If I told you that there was a teeny-tiny restaurant where the chalkboard menu changed weekly, the chef was wildly passionate about local ingredients, and his real-life partner welcomed patrons like she was throwing a dinner party in her own home, you might think I was describing a scene from a Hallmark Christmas movie.
But Winnipeg’s Petit Socco, a micro-eatery with just a few tables and comfortable seating for about 10 or 12 people (okay, with about space for six more on the sidewalk come summer) is very real. Based on my press visit this September, just weeks after it opened, I’m convinced this cozy, romantic spot might soon be on every filmmaker’s radar.
Petit Socco may be brand new, but its story really began a few years ago. Foodies across Winnipeg, Manitoba, all but wept in January 2020 when local celebrity chef Adam Donnelly closed his award-winning restaurant, Segovia. It’s no exaggeration to say that people were in mourning when it shuttered. But in a movie-worthy plot twist, Donnolly is now back and bigger than ever — except that he’s actually smaller than ever before, thanks to Petit Socco.
Together with his partner Courtney Molaro, Donnelly launched this sweet space in August 2022. It’s certainly the hottest table in town and nabbing a reservation is a feat of prowess. But to appreciate what exactly makes Adam and Courtney’s establishment so amazing, you have to look beyond the cozy space and understand their philosophy towards food, drink, and life in general.
Tiny Space Means Huge Flexibility
Visitors to the intimate space, which has Adam in the open kitchen and Courtney running the house, the bar, and everything else, will be struck by the fact that there’s little to no storage. The minimalist resources are by design. In fact, it’s one of their favorite things about the space.
Donnelly didn’t want to be in a slick, spacious kitchen with all the bells and whistles and endless options anymore. A small space means you only cook with the highest quality, most seasonal ingredients. You’re not storing supplies and products for a multi-page menu. It’s the ultimate example of “less is more.”
Plus, the minute you walk through the door, you can be certain of a warm welcome, as both Adam and Courtney can see you right away! If their restaurant was set in a Hallmark movie, they would absolutely be in a position to keep an eye on conversations between the candy cane factory owner and the big city corporate exec.
Celebrating Winnipeg’s Culinary Wonders
I chatted with Donnolly while he simultaneously prepared some of that week’s dishes for me to try, an experience that was every bit as wonderful as it sounds. His enthusiasm for Winnipeg’s local ingredients was contagious.
From gorgeous, jewel-like small tomatoes to fish from nearby lakes and rivers, he revels in being in a position to adjust his menus on a weekly or even daily basis based on what his suppliers have on hand. As he says: “It takes local chefs to champion things so people know how good they have it” in terms of their local ingredients.
One of those suppliers is a nearby neighbor. The Cheesemonger’s Fromagerie is just around the corner and down the block, and they supply Petit Socco with fine parmesan, cheddar, and anything else the restaurant might need. I was able to taste the end results of their products, and Donnolly’s talent in a plate of blistered shishito peppers that were piled high with parmesan and bottarga (a salted fish roe), with a plate of Donnolly’s homemade sourdough on hand for mopping up any leftover juices.
Small Plates, Special Wines, And Sharing
That sourdough — like the dishes themselves — is designed for sharing. This is the ultimate date-night restaurant! However, you’ll be forgiven if you want to keep everything for yourself. Take the bread, for instance. Donnolly perfected his sourdough during the pandemic, supplying other restaurants with his homemade loaves which feature freshly milled flours from einkorn, spelt, and rye.
No matter what you order, you’re going to have some delicious slices by your side. The chalkboard menu is designed for visitors to eat their way through from start to finish. With an average of about seven dishes — including a dessert — which all complement one another, it’s a very manageable experience if you do choose to share your plates with a dining partner (and an excellent challenge if you decide to keep them to yourself).
On the bar side, Molaro notes that nearly all their wines are natural wines, which isn’t what they necessarily set out to do. They didn’t start out with plans to be a natural wine destination but, as she jokes, the pandemic provided them with plenty of time to do their own independent wine “research” (same, girl, same). The fact that they ultimately choose bottles that they personally loved and the fact they’re a natural product is just a happy coincidence. I love this couple’s chemistry and their mutual passion for the space just adds to Petit Socco’s dreamy appeal.
Serving Up Cozy Vibes
That sense of the personal is infused in everything they do. The intimate size and atmosphere of Petit Socco means that Donnolly and Molaro can let their creativity flow and make small changes as needed or wanted. It’s also the kind of environment that allows them to connect with customers on a deeper level.
There’s a bit of a Spanish vibe in Petit Socco, which you wouldn’t necessarily expect in chilly Winnipeg. Pictures of and by Spaniard Pablo Picasso adorn the walls, an homage to a trip through France and Spain that Donnolly and Molaro made in 2019 that still holds tremendous influence for them. And for Molaro, it adds to the space’s sense of coziness, something that’s very important to them both. She shares that it’s extremely important to them that visitors feel like they’re members of their family, adding, “We wanted people to feel like they’re eating at our home.”
Honestly, someone just call the Hallmark team right now. Forget a movie cameo; this wee eatery needs its own feature film!
Could Romance Also Be On the Menu?
Given the cozy, communal atmosphere, I couldn’t help but ponder if the snug space might just be conducive to courtship as well as culinary adventures. I told Molaro that I could easily envision the restaurant being the perfect setting for a made-for-holiday movie “meet cute.”
She gave me a conspiratorial look before saying that they did indeed observe some recent diners and suspected that romance could be in the air! That confirms it! Whether you are looking for a Hallmark holiday movie or just love food, Petit Socco should be at the absolute top of your travel wish list.