Done! Only I had to get up and order the affogato separately. Should you want an espresso from Foxtail, that too would need to be ordered separately. It's a bit of a pain, but it's not like you have to walk very far (this is not an overly large space like, say, the Hall at the Yard). Oh, and Cicchetti opens at 5 p.m. and offers table service. Show up before then and you'll have to order drinks, coffee, ice cream and bagels (sold until 11 a.m.) yourself. That said, lunch at Cicchetti is in the works, so monitor their socials for updates. BTW: There's a sizable patio area complete with a walk-up window for Kelly's, which is a nice touch.
Who's to say how much longer food halls will continue to proliferate, but as far as this Bumby Avenue social house is concerned, I'm going to milk it for all it's worth.