Pasta Zola in Eden Prairie

Natalie Champa Jennings / Heavy Table

Midlife crises stereotypically take the form of a new car, hair plugs, or a steamy love affair with your mixed-doubles tennis partner. But for Mitch and Kris Thayer, it came as a new quick-service restaurant called Pasta Zola, open since November in Eden Prairie Center’s second-floor food court. Seriously. As Kris wrote in a recent email to Heavy Table: “We are 50-somethings, with no prior experience in the food business (crazy!) who have left the corporate world (yah!) to bootstrap a new concept (REALLY crazy!).”

Crazy, perhaps, but the Thayers could have stumbled upon a worse concept when deciding to enter the culinary world. Because really, who doesn’t like hot, fresh pasta? (Pipe down, Atkins followers. Your day in the sun is long gone.) We sampled four pastas during a recent lunchtime visit, and while not blown away by any particular dish, we had a tasty, filling lunch that didn’t drain our wallets or our blood sugar.

Natalie Champa Jennings / Heavy Table

Unlike perennial pasta favorite Noodles, which offers a set menu of dishes, Pasta Zola allows customers to mix and match their noodles (corkscrews, rigatoni, whole wheat penne, and cheese tortellini) with a variety of sauces, ranging from a mild red sauce, marinara and Bolognese to a five-cheese blend and an Alfredo that can be “infused” with flavors like pesto, roasted red pepper, and roasted garlic ($4.25 / small, $5.25 / regular). Meatballs, Italian sausage, chicken, ham and peas, bacon, or sauteed vegetables can be added for $1.99 / each. A couple of salads and breadsticks round out the menu, but the focus is on the pasta.

Natalie Champa Jennings / Heavy Table

The macaroni and cheese with corkscrew noodles didn’t have the depth of flavor of other mac and cheeses in town (the smoked gouda version at The Herb Box comes to mind), but the smooth sauce settled snugly into the ridges of the pasta, ensuring every bite was hot and cheesy. The sweet and tangy marinara paired well with sauteed vegetables for a dish that seemed as healthy as it was hearty. If only those veggies had been mixed throughout the cute Chinese take-out box holding the noodles – then they wouldn’t have disappeared with those first bites. The cheese tortellini, which costs $1 extra, tossed with Alfredo sauce, ham, and peas was so appealing that my dining companion kept eating long after she was full. And the hefty meatballs offered enough bulk and flavor to another meal that leftovers became necessary.

The pesto fusions also add a nice kick to the Alfredo sauce, particularly the roasted red pepper and roasted garlic variations. The garlic isn’t so strong that you’ll be mistaken for a vampire slayer upon returning to work but still offers the spice garlic lovers crave, and the roasted red pepper lends a touch of sweetness to the rich sauce. You can order your pasta as part of a value meal with a breadstick and soda, but skip it – the soft, limp breadstick had nothing going for it. Get a small side salad or just pile the veggies onto your pasta for some added nutrition.

Whether Pasta Zola succeeds is up to the hungry patrons of Eden Prairie Center, but when faced with the option of dining at McDonald’s, LeeAnn Chin, or Pasta Zola, the answer is a no-brainer. Freshly tossed pasta should win out over Big Macs every time.

BEST BET: The corkscrew pasta with roasted red pepper-infused Alfredo sauce ($4.25 / $5.25).

Pasta Zola
Eden Prairie Center #2320
8251 Flying Cloud Dr
Eden Prairie, MN 55344
952.454.1432
OWNERS: Mitch and Kris Thayer
HOURS:
Mon-Sat 10am-9pm
Sun 11am-6pm
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $4.25 (small), $5.25 (large); add meats and veggies for $1.99 / each

Natalie Champa Jennings / Heavy Table

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Jill Lewis

The great-granddaughter of an Eastern European Jewish baker, Jill Lewis cannot escape her genetic predisposition to carbs. Her love of baked goods, wine, cheese and chocolate may not come in handy for her day job as a Twin Cities PR professional, but it proves infinitely helpful for her gigs as a contributing writer for The Heavy Table and the co-author of the Cheese and Champagne blog. A former resident of Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin and suburban Washington, D.C., Jill now lives with her husband, two young sons and cat in St. Louis Park.

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5 Comments

  1. Looks just like the Mezzo di Pasta chain I saw all over France’s cities a couple of years ago. Just similar, or is this the American name of the same franchise?

  2. It’s not a franchise – it’s an independently owned restaurant.

  3. I think Pasta Zola is scrumptious, and I always go home with leftovers for lunch the next day. Supporting a locally-owned restaurant feels fantastic, and it is by far the best restaurant in Eden Prairie Center. I recommend the Pesto Fusions, especially with the veggies on top. The boxes make it easy to mix the veggies in if you desire. Delicious!

  4. this restaurant business model has failed in multiple markets. what makes this different?

  5. Sounds pretty delicious if you had a dining companion who couldn’t stop eating her Alfredo tortellini long after she was full!

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