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Luigino's

LuiginosI have a feeling I ruined the night of the young waiter at Luigino’s when I showed up for dinner recently. I know for a fact that he ruined mine.

I hadn’t been to Luigino’s for ages, probably not since I last reviewed it in 1997. Then it was known as Luigino’s Pasta Lovers and Steakhouse. Pasta Lovers was the concept that owner Jeno Paulucci had developed to try to outdo Olive Garden at its own game. Pasta Lovers opened in that same space in Heathrow (which Paulucci also developed -- his Jeno’s frozen pizza business did very well) in 1990. There were a few other outlets (I remember one in the food court at Florida Mall), but it never really took off.

So the Heathrow restaurant was renamed Luigino’s Pasta Lovers and Steakhouse, and reopened with a very strange concept: the restaurant was divided into two spaces, a casual pasta side and a relatively upscale steakhouse side. There were two different menus, and which one you could order from depended on which side you were sitting on. If you were in the steakhouse, you couldn’t order from the Pasta Lovers menu, but if you were on the pasta side, you were more than welcome to order the pricier steaks. Or something like that. 

Now it's just Luigino’s Restaurant, although you’ll still find the words Pasta Lovers on the website (along with Steak Lovers and Seafood Lovers, however). Apparently there are still separate menus, because I was asked by the hostess, when she finally showed up, if I wanted to see the steak menu, even though she hadn’t asked which side of the restaurant I wanted to sit on. I said I did not need the steak menu, but when I was seated -- alone in a side room -- I noticed that I hadn’t been offered the Magical Dining Month menu, which, frankly, was the reason I had decided to return after all these years.

When I requested it, she said she would fetch one. As she left the room, she passed the waiter who would serve me and told him I wanted the Dining Month menu. I could almost hear the eye rolls. She returned with the menu, which I looked over for a moment. Then the young fellow approached.

“What’s your first course going to be?” were the first words out of his mouth. I almost answered, “Thank you, I’m happy to be here.” His curtness continued throughout the meal. “What’s your choice for the entree?” he asked as he delivered a basket of rolls, not bothering to lift the ramekin of butter out of the basket and place it on the table.

Seeing as how I was apparently his only table, you’d think that he would see past his disappointment of lowering his check average and polishing my table for the extra tip. But no. He wanted me out of there as fast as possible -- why I can’t tell you; the room I was in remained otherwise empty the entire time I was there. The entree was delivered when I was halfway through the appetizer. (“Are you ready for your entree?” he asked while standing at my table holding it.)

We’re talking a 15-year span since I last visited, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say the food was largely the same as it was in 1997. It’s passable, only remotely resembling anything Italian, and nothing that will draw me back to Heathrow before another 15 years have passed.

I started with the filet tips Marsala, four nice-sized pieces of tenderloin in a sweetish sauce with mushrooms, served on top of toast rounds.

The entree was the veal piccata, a few pieces of small scallopini sauteed in butter with some lemon and capers, served ill-advisedly over angel hair pasta. Such thin pasta gets gummy when served without broth.

Dessert was a cannoli, a hard pastry shell, ends dipped in chocolate, filled with a creamy cheese concoction. 

The restaurant space has a worn look to it, and it feels musty. It does not appear to have been updated since its 1990 Pasta Lovers days. 

I wanted to return to Luigino’s to see how it had survived all these years. It has to be doing something right. Right?

Not enough about it is right to put up with mediocre food and a waiter with attitude. I would have mentioned something to a manager if I had seen one. When I left, no one thanked me for coming.

There’s a suprise.

Luigino’s is at 120 International Parkway, Lake Mary. It’s open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner daily. Here’s a link to luiginosheathrow.com. The phone number is 407-333-2847.

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