Italian Comfort

Photographs by Main Street Hub
Above: Veal Rollatini, rolled with prosciutto and mozzarella and sautéed in a mushroom demi-glaze

I have eaten more than my share of Italian-American cuisine, much of it prepared by my mother, aunts and grandmothers, as well as in dozens of Little Italys everywhere. When my companion Diane and I read co-owner Pieter Hartong comparing Louie’s to an Arthur Avenue eatery in the Bronx, we drove over faster than mozzarella melting in a wood-fired oven.

We arrived on a Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m. and discovered a lively crowd mingling in the long bar section, drinking and eating happy hour fare ($6 for “bites” such as meatballs and buffalo wings, $7 for wine and cocktails). We headed to a cozy high-backed booth in the dining room. Photos of stars and starlets from a bygone era lined the exposed brick walls. White tablecloths adorned the tables. We slipped in among couples and foursomes.

Our waiter, Drew, with fourteen years at the Four Seasons under his belt and the Louie’s insignia on his tie, led us through the menu. It felt like a nostalgic stroll through 1980s New York—part steakhouse, part Mamma Leone’s: the T-bone veal chop with truffle oil or the shrimp fra diavolo; the chicken parmigiana or the linguine with clams; the pork chop capricciosa or the spaghetti bolognese.

Louie’s offered about twenty-five of these old-school options, plus another ten or so specials on a blackboard. Drew told us his likes and dislikes, and we ordered from there. Plus, we got a glass of wine, Diora’s La Petite Grace pinot noir from 2015. It was robust, textured and full of flavor.

Left: Capellini Frutti di Mare with clams, mussels, shrimp and calamari in a light tomato sauce

We started with the special mixed hot antipasto, and dug into fried calamari. While the squid was somewhat tough, the clams oreganata burst with flavor, filled as they were with homemade breadcrumbs and fresh oregano.

Though it said so on the menu, Drew didn’t think the mozzarella in the caprese was house-made, and he went back to the kitchen to inquire. Yes, they said, and so did we. The mozzarella, made that morning by Chef Luis Mendoza, was melt-in-your-mouth creamy, perfectly salted, just the right resistance in the bite. Mendoza, who is from Ecuador, cooked in Little Italy and at Polpo in Greenwich before running the kitchens at Louie’s in Cos Cob and Darien.

Our attentive servers brought over veal parmigiana, and the generous portion covered the full dinner plate. But the batter-to-meat ratio overwhelmed the veal, and we longed for more flavor in the tomato sauce.

“Chicken Louie’s” did not disappoint. The moist and tender brined breast had been lightly dusted with flour, resulting in a coating perfect for absorbing the lovely lemony sauce, with its hints of shallots and wine. We split the short-rib ravioli and practically licked the plate clean. The pasta, delivered perfectly al dente, held its own in a butter, brandy and cream sauce that, though very heavy, was chock-full of dried whole porcini and big beefy flavor. The white truffle oil did not overwhelm.

Drew returned to discuss dessert. Louie’s makes its own Italian cheesecake and tiramisù, but Drew said, “I have four words for you: pineapple upside-down cake.” Another throwback, but we were used to it by now. It arrived gooey and warm, with vanilla ice cream melting on top. We ate the whole thing. Just as we would have done at our grandmothers’ houses.

The Cruvinet serves fine wine at just the right temperature.


QUICK BITES

1. Chef Luis Mendoza makes fresh mozzarella daily. He learned the craft twenty years ago from an Italian, while working at Il Cortile on Mulberry Street in New York.

2. Kids’ meals cost only $7, making for a very family-friendly experience.

3. The bar features a Cruvinet, a temperature-controlled wine dispensing system. Similar to beer taps, it keeps an open bottle of fine wine fresh for up to two months.


LOUIE’S RESTAURANT
10 Center Street, Darien
203-309-5818
louiesrestaurantbar.com

HOURS
Sun.–Thur.: 11:45 a.m.–10 p.m.
Fri.–Sat.: 11:45 a.m.–11 p.m.

 

 

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