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>> SAVE ROOM FOR DESSERT: LUIGI'S IN CULPEPER MAKES UP FOR AVERAGE MEAL WITH TIRAMISU
Luigi's Italian Restaurant, reviewed

 Luigi's serves all the usual Italian fare, but dessert is where the Culpeper restaurant excels. We recommend the tiramisu.
LINDA SALISBURY FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Visit the Photo Place

Date published: 12/27/2012

BY LINDA SALISBURY

FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Soft Italian music, arches, paintings of vineyards, fresh flowers on the tables, and friendly staff welcome diners to Luigi's, a Culpeper family-owned eatery just south of the business district.

My Dining Partner and I stopped by, looking forward to enjoying typical Italian fare. The extensive menu provided many tempting options, but unfortunately the only thing we found lacking was the usual, expected seasonings--namely garlic and traditional herbs found in Italian dishes.

The food was good, but disappointingly bland, until we got to the homemade dessert--a clear winner.

We began with the Mediterranean Feast for Two ($16.95), a platter filled with clams, mussels, large shrimp (nicely cooked), and calamari (rings and tentacles) in a small amount of clear broth that would have benefited from seasoning. There was plenty of seafood to feast on and we enjoyed the homemade-quality bread that arrived with the appetizer.

Because Luigi's offers a number of its own soups, we ordered the pasta e fagioli ($2.50) to share. It was chockfull of beans, spaghetti, melted mozzarella, and bits of pork, but, again, no discernible herbs or spicing to enliven the broth.

House salads were included with our entrees and we both ordered the house balsamic.

The salads were nicely chilled and topped with olives.

MDP ordered veal piccata ($15.95) with spaghetti. The lemony flavored sauce with capers was more evident on the meat than on the adjacent pasta.

I decided to select one of the 11 vegetarian entrees--Summer Fettuccini ($13.10) --because it promised some of my favorite garden flavors: artichoke hearts, olives, spinach, roast peppers, and tomatoes over linguini and prepared in olive oil and garlic. Alas, too little garlic in a dish that listed it as an ingredient. I even double-checked the menu to see if it was supposed to be part of the recipe.

We rectified the omission by adding garlic, and other herbal seasonings, when we were enjoying the leftovers the next day.

But, the dessert was another matter. A chilled case near the door showcases Luigi's sweets, including cheesecakes, but my eyes lighted on what turned out to be the restaurant's own tiramisu ($4.25). It's not your usual version--those squares cut from "cake" in a pan. Instead, Luigi's places ladyfingers like large clasping hands on a plate, drenches them with coffee flavoring, and frosts with a creamy delicate topping.

Two forks, please, and add this confection to a list of special-occasion "comfort food."

We were well-served by an attentive staff in comfortable surroundings with appropriate music at the right decibel level, and the tiramisu is a keeper.

Linda Salisbury is the author of the Bailey Fish books, an award-winning adventure series for kids.


What: Luigi's Italian Restaurant Address: 235 Southgate Shopping Center Culpeper Phone: 540/829-4688; luigisculpeper.com Hours: Monday: closed; Tuesday to Thursday: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday: noon to 10 p.m. Prices:

Appetizers: $4.95-$9.50

Soups and salads: $2.50-$8.10

Dinners: $9.25-$16.50

Children's menu: $6.95

Desserts: $4.25

Beer, wine and mixed drinks available.

The Scoop: Pleasant, family-friendly, catering available, vegetarian options, ample parking, clean. Payment: Major credit cards accepted.