Valentine hearts dance around a sign announcing "Lola's" outside of a tiny restaurant in Gahanna. That image is not only timely, but fitting, considering the abundant love that clearly goes into the food served inside of Giuseppe and Lola's Trattoria.

Valentine hearts dance around a sign announcing "Lola's" outside of a tiny restaurant in Gahanna. That image is not only timely, but fitting, considering the abundant love that clearly goes into the food served inside of Giuseppe and Lola's Trattoria.

With its quaint curtains, cute little chandeliers, and huddled-together depictions of Italian culture's greatest hits, Lola's could pass for the parlor room in your favorite -and quirkiest - aunt's house. Well, if your aunt was a terrific scratch cook whose comforting Italian cuisine (Giuseppe, a.k.a. Joe, is Italian) was sprinkled with a touch of Cajun love (the head chef is from Louisiana) and sweetly kissed with a hint of France (that's the family homeland of dessert-making Lola, a.k.a. Joe's better half).

Speaking of matrimony, say "I do" to Lola and Joe's Wedding Soup ($5/bowl). It married herby handmade mini-meatballs, generous chunks of tender chicken breast, teeny pasta Os and just enough greens for show in a silky, real-deal poultry broth fortified with veggies and pecorino cheese - talk about hot wedded bliss.

A perfect union was also created in an off-menu shrimp and bean appetizer (Gamberoni e Fagioli, $9). Five sweet, smoky-grilled shrimp were perched atop a lovely, olive-oil-rich, warm salad of cannellini beans, kale and garlic that required extra house bread (soft, toasted, pungent with garlic butter) to sop up every last bit.

Chilled greens likewise bonded together happily in the Sicilian Salad ($5). A large glass bowl overflowed with fresh produce like chopped romaine, spinach, roma tomatoes, salty good black olives, cubes of feta, marinated artichoke hearts and red onions. The DIY dressing on the side was an assertive balsamic emulsion that pleasantly held its own on the veggies.

Even more impressive was the entree-sized Tuscan Chicken Salad Italiano ($10). It had most of the elements of the Sicilian salad but also arugula, bits of sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and a wealth of very tender, lemony chicken breast. Perfectly coating the merry melange was a "creamy pesto dressing," which tasted like a great creamy Caesar (a rarity) with a pinch of basil.

Like lasagna? If so, you'll love both Lola's meat version ($12 - with a base of believable-enough Bolognese sauce topped with pockets of creamy ricotta, big chunks of ground sirloin, an unusual faint sprinkling of thyme and rich red sauce) and the absolutely fabulous Vegetable Lasagna ($10). The latter was dairy-rich and positively exploding with wonderfully roasted and intense-tasting veggies.

The nightly fish special (Trota Pugliese, $22) also elicited oohs and ahhs. A piece of skin-on, delicate trout was filled with a Creole-spicy, bready stuffing holding chunks of lobster and crabmeat. The pretty fillet was sheathed in ruffles of paper-thin potatoes and gloriously crowned with a brilliant fusion of pesto and lemon.

By the time I got my crispy, creamy, chocolate-lipped homemade cannoli, I knew the whole life stories of the meet-and-greet - and greet again - Joe and Lola. I left feeling like family.

To read G.A. Benton's blog, and for a complete guide to Central Ohio restaurants, visit ColumbusDiningGuide.com