Monday, March 9, 2015

Monday, March 9, 2015

la pizzeria | local restaurant spotlight

When I was brainstorming ideas for featuring local businesses on Eco Cajun, I thought of one restaurant first: La Pizzeria. I have known owner Christine Mhire since we were in preschool at age 4. Over the years, there were many sleepovers, 'N Sync singalongs, IMs and classes together. For a few months in college, we worked together at a local video rental store (I still remember the time we tried to kill a wasp with half a container of 409. It did not work.)

Over the years we've kept in touch, and I knew I wanted to share her story.



La Pizzeria opened in Lafayette 15 years ago, and Christine purchased it in 2013, at the suggestion of a relative who was friends with the original owner. She always dreamed of owning a local restaurant, but didn't imagine it would happen so quickly. "I've always known that I wanted to own my own restaurant, but definitely not this early in life while still raising young kids. When I was given this opportunity, it only made sense that it was time for me to buy my own and operate it, since I had been running other people's restaurants for so long," she says.

Christine's no stranger to the industry, having been in the restaurant business for 13 years and graduating from UL Lafayette with a double bachelor's degree in hospitality management and marketing. "I started out bussing tables at Posados when I turned 16 and eventually worked my way up to general manager. I've literally worked every position imaginable in this business: busser, host, bartender, grill cook, prep cook, dishwasher... I've done it all. I ran Posados like it was my own restaurant and during my time there, learned everything I could ever need to know to run my own restaurant," she recounts.

Restaurants, especially local ones, build up a loyal following. Some patrons were afraid that with the new ownership would come a new menu or recipes, but Christine says they didn't need changing. She wanted to keep its roots the same. And those patrons are her favorite thing about running the restaurant. "My passion is food and I LIVE to serve. The customers here at La Pizzeria are seriously the best customers ever," she says.


My boyfriend and I celebrated a very belated Valentine's Day (think March...we sad, yeah!) dinner together at La Pizzeria to get a taste for the fresh, local produce and seafood.


I started off with a glass of Chianti, while Phillip had a sweet tea. Cheers! Another bonus are their Wine Down Wednesdays! House wine is only $1 each Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Can't go wrong with that!


Christine places a focus on locally sourcing the restaurant's produce, seafood and meat. "I think it's important, as it puts money back into our community and supports other local business owners," she states. "We choose 100% pure meat with no fillers from a local slaughterhouse. We literally drive to the country every week to pick it up." 

It took us a veritable 20 minutes to look over the menu and decide what we were going to eat. In the meantime, we went for the Shrimp Ai-yee! Louisiana shrimp are fried and tossed in a homemade Cajun Power jalapeno pepper jelly. Um, anything that has Cajun Power in it, I will eat! The sauce was perfectly tangy and spicy and delicious. The shrimp were gone in approximately 45 seconds and held us over as we finally made our choices for dinner.


After looking at and contemplating some of the many calzones, pastas and sandwiches, we finally decided on splitting a 12-inch Shrimp Pesto pizza. It was a serious toss-up between that one and the Crab Amore pizza (I mean seriously, white wine sauce and Louisiana lump crab meat...ohhhh, Lawd.)

The handmade-from-scratch-daily crust was topped with a pesto sauce instead of a traditional red sauce, and was loaded with seasoned Louisiana shrimp, black olives, roma tomatoes and garlic. My boyfriend is Picky McGee, so we did half with olives and half without. Gimme all da olives. The flavors were light but vibrant and we scarfed our slices down. We each took two slices home (hello, lunch the next day!)


We each got a side salad to go before the pizza; garden for me (and look at all the vegetables up there!) and caesar for Phillip. FYI, the lite Italian vinaigrette is one of my new favorite dressings of all time. I didn't finish my salad before our pizza came (I'll blame the fact that "Boston" by Augustana, one of my all-time favorite songs was playing at the time and I may or may not have sung along), and I went back to eating the salad after I finished my pizza slices. It was that good.


La Pizzeria is also vegetarian and vegan-friendly, as many items are meatless and you can substitute veggie cheese for a small upcharge. Gluten-free? No problem! No need to sacrifice a dinner out because of your dietary preference; La Pizzeria has got you covered.


Behind the scenes, Christine focuses on recycling and saving cooking oil, plus she's interested in learning more ways to go green. Being sustainable is a great bonus for a business, especially one that places importance on fresh, local ingredients.

We had very attentive and cheerful service all evening and enjoyed a pleasant evening out at a great local business. One thing I always say about Lafayette is that there's really no need to even visit a chain restaurant because of the abundance and caliber of local restaurants. We aren't known as the Tastiest Town or Best Food Town for nothing! 

Christine's ultimate dream for La Pizzeria is to be able to do exactly what they are doing now for a very long time. "With the opening of new chain restaurants happening every day here in Lafayette, it can be quite intimidating for a small business owner. But I know that if I continue to give top notch service and put out consistently fresh food, I will continue to thrive. My goal for La Pizzeria is to soon open a second location on the north side of town."

And for the record? Her favorite dish is, hands down, the chicken marsala. "No one's allowed to talk to me when I'm enjoying a chicken marsala... its just me and the marsala!"

When you're looking to dine out, always aim to choose local! You won't reget it.

Visit La Pizzeria online and on Facebook.

La Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

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