Food blindness

The sandwich that stole my heart: Yes, you should drive to east Asheville for this humble yet delicious Italian sandwich. Max Cooper
The sandwich that stole my heart: Yes, you should drive to east Asheville for this humble yet delicious Italian sandwich. Max Cooper

Readers, Xpress has been blind. For nearly four years, a local, affordable, family friendly restaurant has gone nearly unreported. I'm not really sure why we haven't written about Piazza in east Asheville. Shortly after it opened in 2009, we mentioned it here and there, but we’d not written a full feature.

Piazza offers a glorious, no-frills lineup of spaghetti bowls, sandwiches, Italian-inspired entrees and pizza from a wood-fire oven. I ate lunch there as research for the sandwich article in this issue (tough job, right?), but it seemed to deserve more attention.

In a very simple and accessible way, everything about Piazza is impeccable. It's the kind of concept that's been streamlined so admirably it could survive in any city. A diner could take it for granted, enjoying dinner there a couple of times a month without making a fuss over it. It's slick and clean and obviously well-managed, and the economy that the business practices gets passed down to diners in the form of entrees that start at $2.99. Yes, you can eat a bowl of whole-wheat spaghetti tossed in butter and Parmesan cheese for $2.99 (real Parmesan, not the blended stuff — I checked).

Its understated excellence comes as no surprise. Chef Reza Setayesh owns Piazza as well as Rezaz in Biltmore Village, where he's known for Mediterranean flavors with global twists. But he created Piazza with completely different intentions. He lives near Fairview and wanted to build a nearby restaurant where he could take his family for simple food. “I want things that kids will be comfortable with, nothing obscure,” he says. “It's really comfort food.”

So while Piazza is completely different from Rezaz — it's more casual and the price point is significantly lower — it benefits from its relationship with the fine-dining spot. “We buy through the same purveyors for both restaurants,” Setayesh says. “It's quality at super-affordable prices.”

Piazza is very clearly a neighborhood pizzeria, and you won't find many surprises on the menu, but the execution of the dishes and the service are comparable to Rezaz. I confess: I dropped my spoon. I reached to pick it up, but manager Roberto Mulas was already there with a fresh utensil. I have dropped a lot of silverware, but never has my clumsiness been met so briskly. Did Piazza upcharge for Roberto's attentiveness? No. I paid $6.99 (plus tip, of course) for my sandwich, which came on perfectly toasted French bread with a variety of toppings and house-made aioli, plus a generous portion of crispy, well-seasoned fries.

Readers, I do not write reviews. I do not critique restaurants. And while I clearly was impressed with Piazza, I'm not making any judgments as a gastronome. I simply hope to correct a lapse in Xpress' coverage that has gone on for almost four years. I thought you should know about Piazza. Please let me know which others we have missed by sending an email to food@mountainx.com.

Piazza, 4 Olde Eastwood Village Blvd. (off 74A), opens Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 'till. For more information, visit piazzaeast.com.

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