The moment you enter this vibrant Italian restaurant, a friendly graciousness embraces you, while smiling faces welcome you. It’s an open, airy space with hanging light cylinders in red, blue, green and yellow. A small bar stands by the entrance. There is an outdoor patio in front.
Piola’s mainstay is pizza with dozens of tantalizing combinations of crust, cheese and toppings from which to choose. The t-shirted servers are enthusiastic and eager to describe all the possibilities. The huge menu also includes pasta, salads, meat entrees, desserts and specialty drinks.
All Piola pizzas are made from homemade dough, with a recipe from Italy. Most pizzas have the traditional thin crust, but their Neapolitan style has more dough and thicker edges, and the Light Pizza has a Focaccia style crust.
There is a choice of cheeses, and the menu even has a Piola Glossary that describes them:
Mozzarella Fior di latte: premium mozzarella made from fresh pasteurized cow’s milk.
Mozzarella di Bufala: super premium mozzarella made from fresh water buffalo’s milk.
Grana Padaono: Italian specialty cheese aged for 16 months.
Catupiry: cheese made by the first Italian immigrants toBrazil, now a Brazilian staple.
And there’s also Brie, Ricotta, and smoked Mozzarella.
There’s also an abundance of unusual and tempting toppings and a variety of signature pizzas. Studying the menu, Dennis discovered the Napoli, with anchovies, olives, sun dried tomatoes and basil. It was all his absolute favs on a thin crust pizza with Fior Mozzarella.
Marilyn always has trouble making decisions. No surprise, that with so many incredible taste-tempters, she was completely overwhelmed. She finally settled on the Como, one of their featured thin crust pizzas with Porcini mushrooms and Proscuitto Crudo (Proscuitto also known as Parma Ham, comes fromItaly after curing for up to 24 months.)
After we ordered, a waitress passed our table carrying a Roka Cabana salad. Spotting this enticing, colorful dish, we knew we had to have one of our own! It’s a Turkish-Italian layered salad, served on a board with arugula, fior mozzarella, diced tomatoes, yellow peppers, and pistachios. What made it really special was the pomegranate dressing. It looked simply beautiful and tasted oh-so-fresh and delicious.
Even Piola’s drink selections are abundant and special. There is an ambitious selection of beer, wine and fruit juices. But when another waitress passed carrying glasses bursting with fresh fruits, we asked about them, too. This place is a non-stop trip of colorful, tasty choices and we loved it. The drinks were another Piola feature, called Caipirinhas and Caipiroskas. Caipirinha is Brazil's national cocktail. It is made with rum called Cachaça, sugar and lime. Most rum is made from molasses. Cachaça results from the fermentation of sugar cane juice that is distilled, giving the alcohol a distinct earthy flavor. Caipiroska is a variant of Caipirinha that uses vodka instead of Cachaça. Both drinks are mixed with fruit juices and crushed mixed fruits.
True, it was only 12 noon, but Marilyn HAD to try one of these, and Dennis, who never touches anything alcoholic during the day, tasted Marilyn’s and ordered one, too. There are even choices at Piola when ordering this drink – red fruit, yellow fruit, and green fruit. These drinks were yummy, a little like Sangria, but taken up a few notches.
When our pizzas arrived, we were on cloud nine. Thin crust, properly “burnt,” hot and heavenly. Practically straight from Italy. In fact, Piola’s origins are from Treviso in northern Italy and the brothers who own the Houston location are from southern Italy. A lot of places make pizza and many owners are Italian, but Bruno and Michele are making authentic pizza, the same as you would get sitting down at any ristorante in Italy. This is what separates Piola from other places, it’s the real deal!
Dessert at Piola was the perfect ending to the perfect meal. Flat out, their Tiramisu was one of the best we’ve ever had. The Profiteroles were so scrumptious, we wanted to order more to take home. Oh, wait a minute – they’d melt. Now you can understand why, even while we were still there, we were planning our next visit!
The 29th of every month is All-You-Can-Eat Gnocchi Night, homemade, of course. This event is based on an ancient Italian tradition after a priest arrived at a home in Italy on the 29th and discovered that all the family had to eat was gnocchi (potato-based pasta). After the priest left, the family found gold coins on their plates. Thus, that day became known for luck and prosperity through the year. Piola celebrates the occasion with a variety of sauces and special monthly T-shirts on the 29th that their wait staff wears and customers can buy.
The Piola business model transcends the traditional restaurant as just a place to eat good food. There are monthly events and rotating art exhibits that lend a modern, cosmopolitan ambiance to the restaurant. Piola Magazine is the official publication of the Piola Brand. It is up to issue #21, which we got to read at the table. It was hip, colorful and appealing for it’s blending of food and culture in the unique way Italians have of accomplishing this sort of thing.
Italians celebrate family as well as food, and that Piola is a place for everyone was clear on our visit. Across from us was a table of families with many kids, all happily diving into their food. Behind us were three men all speaking Italian, and on the other side, a table of four women giddily gabbing and grazing. Other tables had couples, who must have guessed this was a wonderful spot for a casual, but delicious date. It felt like one big happy family. Not surprisingly, the word Piola, in ancient Italian dialect, means “meeting place.”
Bruno and Michele, the brothers who own the Houston franchise of Piola are originally from Abruzzi, Italy. Neither had been in the restaurant biz before, but Bruno, a 13 year resident of Houston, was visiting Miami, Florida and discovered Piola there. Realizing Houston didn’t have any authentic pizza places like Piola, they contacted Piola corporate back inItaly, where Michele still lived.
Piola is an international operation started by two brothers fromTreviso,Italy. In about twenty years it has expanded to seven other countries. There are ten restaurants in the states, includingNew York,Florida,North Carolina,Virginia andTexas.
Now two more brothers have taken up the calling of pizza baking at its highest level. Yes, the food and drinks are first rate and yes, the restaurant is cozy. But much more important – a smile, hug or handshake from Bruno and Michele, upon entering or leaving, tells you that you are part of la familigia Piola. Given this formula of fine food, friendliness and family, it is easy to predict a long and delicious run.
PIOLA: Famosi per Pizza
3201 Louisiana St.
Houston, TX 77006