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Rick Lopez set to reopen La Tavola

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Kahiki. Tapatio. La Tavola. They’ve all long closed up shop, but longtime Columbus diners keep them alive with vivid memories of these institutions. While more recent transplants to the city may never get a chance to experience Kahiki’s dry ice cocktails or Tapatio’s legendary bread, one establishment from recent history will allow a second chance. This autumn, Rick Lopez (of Knead fame, and pictured here in the previous La Tavola space) will reopen his former Powell-based, chalkboard-menu, Italian cafe at 1664 W. First Ave., across from Grandview Heights Public Library. Crave writer Jill Moorhead spoke with Lopez about what to expect from his restaurant reincarnation.

Can you tell us about the original restaurant?

It was in Powell, right where the Galaxy Cafe had been, by the shooting range. We were there from ‘99 to 2006, when we moved down to Riverside. La Tavola reflected the neighborhood; it was a hangout for the neighborhood. People would eat there three of four times a week. Everything was homemade. Homemade pasta, risottos, bread. I started getting into curing, doing sausages and pancetta. It was real casual. I remember someone saying that we were a gussied up cement block building. It wasn’t much to look at but everyone loved being there. And that’s what we’re going for in Grandview.

What inspired La Tavola?

La Tavola is the term for “family dinner.” It kind of became our family restaurant. When we got married, we went to Italy for our honeymoon. When we got back, we opened an Italian restaurant and it became like family.

What can you tell us about the new location?

I really like it. We actually looked at putting Knead there. It’s not the main drag. It’s a destination, but it will, in my opinion, be a part of the community and have that feel like a little Italian restaurant would. We’re going to put a little patio outside and the dining room will seat about 60. It used to be a sausage place in the ’50s. The kitchen is big, so I will be able to all kinds of stuff in there.

Like what?

Stuff I started to do at Knead. Getting back to making salumi (charcuterie) and finocchi (fennel salami). I plan on working with the whole animal. The menu is going to be uniquely European. We’re not going to have a menu, it’s going to be all on chalkboards. I’m going to do all the cooking myself. I’m going to be focusing on every dish that comes out of the kitchen.

Who are you hoping to appeal to?

Being in Grandview, there’s lots of family, so I’ll have lots of family meals so people can come get big platters of what I’m cooking that day. There will be carryout and reasonable prices, as well.

What’s going to happen with Knead?

Knead is going to continue. We found our audience. We may do more stuff with tacos. We found that if you utilize a lot of braising meat in the tortilla, it’s delicious. A girl that’s been working with us—Courtney Nielsen—is going to train under me. She’s sort of been running it for the last couple months. She’s taken over the back of the house, and it’s in good hands. I feel very good about it.

How far along is the process of opening La Tavola?

It should be September or October. We have to get a wine license on the ballot in November, so if that passes, we won’t have wine until January. We’re in the process of getting a beer license transferred in. We have a little bit of woodworking to do. We have the equipment. I’m crafting the booths.

So you’re doing the build out yourself?

I’m always hands on. We have a guy building two 10-foot tables out of reclaimed barn wood. We’ll have booths for privacy and tables as well. We want these big communal tables. In Grandview, people run into each other. They can gather and eat together.

–Jill Moorhead