Luigi's Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar 11

Liberty Square Welcomes

If you haven’t noticed, the quaint downtown areas of the heart of America have been struggling lately. Big box stores, chain restaurants and suburbs have been the death knell for Main Street USA. Luckily, downtown Liberty seems to be escaping that fate and, after a bit of turnover, has a great lineup of boutiques and restaurants to choose from.

Luigi’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar is one of them. The restaurant, serving classic Italian fare, opened in one half of what used to be Cork and Brew, with the other half occupied by Morning Day Cafe. The space, which felt cavernous when it was a single establishment, feels like the perfect cozy size on either side of the wall now that it has been divided.

I have to admit, I walked by Luigi’s a hundred times before I decided to stop in. In a town lousy with Italian joints, how is this one going to be any different? Luckily, I was very wrong on this one and I was pleasantly surprised when my husband and I dined there recently. Instead of the expected Italian-American cuisine that many of us are used to, Luigi’s has quite a few authentic Italian options. Olive Garden this is not.

On a Saturday evening at 7 p.m., we arrived hungry. The dining room was about half full and people continued coming through the door. I overheard a server saying that the owner/chef Ari Dreshaj was out of town but the staff still functioned like a well-oiled machine. We started with an appetizer–sliced Italian sausage in a light marinara and sherry wine sauce ($7.95). Sopped up with the yeasty rolls delivered to the table along with an olive oil, herbs and vegetable dip, it was a satisfying first course. I’m not sure what brand the sausage was, but it tasted like it could be Scimeca’s which is always a winner in my book.

For the main course, we had a huge variety to choose from. The Luigi’s menu is split into four sections: entrees, seafood, chicken house specialties and homemade baked pastas. There is a section for strombolis but beside it is a note that says that the pizzas and strombolis are not available after 4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings. I’m sure it’s because of the oven time that they monopolize but it was still disappointing to see.

Instead, we went with pasta. I went with my server’s suggestion, a quiet young man from Sicily (he made sure to stipulate that he was Sicilian, not Italian), and ordered the chicken capellini ($14.95). What arrived was the perfect portion–had we not had a starter, I could have finished it, but as we had, I had a nice lunch portion for the next day. The dish consisted of a thin filet of chicken breast topped with spaghettini noodles, fresh vegetables and tomatoes in a light white wine sauce. It was a delicate dish, less assertive than many on the menu but very satisfying.

My husband went with the Luigi’s Special ($15.95). This curious dish had what could aptly be called a rosa sauce–an alfredo sauce with a touch of marinara, rendering it pink and very rich. For protein, the dish included both chicken and sliced sausage, along with bell peppers and spinach. Although completely different than my capellini, the Luigi’s Special was pretty fantastic. On future visits it would be tough to turn that down.

One curious thing about Luigi’s is its status as a ‘wine bar’. They do offer a wine and beer list, heavy on the Italian favorites, of course, but there is little bar to speak of. There is a bar, but no seating at the bar. They also do not serve spirits at all, only wine and beer. A cocktail wasn’t missed by any means and my Chianti paired well with dinner, but it was the first time that I have experienced that in KC.

When it comes down to it, there’s more to Luigi’s than meets the eye. I’m looking forward to subsequent visits, and at least one before 4 p.m. so that I can try the stromboli. Liberty has a new place to go for Italian. Luigi’s is here to stay.