Strati Wild Italian unites the Pasta Partners

Me and my friend Beth in 2006. HOLY CRAP, THAT WAS NINE YEARS AGO.
Me and my friend Beth in 2006. HOLY CRAP, THAT WAS NINE YEARS AGO.

When I was a student at Western Kentucky University, my friend Beth and I dubbed ourselves Pasta Partners. The name came from our affinity for the pasta station in the dining hall in Garrett Conference Center. The student newspaper office was located in this building, which meant I spent more time here than any location during my undergraduate education.

The dining room was in the basement of Garrett. The pasta station was located right between the door and the cash register at the end of a half-circle of meal stations. The Pasta Ladies were suited up in stained white chef’s jackets and hats to match. Their demeanor was more lunchroom lady than Top Chef.

The Pasta Ladies had their system down. They squirted oil into a skillet and plopped in a small spoonful of garlic to begin each order. They scooped the meat and veggies we wanted for our pasta from black plastic containers nestled in ice. Penne noodles went in next, followed by a ladle of marinara, alfredo sauce, or a combination of both for the adventurous among us. Once the Ladies tossed everything together over their individual burners, they slid the pasta onto black plastic plates and sprinkled a handful of cheese on top of it all. A hearty helping of carbs got Beth and I through many long afternoons and evenings in the newspaper office.

Several years later, Beth and I have rekindled our partnership at Strati Wild Italian, a fast-casual Italian restaurant at 1702 Bardstown Road (where Sitar Indian Restaurant used to be). The setup calls upon our collegiate carbo-loading days but expands on the little pasta station we loved. The concept is similar – customers at Strati can build their own small or large pasta dish from the viewable selection of pasta shapes (cavatappi FTW), meat, veggies and sauces. Small pans are stacked on a big hot plate near the beginning of the line. The cooking of the pasta and vegetable prep happens in the back kitchen, which leaves a Subway-like assembly line behind a sneeze guard at the front of the house. I didn’t mind waiting a couple of extra minutes for fresh pasta to cook in the back kitchen – it appeared that the selections out front were purposefully small to ensure constant freshness. Employees are friendly and patient when they walk newbies through the pasta-creation process. And if you freeze with so many options before you, there is a selection of  pasta dishes that the restaurant has put together on the menu.

A selection of fresh veggies and at Strati Wild Italian.
A selection of fresh veggies and at Strati Wild Italian.

Strati also has wraps and salads if you’re so inclined. However, it would be a shame to bypass the build-your-own pasta option. I made a creation with a spicy marinara, chicken and plenty of vegetables that was a little bit heavenly, mainly because I got to choose exactly what I wanted. Add a tiny bottle of wine ($3.99), and a small pasta order ($7.29) made for a satisfying weekend dinner.

A small pasta bowl at Strati Wild Italian. And yes, it pairs well with a little bottle of wine.
A small pasta bowl at Strati Wild Italian. And yes, it pairs well with a little bottle of wine.

I was inherently biased to like Strati – the same folks responsible for Wild Eggs opened this restaurant, and I, indeed, love me some Wild Eggs. Fortunately, the company’s commitment to fresh, friendly service has spread to this latest offering, and the restaurant gives Beth and me a reason to get the band back together.

Strati Wild Italian

1702 Bardstown Rd., Louisville

More information: Strati Wild Italian’s Facebook page

The $10 Challenge: Cafe Lou Lou

In light of my personal recession, I’ve started giving friends the gift of food – specifically, taking a loved one out for a birthday dinner.

This was the case this week when my buddy Samantha and I took our friend and roommate, Susie, to Café Lou Lou on Bardstown Road to celebrate another year of being awesome. Fortunately for me, Susie is a big supporter of Ashlee Eats and was excited that her birthday meal could be the subject of a $10 Challenge. This one’s for you, Suz.

I had never visited Café Lou Lou until friend and reporter Joe Lord wrote about the restaurant  in Velocity, the weekly Louisville tabloid for which he writes. In the article, Joe discussed his love of the chicken portabello wrap, a “rich and tangy” dish that is “big enough for two — a great deal at $10.25.”

You had me at “great deal,” Joe.

The restaurant’s menu offers an unusual but successful blend of Italian fare and Southern favorites with deep Cajun influences. The appetizer menu alone bounces from New Orleans (shrimp and grits for $8.50) to the Mediterranean (hummus and pita for $6.50; a platter of hummus, plaki, bruschetta and muhummara for $10) and back again (chicken wings with hot sauce or Jamaican-style for $8).

The variety is inspired by chef-owner Clay Wallace time in New Orleans (Lou Lou = Louisville/Louisiana), according to food writer Robin Garr at Louisville Hot Bytes

Thank goodness the chef made his way back to the River City.

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