Lola’s Baci: Going to Gahanna
Posted by cmh gourmand on August 2, 2009
100 Granville Street
Tuesday to Thursday 11 – 9
Friday 11 – 10
Saturday 5 – 10
I find new restaurants by word of mouth, suggestions and a inquisitiveness that is sometimes the bane of friends. (There is a restaurant 45 minutes east of town that will never be mentioned by the usual suspects and it was my fault).
Sometimes discovery is just plain luck – it happened to Columbus and it happens…well, outside of Columbus. One night at the Gahanna Grill, I decided I needed a new carry out menu from Gahanna Pizza Plus. While strolling across the parking lot, I thought I spied a little bakery in the anonymous retail strip. Then I saw the sign.
There are several signs to look for when casing out a new place. The sign above was a good sign – daily specials, with some items crossed out before 9 PM. What does that mean? If a restaurant runs out of something, often it was made fresh and was so good so everyone ate it. Such was / is the case at Lola.
I had been hankering for a good Italian restaurant for months. We have a few in the metro area – Scali, TAT, and Moretti’s. Basi Italia as well for nuevo Italian. However, I have been wanting something that feels small town Italian, in particular like a small cafe I found in the Cinque Terre region.
There were more good signs – inside and outside.
Lola’s is located in a suburban retail strip but the owners have gone to great lengths to make the place feel residential Italian. The exterior features a small picket fence and a few patio tables with Italian food themed umbrellas. On the inside, the already cozy space is divided into small rooms, each with walls painted in a different color and infused with rustic and homey decor. The table coverings are indestructible black vinyl with cloth borders that appear sewn in by hand.
Salads are served on apple shaped plates; there is a matronly woman in the kitchen; and aromas of garlic, oregano and basil permeate the air and space.
There are two schools of service at Lola. There are two veteran servers working here on the side that know the menu and the cuisine very well. One is from New York City and started working a few shifts after wandering in for a meal. The other school seems to be a cadre of first-job-ever-servers that are enthusiastic and eager to learn more.
The basics of an Italian restaurant involve bread and salad – both of these baselines are of good quality. There are several salads to choose from with house made dressing served on the side.
My standard salad selection is Lolas House Salad: mix of greens served with Port wine dressing tossed in among pears, sun dried cranberries, Gorgonzola, and spicy walnuts. All of the flavors fare well together with the spicy walnuts taking the whole package to the next level.
There are a few canaries in the coal mine for (American) Italian cuisine. (FACT:) If a restaurant can not execute meatballs or wedding soup well, my meal will be abysmal and the restaurant will be doomed to mediocrity or financial failure. Lola’s passed both of these litmus tests. Lola and Joe’s Wedding Soup: chicken and tiny meatballs with pastina, carrots and a changing variety of greens in homemade chicken broth sprinkled with Pecorino Romano cheese. The first time I sampled the wedding soup it was the best version I have ever had. Afterwards, while I liked it each time, I could not reestablish the magic for my taste buds of the first time. The wedding soup has now received scores of A+ to B- (on the Gourmand Scale), the spoon to belly experience seems dependent on the height in the soup pot my bowl is ladled from.
Meandering to the main menu now. The daily specials vary widely and frequently sell out quickly. My first meal was from the list on the chalkboard – a risotto which was as good as the best in town. I am saying Alana’s level of quality. On that particular night it may have been .0179% better.
Available on the regular menu is an exceptional dish that blends flavors together perfectly and is rich enough to satisfy a meat eaters palate or vegetarians conscience. Vegetable Tortellini is served with walnut Gorganzola cream sauce – oh my.
Moving right along, desserts, I have tried the bread pudding – it was wonderful. I have not tried anything else.
The menu makes several references to Joe and Nonna Nunziata. Joe is Lola’s husband. Nonna was his mother. As I was walking to the Gourmandmobile after my first meal at Lola, I started chatting with a gentleman at a patio table. He asked if I enjoyed my meal as he was still enjoying his. I thought he was a loyal patron but as we continued talking it turned out it was Joe.
Joe is in his late 70’s with a thick Italian accent. We sat while he told me the story of how he came here as a 19 year old (or 20 or 21… the math seemed a little fuzzy at times), sailed by the Statue of Liberty and soon found himself in Nebraska rejoining other family members in the middle of nowhere. After several years to grow his cooking skills and help his Nonna, he followed a brother to Columbus and met “The French Woman”. As it turns out the French woman is Lola who grew up in small town Ohio. Lola has blended her cooking expertise with Joe’s treasure trove of recipes. After many years and a few restaurants (Lola’s Creekside Café and Lola’s Heart’s Desire Cafe) Lola now recreates the meals of the Iacobone’s kitchen with some help from Joe.
For Italian food, take a trip to Gahanna and see what the French Woman might create for you.