Luigi’s in Johnston has been a veritable institution for over 45 years, but if you usually stay within Providence city limits, you may not have heard of it. Part deli (“Gourmet Express”) and part restaurant, it occupies most of a large strip on Hartford Avenue.
We stopped by the restaurant on a weeknight with my in-laws. As we walked in, we admired the cases in the Gourmet Express area, filled with to-go items like snail salad, chicken parmigiana, and lasagna, as well as attractive desserts like mini key lime pies, robust cheesecakes, and cannoli.
We settled into a booth and my husband ordered a Black Fig Martini, made with black fig vodka and Grand Marnier. The flavor contrasted creatively with our large olives stuffed with blue cheese. Luigi’s house bread basket absorbed some of the generously sized drink: rolls served alongside a plate of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and roasted garlic cloves.
We ordered three appetizers to share. The Crab Arancini came five to an order. The risotto balls were filled with crab, scallions, and mascarpone. About the size of golf balls, they were dotted with the restaurant’s signature Calabrian chili aioli.
This piquant aioli also made an appearance in our order of Calabrian Garlic Shrimp with Polenta Fries. Presented in a crock, this appetizer was like shrimp scampi with a kick. Small shrimp were roasted in oil with garlic and hot peppers and served alongside short, wide polenta fries. We luckily saved some of our bread basket for the garlicky roasting oil.
The Meatballs and Ricotta, like the other appetizers, were easy to share with a table of four, and we appreciated the abundant sweet ricotta and hint of fresh basil.
For my entree, I ordered the Veal Raffaello, a variation on Veal Marsala with the addition of fried breaded eggplant and melted provolone. Most entrees come with a choice of pasta, and I upgraded mine to the homemade ricotta gnocchi for an extra $1.50; homemade spaghetti and fettuccine are also available as an upgrade.
My husband had the Filet Mignon alla Valdonstana, two filet medallions grilled to order and topped with prosciutto, provolone, and sliced mushrooms with a white truffle glaze. Sliced roasted potato and grilled broccolini rounded out the plate. With the steak, our server recommended a glass of the Meiomi Pinot Noir, a jammy pinot.
When they visit the coast, my in-laws are especially enthusiastic about seafood, and they both ordered shellfish-heavy dishes. My father-in-law chose the Stuffed Shrimp Nicola over Seafood Risotto. The large shrimp were stuffed with spinach and black olives, wrapped with prosciutto and roasted pepper, then baked with white wine and garlic butter. Usually shrimp over risotto sounds like a healthy option, but the generous amount of melted provolone made it more of an indulgence. Still, this dish was designated Gluten Free, along with several others on the menu, including my husband’s steak.
My mother-in-law’s Lobster Ravioli was also a notch more indulgent than other versions I’ve tried. The huge ravioli were stuffed with lobster and asiago, romano, and ricotta cheese. The ravioli were tossed with a liberal amount of brandy-laced pink sauce, then topped with large shrimp.
We remembered the treats in the case out front and chose a few that looked especially delicious. I insisted on the Nutella Tartlet, a small and rich tart with a pressed crust and whipped cream. My husband, a die-hard cannoli fan, was happy with his large pistachio cannoli. My in-laws shared a slice of turtle cheesecake, which was so gargantuan that they needed our help.
Our hands were already full with leftovers, but we were tempted to pick up a thick slice of lasagna for the road.
Luigi’s Restaurant and Gourmet Express
1359 Hartford Avenue, Johnston