5525 New Albany Rd. New Albany, OH 43054 (614) 775-0181
After accumulating six decades of experience in the restaurant industry between them, business partners and friends Vern Blazek, Jack Illig and Mike Unnone decided that it was time to open up their own venue. All three hail from established, successful Easton restaurants, but having reached a crossroads in their careers, they realized that they wanted to and were capable of founding and operating their own independent restaurant chain.
Mia Cucina, which translates to the very appropriate “my kitchen” in Italian, is a family affair for the trio. Blazek and Illig’s wives work at the restaurant, and executive chef Unnone’s dishes are inspired by his Italian grandmother’s recipes.
Mia Cucina is what New Albany desperately needed: an upscale casual restaurant that is extremely family-friendly. It’s convenient and quality, homey and classy. Two New Albany women, Julie Butler and Susie Puleri, undertook the interior design for free, a kind of J.Crew/Crate and Barrel hybrid, and it works. Dark browns, creams, yellows and hints of green abound. And the food—it’s Italian, but lacks the kind of heaviness and density that most associate with pasta and pizza. Chef Mike Unnone uses fresh, local ingredients and carefully calibrates each dish to perfection.
The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner every day of the week except Sunday. Early on a Thursday night, when the restaurant had been open for only several weeks, the parking lot was already packed—a good indication that New Albany residents are fans of the new eatery. Don’t be afraid to linger in the restaurant, they won’t shoo you out. Mia stays open until the last customer leaves. And if your dinner does become drawn out, the sauces hold up to the test of time. As our party became distracted by conversation, the plates of food in front of us looked just as fresh as when they had been served to us, an hour before.
Mia Cucina is in the Giant Eagle Shopping Center off of New Albany Road. Oddly, it’s one of only a handful of restaurants in New Albany. The three co-owners have expansion on the mind to other parts of Columbus soon, with a Dublin or Powell location on their radars. There’s nothing else like it in the area, with Easton the closest locale for upscale-casual dining.
The meal began with a liquid starter course via the Sycamore Lane Merlot. It should be noted that the wine at Mia Cucina is hardly above the state minimum pricing. This, in itself, is one good reason to keep to the suburbs for dinner instead of dishing out the price of a bottle for just one glass of wine downtown.
For a more solid appetizer, we went with the Crab Cakes and Italian Green Beans. The Crab Cakes are, well, to-die-for. They’re not exactly what you’d expect from an Italian place, but we’re not complaining. The cakes are served with a spicy aioli sauce that might have you reaching for a slice of Mia’s sourdough country bread from the basket in front of you. The Italian Green Beans are covered in a light tempura and just cooked through. They come with a pepper corn dipping sauce and marinara.
We couldn’t go Italian without pasta, but even after trying four pasta entrees, we didn’t feel like gluttons—Mia’s pasta isn’t heavy. We started with the Tortellini Carbonara, tri-colored cheese tortellini with pancetta, onions and an asiago cream sauce. Just a taste wouldn’t suffice—we couldn’t keep our hands off of this one.
Next, we tested out a classic that one rarely orders when they go out: lasagna. The Lasagna Bolognese is not a lot of things: it’s not 10 layers thick, it’s not runny and it’s not generic. It comes from the chef’s grandma’s recipe, and it’s a reminder that good lasagna does exist. The Pasta Diablo came next: penne pasta with a spicy tomato cream sauce and grilled chicken. The “devil pasta” had a kick, but it was heavenly. And the pasta conquest ended with another classic-done-right: the Shrimp Scampi. In an attempt to balance the carb-loading, we nibbled on the Mia Chopped Salad between forks of pasta—it’s 100% better than the salad served at another notorious Italian chain.
And to veer from all-things-pasta, we dove into the Pan Seared Sea Scallops. The half-dollar diver scallops are hard to forget, and the bed of orzo rice that they’re served with is delicious. Also, Mia Cucina’s pizzas are unlike any you’ll find in Columbus. Unnone tested 16 different doughs before he settled on the one that is just right. It’s yeasty and thick, and the sauce is a result of Unnone’s quest for perfection. We tried the Mia Cucina Specialty Pizza with pepperoni, homemade meatballs, sausage, banana peppers and mushrooms. The cost is below what you’d find at a pizza chain, but the flavor of these pies are not even in the same league.