By Jamie Cohen
The corner of East Main and King streets harbors an intimate Italian bistro: Luigi’s Diner. The Diner is one of the many Madison restaurants associated with Food Fight Inc. and has a comfortable atmosphere that is casual but upscale.
With a hand-painted mural of an Italian scene on the cream-colored walls, classy wooden floors and many tables for two, my initial thoughts were that Luigi’s would be a suitable place for a first date.
Prices are reasonable and the service is excellent, but the restaurant’s unique dinner menu seemed like a risky business move.
While I love to experience exotic concoctions, those with simpler tastes will be easily swayed to dine at more traditional Italian establishments right around the block, such as Tutto Pasta and Café Continental.
As a starter, the minestrone soup ($1.99) lacks flavor. The soup is filled with chunks of tomatoes and hearty vegetables, but the broth tastes watery. The dinner-size Caesar Salad is a better choice. Fresh salad greens are topped with grated Parmesan cheese and mixed with just enough dressing for flavor but not enough to drown the dish. Large homemade croutons accentuate the taste.
A basket of wheat and whole grain baguettes accompany all starters. The baguettes are crisp on the outside and warm and soft on the inside. The waiter pours olive oil in a plate for dipping.
Luigi’s Ravioli ($7.89) is very different from the traditional dish. Pumpkin is baked and mixed with caramelized onions and stuffed inside mini pasta sheets. Smothered by a buttery brown sauce and sprinkled with Gorgonzola cheese and pine nuts, the dish is a tasty treat, but the ravioli drowns in a puddle of oil and the sweet pumpkin flavor is overwhelmed. The dish has potential, but make sure to request light amounts of oil or none at all.
The Athenos Salad ($7.69) is better. Fresh mixed greens are topped with sliced grilled chicken breast with tomatoes, red onions, garbanzo beans, and feta cheese. The platter tastes like a hybrid of Greek and Mediterranean salads. The roasted tomato vinaigrette dressing is delicious, but asking for it on the side would be a smart decision. The salad inevitably soaks up the excess dressing from the bottom of the plate.
The lunch menu is more appealing than the dinner menu because it appeals to simpler, more traditional tastes. Thin crust pizzas are available in 10 and 14-inch sizes, and toppings include the most standard (mozzarella cheese) to the most exotic (shiitake, crimini and white mushrooms).
The lunch menu also has a decent selection of calzones and sandwiches such as Mama Luigi’s Meatball Sandwich ($6.29), Pepperoni Focaccia sandwich ($6.59) and the Italian Sub ($5.89). Luigi’s would benefit from having these menu options available after lunch hours. By incorporating more sandwiches on the menu, they may draw more of a student crowd.
I was not widely impressed by Luigi’s menu, but I would consider stopping back for their take-out pasta dinners. Take a night off from cooking by calling in Mama Luigi’s spaghetti and meatball pasta dinner for two ($10) or four ($20). If the cost is split, the massive proportions amount to about $5 per person for a hefty spaghetti dinner.
Not too shabby. The dinners also come with a loaf of bread. Other than that, Luigi’s just isn’t anything special.
Have a great summer!