First look: Z Italiano serves scratch cooking at Southdale

It's not fancy, but it's a step up from some other mall options.

It's not fancy, but it's a step up from some other mall options.

Just about any time you drop in to Z Italiano at Southdale, you will find owner Zach Saueressig in the dining room, stopping by every table to ensure that diners are enjoying their food, check on service, and make friends (and repeat customers) as he goes.

He’ll point out the photos gracing the walls. There’s one of the family farmstead started by his great-grandfather. His cousin, who is also his business partner, is the fourth generation to work the farm. There are pictures of his three daughters, as well as the one-room schoolhouse his father attended.

Zach Saueressig honed his hospitality chops working as a general manager for restaurants like Green Mill, Granite City, and hometown heavy-hitter Parasole. Now he's running the only non-chain, local, and family-owned restaurant in the Edina mall.

Z Italiano is a casual spot serving pizza, pasta, salads, and sandwiches. Saueressig was working at Salut in Edina when he got a call from the general manager at Southdale. The mall was looking for a local business to fill the vacant space formerly occupied by California Pizza Kitchen.

After a few minor redecorating tweaks, Z Italiano opened in November 2015. If you’re a creature of the mall who remembers California Pizza Kitchen, you’ll have a sense of déjà vu when you enter the restaurant. Indoor awnings decorate the exterior of the restaurant, just down the hall from the movie theaters, although the color has changed to Z Italiano’s signature purple. Inside, the bar is gone, but the comfortable booths remain. Strings of purple lights twinkle across the ceiling.

The menu features familiar Italian favorites like creamy fettuccine Alfredo and gnocchi with marinara sauce, mushrooms, asparagus, and mozzarella. Diners can design their own pizza, or go with one of the restaurant’s combinations like the BBQ chicken, an homage to California Pizza Kitchen topped with barbecue sauce, chicken, two types of cheese, onions, and cilantro. Salad lovers have plenty of options here, including a Caesar, chopped Italian, and turkey cobb. The meatball sandwich holds half a pound of meatballs.

The purple awnings beckon shopper to Z Italiano at Southdale.

The purple awnings beckon shopper to Z Italiano at Southdale.

Will this food transport you to a sidewalk café on a plaza in Rome? No. But it is a step up from some other mall options. And with all entrees priced under $15, you won’t break the bank, even if you enjoy a glass or two of wine as well.

Even better, go for the recently added happy hour from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, when all appetizers are $4 and personal-size pizzas are $5 and $6. There’s also $1 off wine and beer. Or take advantage of the dinner and a movie deal: Show a ticket stub and get a free appetizer or dessert when you purchase two entrees.

Saueressig calls the food “Italianesque.” He originally wanted to call the restaurant Pseudo Italiano, but investors talked him out of it. You won’t find any of the currently trendy crudo on the menu, or fancy craft cocktails. What you will find is scratch cooking that meets Saueressig’s goal of serving good food at a good value.

That focus has sometimes gotten him dinged on social media by people expecting something more upscale. Saueressig reaches out to customers who write unflattering reviews on sites like Yelp, inviting them back on his dime. He’s a realist, and he knows that in the restaurant business it’s impossible to please everyone, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to try.

Z Italiano

Southdale Mall, Edina