Old-school Italian cuisine revives a favorite local setting
Photographs by Bob Capazzo
When Louie’s moved into the neighborhood restaurant space across from the Mianus River, it had some big shoes to fill. For years, the spot known as Augie’s was like the Cheers of Cos Cob. Back in the day, it may have been a bit of a dive, but locals loved it for its burgers, fries, old wooden booths and friendly bar scene. In fact, the place has quite a history, operating as a tavern and saloon since as early as 1912.
So could a nicer Italian restaurant swoop in and appeal to that local crowd while also attracting new diners? Could the cuisine be elevated, the décor upgraded, while retaining that everybody-knows-your-name atmoshere? I was skeptical at first. But the answer is a resounding yes.
Ron Rosa, who also runs the ever popular Polpo in Greenwich, has transformed this place into an old-school Italian restaurant with an Arthur Avenue feel. The food is authentic and delicious but never pretentious. Rosa spread out the white tablecloths and upgraded the lighting, but preserved the long red oak bar with the giant antique mirror behind it, which gives the place real character.
On a recent Friday night, a good crowd was already sitting down for dinner at 6:45. Our very courteous waiter immediately brought us bruschetta—a complimentary and tasty hors d’oeuvre—and wine. For starters, we ordered a special salad with arugula, avocado and beets as well as the baked clams appetizer. The clams were substantial and prepared in a classic fashion, topped with bread crumbs yet still tender and juicy. The salad was a mix of bright, fresh greens, large sliced avocado halves, ricotta insalata, orange slices and a light dressing with some beet juice in it. It was refreshing and festive.
In general, Louie’s is all about traditional Italian and most of the basics I’ve tried here are predictably yummy, though certainly not slimming. The iceberg wedge salad doesn’t skimp on the blue cheese or the bacon and the fried calamari is a tried-and-true, lightly crispy version of the standard.
Even as the last seats in the dining room were filled, the noise level didn’t prevent us from easily carrying on a conversation. The lights were dimmed slightly, the space was cozy and warm, and, with the fire lit, perhaps even a bit romantic. This could be a fun date-night spot, though there were one or two families with kids in the room, mine included.
For our main courses, we first selected a penne à la vodka, ostensibly because it would be easy for our young daughter to eat. However, this pasta dish was so luscious—possibly the best penne vodka I’ve ever eaten—that my husband and I devoured most of the hearty, sausage-laden dish ourselves.
The entrées were the best part of the meal, as they should be. I chose a veal rollatini, which our waiter recommended. This rollatini is a swirl of tender, rolled veal with lots of melted mozzarella and prosciutto wrapped inside. It’s all covered in a brown sauce with mushrooms and served with broccoli, carrots and squash on the side. Truly an indulgence! My husband’s seafood ravioli entrée with crabmeat filling, red sauce and scallops scattered around the rim of the dish was equally special.
Other entrées to recommend are the Chicken Romana—a signature dish of Louie’s, which mingles cherry peppers, sausage, artichoke hearts and rosemary with a juicy chicken cutlet—the Lamb Chops Scottadito (order medium rare to ensure a bit of pink), and the Tortellini de Mare with scallops, shrimp and crabmeat in a pink sauce.
I always treat myself to tartufo for dessert when it’s available; ice cream is often all I can manage after a rich Italian meal. However, we also went with the waiter’s suggestion to try the napoleon. It lived up to his accolades with layers of light, flaky pastry and fresh whipped cream. I enjoyed the tartufo too, with its rich chocolate coating. If you love tiramisu, Louie’s rendition will not disappoint: It’s creamy but light, balanced with a bold coffee flavor.
We left Louie’s satisfied by the scrumptious meal, content that one of our favorite neighborhood hangouts is still thriving, and happy that Arthur Avenue-quality Italian is now just a few blocks from home.
136 River Road Ext., Cos Cob
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 11:45 a.m. – 11 p.m.;
Fri.-Sat. 11:45 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.; Sun. 11:45 a.m. – 10 p.m.;
Brunch Sat. & Sun. 11:45 a.m. – 3 p.m.