BR owner offers big-city contemporary bistro

BR restaurateur provides big-city contemporary bistro

In his most recent restaurant venture, Louis DeAngelo has created an establishment he calls Zolia Bistro and Enoteca specializing in dishes with a fresh, contemporary flair served in an light-filled atmosphere in the heart of old downtown Baton Rouge.

“What I’m trying to do here is offer a different type of dining experience, with the decor, the environment, the energy all a part of the event. I want this to be more of an overall experience for the diner, rather than just coming in, ordering a big plate of food and leaving,” he said. “We have customers who stay, eat and chat and relax because they’re enjoying the atmosphere, along with the food.”

Located on the ground level of II City Plaza, an 11-story office complex at Fourth and Convention streets in downtown Baton Rouge, the place features a crisp, minimalist decor with a long glass wall overlooking a courtyard terrace planted with palm trees and bamboo. A bar of polished granite is situated at one end of the room with sofas and lounge chairs nearby. Photographs and several large abstract paintings by DeAngelo’s father, Lou DeAngelo, provide splashes of color to the muted hues of the d├ęcor.

“People invariably tell me the restaurant reminds them of places they’ve been in L.A. or Dallas or D.C.,” De Angelo said. He added that “enoteca” is Italian for wine bar.

Since its December 2011 opening, Zolia has developed an enthusiastic clientele that includes downtown professionals, empty-nesters and diners who come to enjoy the restaurant’s lighter, refreshing approach to food. A wine buffet and tapas tasting is held each Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

As chef, Brant Palazzo heads up a culinary team of 10 who create their dishes in a long, narrow kitchen space open to the restaurant area, adding an energetic vibe to the dining experience. The restaurant can seat up to 125 diners.

In describing the restaurant’s food style, DeAngelo cites three major factors: using the freshest ingredients, offering selections different from those served at other places and providing an unusual touch of flavor to each dish that comes out of the kitchen.

“Everything we serve here has a unique flavor, everything is different,” DeAngelo said.

Two of the chef’s most popular tapas selections are Shrimp on a Hot Tin Roof and Carpaccio. The Hot Tin Roof dish consists of six large shrimp served on individual triangles of grits cake in a sauce of a reduction of Tin Roof amber beer.

The Carpaccio has slices of paper-thin beef tenderloin served with slices of Pecorino Romano and Sicilian tomato relish, Other customer favorites are the crostini with wild mushrooms, goat cheese and roasted garlic; smoked salmon dip served on a crostini with butter lettuce, and grilled shrimp tacos with mango and fruit chutney.

The lunch menu lists a variety of salads, paninis, wraps and sandwiches, along with a soup du jour such as crab and Brie or a sweet potato soup with a hint of bourbon. Three or four off-the-menu specialty items are available daily.

For take-out, Zolia’s offers boxed lunches such as a chicken Caesar wrap, smoked salmon salad or turkey croissant sandwich. Zolia’s fare is in the mid-price range, with luncheon salads starting at $5, paninis vary from $7 to $12 and wraps are in the $8 to $11 category.

At night, tapas start at $6, crostinis at $9 and salads at $5. At night, tapas, salads, antipasto boards and crostini open sandwiches highlight the menu.

Zolia’s serves lunch Monday through Friday, and lunch and dinner Wednesday through Friday, starting at 11 a.m. A brunch with live jazz is served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Sunday. It is closed Saturday except for private functions.

The restaurant has become popular for private functions such as wedding events, cocktail parties and seated dinners. DeAngelo says an upcoming event will be a reception at the restaurant featuring a second-line jazz stroll following a wedding ceremony at nearby St. James Episcopal.

Palazzo specialized in baking and pastry at the Louisiana Culinary Institute in Baton Rouge, at which he earned an associate degree in 2010. One of his specialties, and a customer favorite, is the blueberry bread pudding with white chocolate, blueberries and lemon rum sauce. Other dessert offerings are the cocoa lavazza, warm chocolate espresso cake, tiramisu and New York-style cheesecake.

De Angelo, a native of Bayonne, N.J., began his restaurant career at the age of 19 with the opening of a small pizza eatery in Hammond Aire shopping center in 1991. In addition to Zolia Bistro, DeAngelo operates three restaurants in Baton Rouge, plus restaurants in Prairieville, Central and Denham Springs.

Mike Wampold, a Baton Rouge developer, is a partner in the downtown restaurant.