In the span of one year, two D'Arpino family members opened a restaurant, and two closed one. Steve and Cassie D'Arpino introduced their Italian restaurant, Piccolo, to Nixa, Missouri, in December 2016, just one year before Mark and Mary Ann D’Arpino said goodbye to D'Arpino's Italian Cafe to enjoy retirement after 13 years in business. From the start, Steve and Cassie knew they wanted to honor D'Arpino's loyal customer base, but also bring something new to the southwest Missouri food scene. The two are breaking all the traditional family-owned Italian restaurant stereotypes and offering customers the perfect balance between familiar and new.

With dishes like Italian-inspired nachos and jalapeño-corn brûlée rigatoni and even drinks like an Italian Margarita, Piccolo stands out as one of the only local restaurants daring to combine Italian and Mexican flavors. The restaurant also offers a robust vegan menu featuring pizza with locally sourced vegan-Italian sausage from Jake's Burgers and New York-style cheesecake.

Customers shouldn't come to Piccolo expecting the exact same experience as dining at D'Arpino's. However, they can still get a taste of the locally-famous D'Arpino family marinara sauce and pizza dough. We chatted with Steve to learn more about how they Piccolo is making its own name in the Springfield Italian scene.

What is your favorite ingredient to work with right now? People really respond well to spiciness, specifically from chiles. Lately, I've been finding myself adding it to new recipes and trying to find ways to incorporate it. There's a difference between having so much heat that it's not enjoyable and the type of spice that people really enjoy. For example, we actually have a spicy marinara sauce that we serve all the time.

Are there any menu items that D'Arpino fans will find similar? We wanted to find a balance of carrying on the tradition, but also doing things a little bit different. For instance, we're fortunate that my dad comes once a week and assists with prep, including the marinara sauce. We currently have eight menu items that are the same as what D'Arpino's had. My parents had a few more pasta options, but we have a little more variety on the menu.

Do you have any local culinary heroes that you look up to? We enjoy restaurants with creativity and variety. We look to Pat Duran from Metropolitan Grill and Michael and Jenny Cho with Craft Sushi.

What inspires you professionally? Our customers inspire us. From the time we opened, one of our most famous side dishes was our jalapeño-corn brûlée. We had so many people who would order it and then add it to their pasta, so we added it to the menu. And then there really are those special moments. I think back to our second weekend we were open. I had a table touch with a customer who still comes to the restaurant. She offered the first overwhelming and so sincerely amazing feedback. There's such a difference between someone saying, "Dinner was great," and someone who genuinely can tell how much passion we put into it. Those kinds of moments make the tough times worthwhile.

Editor's Note: This post was updated on Tue., May 21 at 11am to add more details about the menu at Piccolo.

Piccolo, 107 W. Aldersgate Dr., Nixa, Missouri, 417.374.7291, eatpiccolo.com

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Tessa is a freelance writer and photographer in Springfield, Missouri. She enjoys the finer things in life like cappuccinos and free samples.

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