When I walked into Luigi's Pizzeria with some friends, I knew what I wanted for lunch before I even looked at the chalkboard menu on the wall: a large meat pizza and a basket of jumbo chicken wings. I planned on sitting on the patio by the bocce ball court and enjoying the afternoon by stuffing my face with Luigi's old-school, thin-crust pizza. The wings were an uncanny bright-red color that looked like Frank's hot sauce. You can order them spicy, honey barbecue or Italian — we'd gone for the spicy. I devoured a couple before our pizza showed up, dipping them in the blue cheese dressing that came on the side. Classic.
I didn't know that Luigi's is BYOB, so I sent one of my lunch companions to the C-store down the street for some beer. I am starting to think BYOB is a virtue. You are always going to have your preferred brand, it's cheaper and you can have as much as you want. By the time the beer arrived, I was three deep in the hot and juicy wings and had used half a roll of paper towels to mop the wing sauce off my face.
The pizza was in the quintessential New York style, with a thin, crispy crust and sauce and cheese going all the way to the edge, leaving only about an inch of crust uncovered. No arugula or goat cheese pizza here! The slices were huge, and I had to use the "Brooklyn Tunnel" technique of rolling it into a tube shape to keep the corner from flopping over and allowing the cheese and meat to slide off. My lunch companion ate a slice with a knife and fork — pizza foul.
We all dipped our pizza bones (the leftover crusts) into the blue cheese dressing that had come with the wings. Luigi's dough is so good and yeasty, I didn't leave a single bite. The bottom of the crust has a unique flavor from the stacked pizza ovens that have brick in them, giving it that extra crunch, unlike what's turned out by the high-volume conveyor-belt ovens you find in chain pizza factories. There is definitely something to be said for hand-made pizzas. Artisan, baby!
We'd just finished our pizza bones and beer when I saw a calzone going to another table, and it looked so good, I knew I would have to try one.
On my next visit, my lunch date and I got an Italian calzone with sausage, pepperoni, peppers, ricotta and mozzarella cheese, the spaghetti and meatballs special, and a cheesesteak sandwich to share. Luigi's cheesesteak was enormous. The hoagie roll was warm, crispy and packed with sliced sirloin, peppers and cheese. I had to cram it in my mouth to have a proper taste. My lunch date just picked the loose bits of meat off the top.
The calzone looked just like the one I'd seen the other day — a half moon-shaped pie baked to a dark golden brown with scalloped edges. It was piping hot, and I did the classic burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth-on-the-first-bite move. The stuffing was really good. Besides the pizza, Luigi's calzone was one of the best things I had here.
The spaghetti and meatballs were underwhelming — kinda watery and bland, with very little sauce. It was too bad. I guess that's how college students like it. Luigi's is located in the Third Ward — Midtown, for those urban professionals — near Houston Community College.
I bet the meatballs would make a good meatball sandwich, though. Maybe they would make one upon request. Even better would be a meatball pizza — I'll ask about that next time I go back...and I am definitely going back.
Luigi's has a strong following, and I heard about its great pizza by word of mouth. During lunchtime, the red-and-white-checkered tables inside the tiny eatery fill up fast with students getting a slice and a Coke or one of the specials, like tortellini in lamb sauce, lasagna or every college student's favorite, chicken Alfredo. The evenings change, and the checkered tables are occupied by older Italians drinking espressos or BYOB wine.
Luigi's sign features an Italian chef-looking guy with a big black mustache riding a scooter and holding a pepperoni pizza. They actually deliver pizzas with scooters. One of the scooters has a big 30-gallon washtub bolted to the back to hold the food. It looks pretty cool.
Bruce and Luisa Ward run this family business. You'll find them at Luigi's making the food and taking orders for guests every day, and they're super-friendly, cracking jokes with everybody. The restaurant has only been there for about a year and a half, but you wouldn't think so, because it has that neighborhood-corner-pizza-shop-that's-been-there-for-20-years kinda feel.
I'd heard Luigi's had some amazing gelato, and I was excited to try it. Gelato is basically the same as ice cream, but it usually has a lower butterfat and less sugar. I ordered a double scoop of spumoni, which is three flavors — pistachio, chocolate and cherry.
I asked Giuseppina, the owner's daughter, who was taking orders, if they made their own gelato. "My son used to make it," she said, "but he sold his machine and now somebody else makes it." I asked if it was Marcelo at Trentino, and she confirmed my guess, saying "yes" with a guilty look on her face. That explains why it is so amazing. Trentino makes the best gelatos and sorbets in Houston — maybe Texas.
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