“The trouble with eating Italian food is that five days later, you’re hungry again…”
I vividly remember Sundays in Rome, NY (a city of heavy Italian influence and culinary dominance), where my friend’s Grandmother consistently prepared a feast of incredible Italian dishes that could feed the Esercito Italiano (Italian Army). Despite several rounds of food, and more than one second-helping, any pause in eating was sure to bring Grandma’s questioning …”Whats-a the matta, you no like-a the food? Manga! Manga!”
At Famous Luigi’s, located on 19th Street NW, we’re not quite sure what decade “Famous Luigi’s” was…well, “famous” in. After walking by the location several times, it appears to the casual passerby that the restaurant offers classic Italian charm with candle-lit tables, traditional Italian dishes and freshly-baked pizza, and evokes a sense of historic presence in downtown DC. Not quite Luigi.
CAYPO recently dined at Famous Luigi’s, and we are disappointed to report it appears it is just another long-standing DC restaurant supported largely in part by the tourist population. Upon our entrance through the glass doors, we couldn’t help but notice the prominently-displayed sign announcing “Now Hiring ALL POSITIONS.” Warning-sign number one.
If you’re interested in checking out the restaurant for yourself, you too might be confused to find that Famous Luigi’s is without a hostess stand. If you’re like us, this will result in you aimlessly wandering through the dining room attempting to politely gain the attention of an already-busy staff.
After finally being seated, we had ample opportunity (since the menus did not arrive for 10 minutes), for people-watching the tourist families flip through photos on cameras and iPhones from the earlier day’s travels.
Upon initial inspection, the menu is far too large for a restaurant that claims to be understaffed and hiring all positions. Famous Luigi, although you claim Italian cuisine, you are not required to offer guests every single dish to come out of Italy since the turn of the century. Anyone who has watched an episode of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares or Robert Irvine’s Restaurant Impossible could tell you to master one dish before you attempt the encyclopedia-sized menu you currently offer.
After witnessing several varieties of entrees pass by, we opted for a traditional pizza since the pasta dishes appeared to lack any sort of presentation, fresh ingredients, or resemblance of the Italian food I grew up on from that Grandmother in Upstate NY. Now, you have to ask, what makes a great pizza? Fresh ingredients, good dough, homemade sauce, proper oven temperature, and a little bit of love, whereby Famous Luigi’s lacks all of these characteristics. Despite a 30-minute wait, the pizza was still dough, the sauce (from a can) lacked seasoning and any depth of flavor, and when we asked for a serving utensil, we received two forks. At CAYPO we recognize it is hard to compete with the pizza-capital in NYC, but we have experienced other places in DC that offer a close comparison. Our advice if you’re looking for fresh pizza, avoid Famous Luigi’s since you would be better off purchasing a Digiorno from the frozen-food aisle.
We predict that Famous Luigi’s will likely continue its restaurant life catering to the tourist population, but it would be great to see a redesign of the menu, upgrade to the restaurant layout, and overhaul of management and staff to bring a little life back into what could be a great neighborhood destination.