People who come from Akron love Luigi's. It's really that simple. I guess that makes me a complicated man.
I've eaten here twice before and each time I walked away feeling unimpressed. When I told my Akron friends about my mediocre experiences, they asked me what I had ordered. Both times I had ordered a pasta dish. "PIZZA!" was what they would cry out at me. "They are known for their pizza and THAT is what you must order the next time you go back." So today, having nothing better to do for lunch, I decided that Luigi's would be my dining destination.
Located at 105 North Main Street, Akron, OH 44308, they can be reached at 330-253-2999. For those who know where Chrissy Hynde's The Vegiterranean is located, Luigi's is essentially across the street from that. After writing out that last sentence, I am amused by the sense of irony in the fact that when The Vegiterranean first opened, I used to tell people it was across the street from Luigi's. But I digress.
The one thing you need to keep in mind if you decide you want to partake in a meal at Luigi's is timing. Even during non-meal hours, Luigi's pretty much packs them in. I arrived today at around 1:15 PM or so and was seated in an already full room. As patrons would finish up their meals, the tables were cleared and wiped and immediately filled with new patrons. During peak meal hours, the line for a table will literally be out the door and up the street.
Here was a shot of the front of Luigi's:
Here was a shot of the front door, listing the hours of operation:
I'm guessing that part of Luigi's attraction were the late hours that would appeal to the bar hoppers and other night owls that peruse Akron's streets at 3 AM. Being that the University of Akron is only a short drive away, go in late at night and you'll likely find many college students, some sober, some not, filling their gullets with good and filling Italian fare.
After being seated at a small table for two, my server left me with a menu:
A couple of things to know about Luigi's. First, they only accept cash and checks. Fortunately, they have an ATM inside the actual restaurant, but I can't imagine what kind of "convenience" charges most people would agree to at 3 AM when they realize they don't have enough cash on them to pay the bill. Second, be careful about the little details, like adding cheese to your tossed salad. These little extras can add up quickly.
After placing my order, a complimentary basket of Italian bread was brought to the table:
The basket included warm pats of local Sumner's butter. The bread itself was fresh and had a nice interior crumb:
I've been served better bread at Italian restaurants, but this one wasn't bad either. With my bread came the Garden Salad I ordered without the extra cheese:
Consisting of Iceberg lettuce, a single tomato wedge, some thinly shaved radishes and a few scattered canned black olives, this was barely what I would consider a good value at $3.00. If you decide to get the shredded cheese option on top, the price of your salad jumps to a whopping $4.55. You do get a lot of cheese (too much cheese, in my opinion) for the extra $1.55, but unless you're a true cheese-head, I'd skip the option and sprinkle on some of the grated Parmesan cheese that is already sitting on the table.
Luigi's only offers one dressing for the salads, the house dressing:
A combination of oil, vinegar and spices, this dressing really lacked the nice acidic punch I like my dressings to have. I minimally dressed my salad like I normally would and the salad just lacked any sort of seasoning. After adding Parmesan cheese from the shaker and another round of dressing, I ate about half of the salad before my pizza finally arrived.
You have your choice of two sizes of pizzas at Luigi's, small and large. A small is just a little bit larger than a Pizza Hut Personal Pizza and is cut into four slices. A large, from what I could tell, is fairly consistent with large pizzas from other restaurants and is cut into eight slices. Today I decided to go with a basic cheese and pepperoni pizza. Here is a shot of my pizza:
And a shot of a piece of the pizza on the plate:
This was a good pizza. A very good pizza in fact. The cheese had a nice complexity to it, tasting like it was a blending of several cheeses. The made-from-scratch tomato sauce was rich and had a nice acidity to it. The homemade dough Luigi's uses for it pizza crust was nice and cooked well, but it didn't really blow me away. The pizza was the thicker style (but not too thick) that most Northeast Ohioans are used to when they eat pizza. Probably my favorite example of this style of crust is the one they use at Ermanno's Three Guys Pizza in North Canton. The cost of this four slice pizza? $7.35. Hmmm ... a bit disconcerting.
Why disconcerting, you ask? One of the benefits of running a cash only business is that you can help to keep costs lower. That usually means you can then pass those savings on to your customers. The prices at Luigi's seem to bely this fact. Even if their menu items were priced comparably to other similar restaurants, it would still be worrisome to me. But, I suppose if you are one of the very few places open late at night, you have a somewhat captive audience. If you then start to make your customers crave the taste of your food, you can pretty much charge whatever you want. And based on the number of customers who filled the restaurant today at 1:30 PM, they've done a marvelous job.
Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy my pizza today for lunch. Additionally, were someone from out of town interested in going, I'd be happy to tag along. For whatever reason, Luigi's just doesn't hold the mystique for me that seems to have enchanted an entire town of people. While Luigi's is clearly a wonderful example of a successful local mom and pop style restaurant that has really found its niche, there are at least two other pizza joints I can think of where I would spend my pizza dining dollars first.
In conclusion, if you want good homemade Italian fare and even better pizza, I recommend you check out Luigi's. But like I mentioned earlier, go during non-peak dining hours unless you like standing in a very long line.