Life has changed for this food writer. As a brand-new mom, poppin’ bottles has taken on a slightly different meaning. While I find myself seeking out diaper changing tables for the first time ever, I’m still on the hunt for all the awesome happy hours, exciting menus and H-town icons. Only now, I’m bringing my baby, Quinn, along with me. This "Whining and Dining" series looks at dining out with a baby in the city (more specifically, In the Loop, because Quinn doesn’t like to travel too far from home just yet).
Get to Piola before 7 p.m. and you’re golden, kid or no kid. You’ll find primo choice of seating — we were the first on the patio after arriving around 6 — and the tail-end of happy hour. With my baby, Quinn, just shy of the two-month mark, the kind server pulled a chair away to make room for us and we parked her stroller right next to the table. Before the server had a chance to pull himself away, my husband Dave and I ordered two happy hour glasses of wine at a very reasonable $5 a pop (and that goes for any glass on Piola’s wine list, not just the house red and white).
We settled into our Nero d’Avolas and mindlessly looked over the menu for 30 seconds before realizing we pretty much have a set game plan, here. For us, that means starting with the Roka Cabana salad and adding fresh ricotta to whichever tried-and-true pie sings to us that day — this time, it was the Diavola, a spicy salami number.
Quinn still hasn’t made a peep, by the way. Even when our server came by to drop off bread, extra-virgin olive oil (pro-tip: ask for the spicy kind) and balsamic vinegar. And still, no sound out of her when he brought back crushed red pepper, oregano and parmigiana so we could build our own unctuous olive oil creations to dip our carbs in.
In fact, we made it through the entire dinner with her straight-up napping, thanks in part to Piola’s speediness and our willingness to shove the salad on top of the pizza, and then shove all of that into our mouths. Side note: We met a nice family with teenagers at the table next to us. They had come in from The Woodlands to check out the Houston Escape Room, located right around the corner from Piola, and needed to be out of the restaurant by 7. It was 6:45 when they sat down to order. Against all odds, they, too, finished their meal on time. Something to look forward to...
But back to the food. The Roka Cabana is one rockstar of a salad (I often recreate it at home and try to pawn off as my own). A mosh pit of milky fresh mozzarella fior di latte, diced ripe tomatoes and brightly colored bell peppers, peppery arugula and toasted pistachios come dressed in a pomegranate vinaigrette and towered in a way I haven’t quite mastered in my kitchen. And the pizza. Piola’s is as authentically Italian as you’re going to get in Houston, as the worldwide franchise was born in Treviso, Italy. There are around 40 iterations to choose from, each in the form of a perfectly thin crust that gets crisped in an open-fire brick oven in a matter of minutes. Ours arrived blistered with blankets of gooey mozzarella, creamy ricotta cheese and a solid stack of fiery pepperoni cups.
I hear Piola hosts a “Gnocchi Day” — featuring all-you-can-eat gnocchi in a bunch of different sauces — on the 29th of every month. Looks like Quinn and I will be back soon.
TL;DR: The service and food are quick, making Piola a choice spot for dining with a baby (and kids). Split a pizza and a salad if you’re dining for two (and tack on tiramisu if you have the appetite).
Kid-Friendly Dining Essentials
Parking: Parking garage off Milam, street
Seating: Indoor and outdoor, high chairs available
Bathrooms: Private with changing table
Kids menu: No
Piola, 3201 Louisiana, 713-524-8222
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