After my first review of Stugazzi’s Italian AMERICAN restaurant, I received a lot of disagreeable comments. I always try to be fair and don’t have any reservations about admitting I’m wrong. So I decided to give Stugazzi’s another try.
I know that in order to have credibility, I would have to order a small variety of dishes and on different nights. In the meantime I asked one of the cashiers at Rite-Aid (across the street from Stugazzi’s) if she had ever been to Stugazzi’s. She said yes, and I asked what she had and was it good. She raved about one dish; it was pasta with chicken and broccoli in what she called an alfredo sauce. So I gave it a shot. The next evening after work, I called in a to-go order. I order the chicken and broccoli over linguini. I also ordered a caesar salad. When I arrived to pick it up I noticed they had renovated a bit from the last time I was there. What didn’t change was the confusion. Not only I, but other customers who walked in, had no idea where to go, where to stand, do we seat ourselves, where do I go to pick up my take out. The only thing that changed is that they had added a big wooden bar on the left side of “the room”. I still don’t know if you are supposed to seat yourself or wait for the waitress. I remember people asking what they should do but I was more concerned about my order and since I wasn’t eating in, I didn’t care.
Back to the food. After asking what I had to do to pick up my take out order, I walked over to the “window”. Both the pasta dish and the caesar salad came in a typical supermarket, salad bar, aluminum, round thing with a see-through plastic cover. In addition, each aluminum “bowl” was covered in layers of plastic wrap. I knew at that moment the packaging would come back to haunt me but wasn’t sure how or why, yet. The salad (cold) was placed on top of the pasta dish (hot). So the heat from the pasta dish wilted the caesar salad. Anyone in the food industry with any experience at all knows that you put cold on the bottom, then a piece of cardboard, then the hot stuff on top. When you do it the other way, heat rises and so does the heat’s wilting ability. DUH!
Because I live close by I just paid and took my stuff and went home quickly. I tried hard to salvage the salad but to no avail. I threw it in the fridge as soon as I got home but in checking it later, the dry, wilted, dressing-less salad could not be salvaged. That’s $7.00 I’ll never get back.
Next, I unwrapped the pasta dish as if it were a mummy at an archeological dig. Luckily, the “sauce” was not really alfredo. It was more like a light butter sauce with some lemon, maybe white wine, and garlic. I started to have renewed faith that maybe Stugazzi’s would surprise me. Barring the caesar salad incident, and the fact that my first visit ever was opening week, this pasta dish was pretty good. I enjoyed it. It’s not something I would crave but I enjoyed it enough for a last-minute meal decision on the way home from work. The salad gave its life for me that night. I buried it in my garbage can.
So I had one really bad experience a few months ago, followed by one OK experience on Wednesday, earlier this week. I was thinking about this blog and the comments and I really wanted to have a fantastic experience.
So yesterday, on Friday night, just two days after my pasta experience, I tried again.
I really wanted the food to be great. I tried something different. I called in and ordered a bacon cheeseburger to go, and, since the Mozzarella was supposedly fresh and hand breaded, I ordered the Fried Mozzarella, totally misnamed by Stugazzi’s as “mozzarella logs” – not very satisfying when said like that. Fried mozzarella showed up in Italian American restaurants in the 80’s. When done right, like it used to be, it was a fantastic dish. when they started selling it frozen, in supermarkets, mass-produced by food conglomerates, I knew the honeymoon was over. Every chain restaurant and second rate “family owned” restaurant in the country started using some version of a commercial, frozen, fried “mozz” product.
Anyway, I’ll start there. The Fried Mozzarella was actually very, very good. The cheese tasted fresh and breaded just enough. The marinara sauce for dipping was also quite good. A little spicy, and tangy with a hint of sweetness. Very good. I only ate one out of the 5 or 6 “logs” and saved the rest for leftovers. I warmed them up for breakfast this morning and they were still very good.
Back to the burger, and here is where it all falls apart. I am going to assume that eating in the restaurant would produce better results than take-out. But I also believe that any restaurant worth its salt should do both well. If you are going to offer take out – FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO IR RIGHT.
The burger came in the disdained aluminum bowl/tray, with the plastic cover, and then mummy-wrapped in Saran Wrap. I then immediately remembered my earlier reservations about the plastic wrap. I figured out how the plastic wrap would haunt me because it was staring me in the face. The plastic wrap entombed the burger in heat. I didn’t order fries but there were fries in there. As I unwrapped the plastic to get to my meal, my heart sank. I knew then and there this wasn’t going to be good.
The burger was opened faced. The fries were completely limp and tangled into a ball. The ball of fries had one section that was attached to the cheese inside the bottom of the burger; so much so that when i tried to separate the fry-ball from the burger-bottom, several fries were stuck for good to the burger. There was no getting them out of there. The two miniscule tomato slices were warm and the lettuce, oh the lettuce. You really couldn’t call it lettuce. There was nothing light green, or crisp about it. What was supposed to be lettuce was now one thin, veiny, dark green, almost black, piece of organic matter. It was flat, wilted, black, and looked more like it was spread on the top half of the bun, sort of like you would spread peanut butter, except it was supposed to be lettuce. It took me a few minutes to peel it off, or rather scrape it off? I’m not sure. Let’s just say I removed it and tossed it in the garbage disposal. The fry-ball that I didn’t order, and didn’t expect because it doesn’t mention it on the menu, was again part of the burger.
I should have peeled everything off and I should have just eaten the patty with a knife and fork. I certainly couldn’t eat it like a sandwich, but I tried. I got through about half of it. The taste was fair, but this mass was not worth eight bucks or whatever I paid. I can only imagine how I might have enjoyed it had I ordered and eaten it inside the restaurant.
To summarize, I still can not, and will not say that Stugazzi’s is a good restaurant. I will say that some of the food is fair, and DON’T ORDER TAKE OUT. THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY ARE DOING AND SHOULD NOT EVEN TRY.
The sandwich-board sign out front that says “Authentic Italian Cuisine” is a lie. If anything, it is authentic Italian American food. They don’t serve a “chicken finger sandwich” in Florence, Rome, or Venice. And why would they. Who serves something that is already breaded and fried, on bread.
I will try Stugazzi’s again. I will eat inside the restaurant – no take-out. And I will give an honest review, just like I did the first time, and this time. I have no axe to grind. In fact I would love to have a very good eating establishment in my neighborhood.
My suggestion to Stugazzi’s: prevent, somehow, confusing the patrons when they walk in – nobody likes to immediately feel uncomfortable. Get rid of anything on the menu that has “chicken fingers” or “BBQ” in the title. Nobody in Springvale knows who Whitey Bulger is, this isn’t Boston. Neither “Belly” nor “Fat” should not show up in the title of any dish. Add authentic Chicken Marsala and Chicken Francais to the menu. And for god’s sake, stop doing take-out until you can figure out how the meal can, at least, be almost as good at home as it is in the restaurant. I’ll give you some tips on packaging if you’re interested.