This past summer, as the mood along Main Street sizzled with trepidation on the forthcoming slated for this November’s ballot, Mike Picciau was busy cooking up cuisine in .
The neighborhood quandary was not quite what Picciau had expected back in May when he assumed this upscale BYOB from a friend. His top concern was satisfying the epicurean tastes of foodies.
“, I guess I feel it would be fairer if all restaurant owners could choose to if they wanted,” said the mild-mannered Picciau. Alcohol is not sold in local restaurants, but for decades patrons have been allowed to bring wine or beer into the Main Street BYOBs.
“But, I’ve been busy, so that’s good for me,” added Picciau.
During a recent afternoon, half of the main dining room at Thomas’ was filled with lunchers and, according to Picciau, weekend nights are rivaling any big city restaurant with reservations.
Picciau was raised in a working class neighborhood in South Philadelphia. Beginning as a student at Central High School, he waited tables, washed dishes and helped cook in restaurants in Philadelphia (Pompeii, Bella Mia, San Carlo) and South Jersey (Toscana, Joe Pesce), each eatery affording him a unique view from a precipice in his climb to owning his own restaurant one day.
In between stints, he managed to graduate from The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College on 40th Street in Philadelphia with a degree in the culinary arts.
“Each time I worked in a different restaurant, I tried to learn something new,” said Picciau, surrounded by white-clothed tables set with wine glasses.
Last year Picciau trekked to his last stop when he started working at Thomas’. When the former owner asked him if he’d be interested in assuming the restaurant, Picciau—with help from his brother Anthony—took ownership. In a cash-strapped economy, the 26-year-old chef boldly embarked in the restaurant arena, in what sometimes can be a moody and volatile struggle.
Thomas’ Restaurant occupies two storefronts, with some outside seating. The left side of the restaurant, separated by French doors, is the banquet room, which can host parties up to 60, and morphs into more seating on Friday and Saturday nights. The restaurant’s walls are sable brown and illuminated with ceramic sconces throughout both rooms.
The dishes are mostly Italian, skillfully created by Picciau and showcasing the skills he honed from his earlier jobs and The Restaurant School. The menu is fairly priced by most standards: dinner entrees ranging from $17 for chicken Romano to $29 for a New York strip steak.
Joy’s meatballs, which is a mixture of beef, veal and pork, is an appetizer served at lunch and dinner for $9. Veggie, tuna and turkey wraps, also $9, are served at lunch.
Other dishes included on both menus are chicken Milanese and veal Capriccio, with lunch portions somewhat smaller. The Main Street is an Italian salad with greens, tomatoes, onions and crispy prosciutto in a lemon oil dressing.
“Our flatbread salad is one of the more popular choices,” said Picciau of the romaine salad topped with shaved Parmigiano cheese, and a choice of shellfish, chicken or steak, over a warm flatbread beginning at $10.
Another well-liked plate is the market-priced grilled branzino fish, which is topped with sautéed asparagus and a drizzling of white wine and garlic sauce. Fish dishes are “determined 100 percent by our fisherman and the luck of the rod,” according to Picciau.
There are both seven-layer carrot and chocolate cakes, and traditional tiramisu, rounding out the rich dessert selections.
Besides his brother, Picciau relies on an energetic and friendly team of staffers to keep patrons satisfied.
“I’m open every day, and I’m here all the time,” said Picciau, who still commutes from South Philly daily. “I have started a local following. I just want to keep it going.”