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Put the napkin in your lap and pull up to the table with Eau Claire's Hungry Italian as he provides the area's only true Restaurant Review.  Don't have another family night ruined by poor service.  Find the perfect spot to take that special online someone on the third date that has romance commingled with value.  

EATING ESTABLISHMENT   Za51

DINING DATE   Friday  August 9th

MEAL TIME     Lunch

ATTENDEES IN PARTY   2  (1 adult, 1 child)

TOTAL BILL  - $23

Ordered   The Gondola

ENTREE   

Reputations are like lights placed in the ceiling of your stairways and we all know what I’m referencing.  Those recessed lights that are beautiful but upon moving in you quickly realize you should never turn them on for when they do go out there is no physical way to replace them.  Either you place a ladder on staircases and do the sign of the cross or you’re searching the depths of the internet for a handyman and…

I digress, regardless reputations are hard to change and Za51 may be experiencing that. The Palzkill family has been in the local restaurant scene for a while with Draganetti’s and the Taverna Grill (which closed as they shifted to this property).   Za51 opened in River Prairie about a year ago, it’s opening delayed due to a staff shortage that is affecting many industries in the region. Nonetheless, this locale in River Prairie serves up pizza, sandwiches and pasta courses in a modestly sized shiny dining room and a comfortable outdoor patio.  Unfortunately, early reviews were less than stellar from those the Hungry Italian knows who provided patronage to this place and seemed to focus their disapproval on the service.

Poor service to a meal is like having a woodpecker standing atop an aloft Hot Air Balloon. Rarely is the experience good regardless of everything else.

For example, a well-intentioned fundraiser for a stricken local ballplayer held last Fall should’ve been a great marketing opportunity for Za51. A portion of the proceeds were being donated to this young man’s medical needs. Alas, Hungry Italian acquaintances and co-workers reported ghastly wait times. Some walked out before meals arrived and others had to get meals bagged after waiting nearly an hour.  Za51 undoubtedly noticed the downfall and with experienced restaurateurs overseeing sought to fix but that impression sticks and the reputation is that Za51 has poor service.

Subsequent visits by friends came back with reports of the same. Painfully slow ticket times. The food itself may be good, but it’s not good enough to compensate for the ticket times.

The Hungry Italian figured it was time to try on his own and a few months back went, despite warnings from associates that he’d likely never be seen from again as the meal takes too long and he’d likely just disappear.  In actuality, it was a decent experienced.  Despite it being a Friday and lunch time, the Hungry Italian was one of only two tables and perhaps that’s why the service was quick.  The meal itself was decent.

So, the Hungry Italian returned in August for another Friday lunch and this time brought his young son. With outstanding temperatures, we dined on the patio with five other tables (the inside was empty).  The patio is very comfortable with an excellent overhang and quality view of River Prairie. The inside is also swanky with a dark, yet very light-filled area. It almost has a “hotel bar” feel too it and that is a compliment.

The experience went downhill though.  The server came by with a frown that would depress even Mr. Rogers.  She took our drink order and upon returning the Hungry Italian asked for a straw which wasn’t included. The server promised to bring a straw shortly after taking our order but after taking the order no straw was presented for more than 10 minutes!

As a side note, Za51 doesn’t provide straws.  What you get if you ask for one is a cocktail straw which is very unsatisfying and a noteworthy knock on the place.

The server stopped by just once to check on drinks then fetched the straw when reminded about it. Meanwhile, nearly 20 minutes passed before the entrees arrived and judging by the other tables it was a similar wait.  The entrees ordered didn’t need extravagant assembling unless the cooks in the back were handmaking every single individual pasta noodle per order.

We received our bowl of kid’s buttered noodles and a sandwich called “The Gondola” which featured Italian deli meats such as salami and a side of throat dehydrating salty potato chips.

The buttered noodles, sprinkled with cheeses, was a tremendous hit.  As for the Gondola, it was okay. Not bad but not great other.  The issue is, the palate was deadened by an inattentive server and pathetically slow ticket time.  A sandwich and cup of noodles shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes and if so constant attention from the server is necessary.

Not all wait times are equal. Waiting 15 minutes one place feels different than 15 minutes at another and it all comes down to service and attention. 

All in all, Za51 has an enviable location but it is getting labeled as a place with poor service and that’s a reputation that is hard to change. The Palzkill family relies heavily on word of mouth when it comes to their restaurants which is fine but that strategy cannibalizes your bottom line if that word of mouth isn’t good. 

SECOND HELPING Not likely for a while.  Pathetically slow, inattentive service makes lunch a difficult proposition and there are too many other better dinner options in River Prairie alone.

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Eau Claire, WI  54701

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