As a kid, every time we stopped at a fast food restaurant on long road trips, I morphed from whiny eight year old into mad scientist. I would sidle up to the pop machine, Jumbo Cup in hand, unable to choose just one of the many dazzling options before me. So, time and time again, I would choose them all.
Every meal meant filling my cup with a spritz of 7Up, a hefty dose of Orange Drink, a dash of Cherry Coke, plenty of Sprite, and a sprinkle of Dr. Pepper to top it all off. As the foam subsided, my carbonated concoction slowly mixed together and I was left with a greyish-green concoction that looked like it could degrease engines. It tasted about the same.
So at the private "soft opening" of Piada, State Street's newest restaurant, I should have known better. Instead, I sidled up to their Italian soda machine, a classy ceramics-and-metal fixture straight from the set of a Wes Anderson movie, and proceeded to ruin each flavor of fancy beverage by mixing in another.
The result was sweet, bubbly, and, unsurprisingly, a little weird. Fortunately to make up for my beverage misadventures, everything else at Piada was on the mark.
Piada, a fast casual chain bringing “Italian street food” to everywhere from Texas to Minnesota, is kind of like "Chipotle" for Italian food: fast, delicious, nutritious, and endlessly customizable. Following a city-wide marketing campaign that enticed students with free meals and invitations to an exclusive “Soft Opening” party, the restaurant was buzzing with interested new customers getting their first taste of "Italian street food."
A large menu near the door greets customers and directs them towards a long order counter. Guests then choose between a piada (think flaky Italian burrito), a tasca (a smaller and lighter piada), pasta, or a salad. Then, just like at Subway or Chipotle, customers personalize their order by choosing ingredients one-by-one or selecting from an assortment of specially-arranged flavors. The ingredients on tap are all fresh, delicious, and uniquely Italian: choices range from sun-dried tomatoes to pancetta to parmesan cheese, hand-grated on the spot.
For my first Piada experience, I went with the set menu and chose the “Diavolo” Piada. The Diavolo Piada had plenty of flavorful, tender steak wrapped in their pleasantly soft flatbread and accompanied by lettuce, sauce, and a bit of parmesan.. It was tasty, but I look forward to adding my own spin on it next time with the variety of tasty-looking cheeses and add-ons. The sauce was strong, heavy, and a little spicy, something to be enjoyed in small amounts rather than large dollops.
And what’s a proper Italian restaurant without pasta? Piada’s pasta is colorful, and available across plenty of classic Italian dishes. The Pasta Carbonara packs a generous portion of noodles into a bowl overflowing with bruschetta tomatoes, cheese, pancetta, and spinach. As sides, Piada offers several different pasta and grain salads, from quinoa to orzo (pictured above). The orzo was cool, light, and delectable, the perfect complement to the hearty piada wrap. The delicious side was peppered with nuts, seeds, berries, and greens, then drizzled with a little olive oil that smoothed out the flavors.
All Italian cuisine, from street stand to downtown restaurant, is beloved for one more thing: luscious, decadent desserts. What could Piada possibly add to centuries of finale tradition, from tiramisu to artisanal gelato? An American twist, of course. This came in the form of their "Cannoli Chips," an updated version of the Italian classic that brings fried swirls and a heavenly chocolate-chip sauce to the traditional cream pastry.
Piada bills itself as a healthy alternative to traditional fast food options, and while this is certainly true, there’s more to the experience than fresh ingredients. On the corner of Anytown, U.S.A. (or in this case, State and Liberty), Piada brings more than just quality food back from the chef's trip to Italy: the restaurant is introducing students to some old-fashioned Italian indulgence, updated to modern American tastes. Mangia!
Piada (311 S. State St, next to Walgreens) officially opens for business on April 1, 2016. SHEI Magazine traveled to Piada’s soft opening as guests of the restaurant.