It's like Chipotle ... except, kinda Italian. As in, there's pasta in your burrito.
That's not going to be for everybody, though some national chains that specialize in the piada — often called an Italian quesadilla or tortilla — have proven that, say, linguine does have some appeal outside the pasta bowl.
The good news at Gloni Italian Street Food is that you can opt to build your piada or mini piadas (three smaller flour tortilla wraps) sans pasta. Or, as at the ubiquitous Mexican grill, you can also design a salad bowl instead of a foil brick.
And for those needin' more noodle, a pasta bowl, to which various sauces, proteins and toppings may be added, joins the menu offerings at Gloni. (Pricing is based upon protein choice, ranging from $6.65 to $7.95.)
The Chipotle comparison grows even stronger when you consider the counter-ordering style, in which one walks the line to construct a creation with a friendly helper.
Considering that the previous incarnation of this space — TK's Mongolian Grill, whose owner took on partners and rebranded to this new concept in early May — was also an affordable build-your-own, not that much has changed except for the Asian-to-Italian swap on the seasonings. Cubed steak and chicken chunks are, after all, blank culinary palettes. Not to mention that register receipts still say TK's and a mess of furniture in one corner of the sparsely furnished eatery speaks to only a minor interior facelift.
(But, please, clean that pile up: An untidy clutter heap in the dining room makes one fret over the cleanliness of the kitchen.)
When we reviewed TK's in summer 2010, we met logistical flaws and chewy proteins; an unmemorable, middle-of-the-road-ness prevailed. Two years later, I can say the sautéing and frying have become more competent, as evidenced by soft shrimp, tender beef, moist chicken, slightly toothy vegetables and properly under-chewy calamari with a crisp shell.
The egg drop soup was good back then, and now a tomato basil bisque ($4.25) is serviceable, while a house-made lobster bisque ($4.75) is actually damn good: rich and creamy with decent meat hunks and actual lobster-stock depth.
Touches of ho-hum-ness do remain. For instance, the words "hot" and "spicy" get misapplied to the Hot Pomodoro and Diavolo tomato sauces, which are otherwise agreeably chunky and herb-flavored. And save for a very fennel-y Italian sausage, most of the meats taste nothing like what they supposedly were seared in: rosemary, garlic, lemon, etc.
All the flavor and punch really enter the picture with the saucing and topping selection.
For instance, if you place basil pesto in a pasta piada with chicken, adding toppings of sautéed zucchini and mushrooms, raw spinach leaves, black olives and bacon crumbles, as I did, you should be pretty happy. The pesto's bright, bacon is bacon, and it's a gut full of food for $6.85.
Gloni, quite literally, is what you make of it, or can make of it, with the starring Italian sodas ($1.89 to $2.09) still not in stock two months after opening. The place is still average overall, but better than TK's and at least offering novelty with its hand-held pasta shtick — even if the finished product does remind you of Chipotle.