COLUMBUS' OWN PATRIARCHS OF PASTA
Written by Amelia Jeffers
Photography by James Henthorn
Columbus. In a city named for an Italian explorer, one might hope to discover a sublime plate of pasta or encounter an adventurous take on favorites from around the boot. Look no further than one of the city’s best restaurants, Z. Cucina di Spirito in Grandview for its “new Italian cuisine”. While 2015 marks Z. Cucina’s ten-year anniversary with celebratory events scheduled for this fall, more recent accolades are reason to pop the bubbly a little early.
Earning the top spot as the number one restaurant in Columbus on TripAdvisor is no small feat, but this is exactly what Z. Cucina has accomplished. Owner, Rick Ziliak graciously acknowledges this badge of honor, while emphasizing his commitment to maintain the same level of quality that allowed “Z” (as it is locally dubbed) to rise above nearly 1,900 other area restaurants. “Our goal from the beginning has been to make guests feel comfortable,” says Ziliak. His deep-rooted hospitality is apparent in all aspects of the restaurant- from its welcoming modern vibe to the proprietor’s chatty demeanor and constant visibility.
Likewise, the seasonal, chef-driven menu strikes a friendly balance between classic and modern Mediterranean dishes, with an emphasis on Italian cuisine. Traditional fritto misto, lasagna Bolognese, and other Italian classics are featured alongside a section of moderne oferings. Executive Chef Jamie George is given the freedom and creativity to utilize ingredients not commonly associated with Italian cooking- like sweetbreads or short ribs- bringing a nouveau twist with a local fair. Much of the kitchen’s produce is sourced from quality central Ohio growers, such as Folsom and Pine, Wayward Seed, and Toad Hill Farms.
Since opening in 2005, Z. Cucina has earned an impressive reputation as a “made from scratch” restaurant. Fresh pasta ranging from ravioli to gnocchi is made on a daily basis, while house- made salumi and sausage are found on charcuterie small plates or incorporated into main dishes. The cheese is also churned out by hand, including homemade ricotta for the tortelloni, buttery burrata, mozzarella, and feta for other Mediterranean-inspired dishes. Te Insalata di Spinaci and Lasagna Bolognese are the classic standouts.
If scratch pasta and cheese isn’t enough, all of Z’s bread and desserts are made in-house. Whether sipping homemade limoncello liqueur, shoveling down the handcrafted gelato, or going straight for the tiramisu and butterscotch panna cotta, your sweet tooth is sure to be indulged. Although many of the dishes change seasonally, these tried and true dessert items have been on the menu since day one.
When asked what led Rick Ziliak to the restaurant world, he reminisced about his formative years with his brothers, daydreaming about turning their childhood home into a restaurant that served momma’s home cooking. But he also noted that the foray into food came after his first career incarnation as a drummer touring with a band. When the musician-turned- restaurateur stepped into the restaurant business, he was no stranger to the hospitality industry, as his older brother, Don might well be Columbus’ own Patriarch of Pasta.
Don Ziliak and his wife, Carolyn, opened Pastaria at the North Market in 1993, followed by Pastaria Secunda in 1998 and Sarefno’s Pizzeria and Italian Deli in 1995, forming a triumvirate of Italian eateries that have withstood the test of time and changes in the Short North. It’s no surprise that Don has come to be known as the “Godfather of the North Market.”
Pastaria, Ziliak’s fagship store, is the go-to place when a craving strikes for homemade pasta and sauce. Carry out pre- made dishes like chicken Parmesan or three-cheese lasagna and your dinner will be as if nonna made it. Pastaria Secunda, a purveyor of Italian groceries and specialty items, is that market stall where shoppers stand with nose pressed against the counter, faced with an impossible task of deciding which colorful ravioli or heaps of fresh pasta to order. Or just have a wander around the market with a slice of New York style pizza pie from the family’s third location, Sarefno’s.
In the spirit of forging new business in the burgeoning Gay Street corridor, Don Ziliak opened the appropriately named Due Amici, which translates to “two friends,” with business partner Jef Mathes on New Year’s Eve, 2003. Te menu showcases the diversity of Italy’s cuisine, as Chef Michael Fairchild brings innovation and modernity to Italian classics.
The historic building’s brick-walled cocktail bar combines with the restaurant’s lively atmosphere to give Due Amici a distinctly “big city” feel. Brunch, live jazz, dining al fresco on the patio, and an extensive wine list boasting a wide selection from Italy and beyond adds another level of appeal to this already chic restaurant. Twelve years later, it remains one of the anchor restaurants in this downtown neighborhood. Longevity certainly runs in the family, and with plans for more restaurants, the odyssey continues for Columbus’ patriarchs of pasta.
This article was originally published in the September/October 2015 issue of Sophisticated Living Columbus.
Click here for a recipe from Z. Cucina
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