Dubliner and I Took The Craic on the Road to Piada

Spending time with Dubliner is a glorious respite from the routine. Whether we’re swapping swooning stories or getting caught up on the latest news about our families, our travels and our professions, our conversations are always filled with plenty of laughter and good cheer. Nicest of all, Dubliner always has an encouraging word and a compliment to send my way both via e-mail and in person, and I savor these thoughtful treats in between our visits.

Dubliner taught me a name for these enjoyable conversations, and it’s no surprise that it comes from our shared Irish heritage. Most times, we enjoy “the Craic” at local restaurants like Oscar’s, the Brazenhead and the Rusty Bucket. Recently, we took the Craic on the road to 1315 West Lane Avenue and made our first visit to Piada Italian Street Food.

Reading Columbus Business First prompted me to suggest that we give this fast-casual, Italian eatery a try. While several restaurants are following the build-your-own-dish-at-the-counter trend modeled by Chipotle Mexican Grill, Piada appears to be developing it with success, and at a meteoric pace.

Chris Doody, the restaurateur who co-founded the Bravo Brio Restaurant Group with his brother, Rick, in 1992, sniffed out a good thing while traveling in Italy. Recognizing how the trend of quick-service, inexpensive meals crafted from healthy, quality ingredients was catching on in fast-casual dining, he decided to introduce Ohioans to a product called the piada.

Also known as a piadina, this Italian thin crust dough is brushed with oil and herbs, then baked to puffy perfection on a stone grill. Finally, the flatbread is hand-rolled with an array of authentic Italian ingredients arranged inside.

The Lane Avenue location was the first, opening in September 2010. Since then, other Piadas have popped up in Bexley, Gahanna, Hilliard, Easton and Centerville. Two are in Dublin. Worthington, North Canton, South Euclid, Hyde Park and Mason will welcome Piadas in the near future.

Following Piada on Twitter offers clues to its customer service philosophy. For Halloween, customers were invited to stop by in costume to receive a free piada. Earlier last month, Facebook followers could enter a chance to win free piada for a year. Another recent giveaway featured a drawing for a swag basket filled with a Piada t-shirt, Piada gift cards, Piada wine glasses, a carafe and Piada ping-pong balls.

My curiosity about Piada grew when Doody shared his restaurant-industry successes as the keynote speaker for Business First’s Fast 50 awards in October. As part of the team who started the Fast 50, an event that recognizes central Ohio’s 50 fastest-growing businesses, I know that my friends at the paper are good at spotting success stories. According to Doug Buchanan’s report of the event, Doody credits his success to focusing on the details. Moreover, he designed the restaurant on a cocktail napkin on the plane on the way home from Italy. As I read, I decided it was time for me to see one of Doody’s quotes that was tweeted during the event — “We’re passionate about food and we’re passionate about service” — in action, for myself.

Before Dubliner and I stepped up to the stone to place our order, we first debated whether we’d try a piada, a bowl of angel hair pasta, or a chopped salad. Then, we decided whether we wanted some sautéed vegetables and what grill item sounded best: calamari with hot peppers; chicken seasoned with rosemary, garlic and lemon; a crispy chicken fritte prepared with parmesan and herbs; Italian sausage featuring fennel and herbs; steak fixed with rosemary, garlic and lemon; or salmon infused with garlic and lemon.

The decisions didn’t stop there. Next, we were presented with a variety of six different sauces from which to choose. Hot sauces included a crushed tomato and basil pomodoro; Diavolo, a spicy blend of tomatoes, garlic and chili peppers; and parmesan alfredo. Cold sauce choices were a roasted bell pepper and garlic pesto; a fresh basil pesto with parmigiano reggiano; and a creamy parmesan with herbs and garlic.

And then came the moment I’d been waiting for – the time to pick which of the colorful array of seasonal fresh vegetables we wanted to finish off our creations. Was it ever an outstanding selection! We chose from artichokes, arugula, black olives, bruschetta tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, mushrooms, Peppadew peppers, red onions, romaine, spinach, sundried tomatoes, herbed white beans and tomato basil relish. Feta cheese, fresh mozzarella balls, shredded mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, and pancetta offered a final finishing touch.

To accompany your selection, Piada serves additional sides like an artichoke spinach dip and pepperoni, parmigiano reggiano and artichoke breadsticks. If you’re in the mood for soup, Piada dishes up tomato basil, Italian wedding and lobster bisque. You can wash down your piada or pasta with Italian sodas and teas, San Pellegrino sparkling water, Aqua Panna spring water, Peroni beer and wine. If you’re still hungry, Piada offers cannoli chips with chocolate chip ice cream for dessert.

While Dubliner opted for a piada packed with pasta, salmon and vegetables, I chose a smaller piada stuffed with pomodoro sauce, both kinds of mozzarella and just about every kind of the vegetables, accompanied by a side salad tossed with balsamic dressing. As my grandfather used to say, it tasted like more.

If, like me, you subscribe to George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, it’s a challenge to put away a piada in good company without making a huge mess. Living up to my “Jackie O” nickname that a colleague gave me after he said I ate a huge piece of chocolate cake at an office party in the most elegant manner he’d ever seen, I smiled victoriously when Dubliner praised my ability to enjoy my piada without ending up wearing most of it. It might be a good idea to track down a lobster bib or wrap up in one of your grandmother’s linen tea towels before you visit Piada. Maybe Mr. Doody should consider including with each order a stylish bib adorned with the Italian scooter that’s synonymous with Piada.

Piada’s interiors are as pristine and artfully arranged as its attractive array of carefully chopped, colorful toppings. Its white-brick walls adorned with artful black-and-white photographs, sturdy polished wood chairs and long, streamlined counters reminded me of the restaurants I admired in Italy.

Where do you meet your friends for your version of the Craic? Do you order a signature dish? Do you frequent a place because of its owner, or its regular patrons? Have you won an eating challenge of which Adam Richman would be proud? “Until we eat again,” as the sign on Piada’s front window says, I’d love to hear what your favorite local restaurants are.

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