"Back when we started, casual Italian restaurants were all the rage," says Reggio, the New Orleans native of the group, which opened its first Semolina in 1991. "But we said, 'Let's not just do the typical red, green and white sauces. Let's do an international twist on Italian.'" The concept was a hit. Dishes like Pad Thai, Pasta Jambalaya and Mac and Cheese Cake quickly became favorites and resulted in a strong local following.
In 1997, the Taste Buds -- whose fitting moniker refers to both their culinary interests and their longtime friendship -- introduced Zea Rotisserie & Grill, which has four locations in the New Orleans area. In 2006, they opened Semolina's Bistro Italia, a more upscale, designer version of Semolina with sleek, contemporary interiors and a broader selection of wines. "We describe it as Semolina on espresso," says Reggio.
Meanwhile, Semolina restaurants have their own renewed appeal, thanks to new menu offerings. "We're excited about the new life at Semolina," says Reggio. "We still have a core of great pasta dishes, but we also have more center-of-the-plate dishes like Veal Daub and Pork Milanese."
The Buds credit the success of their ventures to the fact that they bring complementary skills to the table and to the fact that they are still passionate about the restaurant business. They develop every new dish themselves and are committed to using fresh, quality ingredients, including indigenous favorites like crawfish. Semolina's Annual Crawfish Fest, now underway, is a draw to established mudbug devotees and novices alike. On March 30, festival fans also can enjoy samplings of the popular fare from Semolina's Bistro Italia and Zea Rotisserie at the Louisiana Restaurant Association's Sixth Annual Taste of the Town event at Lafreniere Park.