Dec 1, 2014

Mamma mia! – A birthday lunch at Zia’s, St. Louis

I recently completed somewhat of a whirlwind trip to Saint Louis to celebrate my birthday where the focus was going to be on checking out the Soulard area and a little nightlife (and day drinking, as it turned out) in the neighborhood, with a final stop at one of my favorite places in the STL – Broadway Oyster Bar.  But I’m getting a couple of blog posts ahead of myself.  That’s because my previous trip to Saint Louis and its historic Hill neighborhood last summer left such an impression on me that I was determined to go back.  So, we started the celebration with lunch at one of the Hill’s more well-known restaurants – Zia's. 

One reason why Zia's is regionally famous and synonymous with the Hill’s Italian restaurant scene is because you can find their house dressing and pasta sauces on most grocery store shelves where I live in Central Illinois.  Therefore, although Zia's is probably one of the newer kids on the Hill (founded in 1986), it has earned a solid reputation even with those who have never been to the restaurant.

It was with that dose of knowledge – just informed enough to be dangerous – that I sought out Zia's, which was fairly easy to find at the corner of Wilson and Edwards in the heart of the neighborhood.  We arrived ahead of most of the lunch crowd, so we easily found street parking less than a block away and sauntered inside to a largely empty restaurant.  It wouldn't be that way very long.   

Although the bar area looked inviting (it always does), the hostess sat us at a cozy two-seater table along the wall in the main dining room.  Admittedly, it was quite a bit more romantic than the bar.  Nonetheless, the girlfriend quickly ordered a round of lemon drop martinis to wet the whistle and tide us over before our appetizers arrived. 

Lemon drop martinis -- like a liquid pre-meal dessert.  
For the record, the lemon drops were dangerously good – lemony and sweet without a taste of alcohol, yet you knew if you had more than a couple you’d be feeling the effects.  They were, put simply, almost too easy to drink.  I opted for water for the rest of the meal. 

At about the same time as our drink arrived, the waiter brought out a loaf of appropriately chewy and crusty Italian bread for us to much on.  The girlfriend and I wasted no time drizzling some of Zia’s specialty herb-infused olive oil in saucers for dipping and digging into the loaf. 

Our salads came out next – I had ordered one of the lunch specials, so I received a small dinner salad with my entrée.  The girlfriend opted for a large Zia’s salad as her main course, so both came out at the same time.  I give these salads my highest praise.  Much like the salad at Guido’s last summer, this was one of the freshest salads I have ever had.  And the fuzzy photo does not give it justice – it is beautiful in its simplicity … Romaine and iceberg lettuce, Italian cheese and diced tomatoes spread on top, and drizzled with just enough house dressing in every bite but not so much that it overpowers all of the other flavors.  

As good as my salad was, though, the girlfriend’s Zia’s salad was surely ten times better with the addition of artichokes, red peppers, green olives and prosciutto ham.  The occasional noises she was making while devouring it led me to believe so, anyway.

Not long after I finished my side salad, my entrée and the girlfriend’s appetizer arrived.  She had chosen the Pomodori Fritti – fresh (and thickly cut) tomato slices which are breaded then fried and smothered with marinara sauce and cheese.  It looked to be the perfect complement to a dinner salad.

My entree in the foreground; the girlfriend's appetizer in the background.
And this, I believe, is called Pollo Alla Zia, or something very similar – a perfectly grilled chicken breast topped with cheese, broccoli, mushrooms and prosciutto ham.  Then, it’s smothered in a light but savory white wine and lemon butter sauce that complements every bite.  I believe you can rarely go wrong by ordering the special, and this one was absolutely top-notch.  It also came with a side of pasta and sauce of your choice (I obviously got the zesty marinara).

The hardest thing to believe about lunch? The price.  The special – salad pasta and entrée – all together totaled $9.75.  This was a top quality authentic Italian lunch for a bargain price. 

The girlfriend and I left Zia's absolutely convinced we needed to return to the Hill soon.  The only problem is which restaurant do we try next?  One thing is for certain:  Zia's has earned a spot on my short list of go-to Saint Louis restaurants.  Who knows, maybe I'll have the opportunity to try their food truck on my next trip there.   

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