- 12220 Shelbyville Road, Louisvil, KY, 40243
- Overall User Rating:
- (2 ratings)
- Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday, 9-9; Sunday, 11-4.
- Official Web Site:
Long before the thermometer hits 90, most of us have given up soup for the season – except for the cool comforts of gazpacho. But at ZiaLaLa Café – which calls itself a “Latin Café with a European Flair” – the Italian Wedding Soup is truly a soup for all seasons – a bowl so addictive that even when the heat index is well into triple figures I crave it enough to drive all the way from Old Louisville to Middletown no matter the blazing heat.
Venezuelan-born Xiomara Bussio (Zia, for short), the chef-owner of ZiaLaLa, says that every region of Italy has its own take on Italian Wedding Soup, and that hers comes from Rome. She sautés onions and garlic, then adds spinach, carrots, a few other veggies, some fresh herbs, and carved sections of dense, flavorful meatballs. Then, at the very end, she marries all the ingredients with a dose of cream. The result is a light, rich, yellow broth flecked with little beads of olive oil. It’s a soup that comforts the eyes, tickles the nose, and tastes good enough to trump any heat wave ($2.50/$3.50). Zia says her gazpacho is just as good, and if I can ever get my fill of that Italian Wedding Soup, I plan to find out.
The soup is pretty representative of the ZiaLaLa experience. The dining room is small, but spiffy, with a chipper Latin sound track, a comfortable mix of seating that includes soft upholstered chairs, a pub-style counter, and back room for private parties (or overflow from the front dining room), glass cases filled with exquisite pastries, racks of freshly-baked bread (with aromas guaranteed to whet your appetite as soon as you walk through the door), cheery, colorful signage that gives the place a well-polished, contemporary feel.
Customers order at the counter, but on our visits staff members (and Zia herself) have brought the finished dishes directly from the kitchen to the table. And some dishes they are. The menu includes soups, salads, sandwiches, pastas, pizza, empanadas, and arepas – the moist rounds of cornmeal stuffed with savory fillings that are popular in Venezuela and Colombia. There are a handful of Latin breakfast items (like a medialuna, the Latin version of a croissant stuffed with ham and cheese, $2.50), a few attractive options for kids (including three pasta dishes that ring the tab at $3.50 or less), and some beautiful sweets.
The pizzas – individual portions in the form of long rectangular slices on paper-thin, house made crust – are crisp and savory ($5.5-$7). Sandwiches – egg, chicken, tuna salad, and eh like, served on wheat bread with a tangy house-made mayo are fine. And if you prefer a crisp sandwich from the Panini press, there are several offerings suitable for omnivores or vegetarians (including a very fine Panini Caprese ($7) stuffed with fresh mozzarella, tomato, spinach, and a sublime basil pesto). And in a thoughtful deli touch, a flex menu ($6.49) lets diners mix and match soups, salads, and fruit cups with half portions from the sandwich, pasta, and empanada selections (which means you can pair the Italian Wedding Soup with pretty much any object of appetite).
You could pair it with any one of several empanadas, fried crisp and finished to fine shiny glaze (Chilean-style with ground beef, raisins, chunks of hard-boiled egg and ripe olives; Venezuelan-style with shredded meat, onions red peppers, and cilantro; or Bolivian-style with chicken, potato, green peas, egg, and green olives, or more, all $3 each.).
If you prefer the lush texture of an arepa, the kitchen will fill them with a cool, refreshing chicken salad (house-made mayonnaise, green peas, carrots, and slices of avocado), chunks of pork, or pulled beef and yellow cheese (each $3). For a lovely light meal at an extraordinary price, you might select the Pollo a la Brasa ($7), a thick, perfectly moist chicken breast that’s been marinated in garlic, roasted, and slathered with a hefty dose of basil pesto; it comes with white rice, a pleasant scoop of salad, and a stack of plantain chips (for the same price, a similar dish features chunks of beef, skewered and grilled with onions, red peppers, and mushrooms).
And once you set foot in ZiaLaLa, it’s unlikely you’ll leave without grabbing a tart, pastry, or cookie of some sort – but if the dessert case happens to include a supply of flan, go for it, and bring your meal to cool, creamy finish.