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Lucchese’s salads have a solid reputation

Salad Quest this week turns to Lucchese's and also has some information on the new non-salad part of the menu.
Posted on July 7, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

Marshall V. King

Salad Quest

Chicken linguine salad used to reign at Lucchese’s Italian Restaurant.

But the green salads have made a comeback.

“I think the green salads have kind of taken it over,” said Michele Lucchese, manager and catering specialist.

She’s the one who figures out new salads to put on as specials, to feature on the menu. And she’s good at mixing up the options.

The restaurant at 655 C.R. 17, near C.R. 14/Middlebury Street, has a big array of salads and a new menu.

One of the staples at the restaurant for decades is that chicken linguine salad, which is called that because it’s cold pasta with vegetables on a bed of lettuce. But it’s really a summery pasta dish with a flavor that is all Lucchese’s.

Michele tries to change the specials very week or so. Her daughter, Marissa, is now making most of the dressings, including the sweet poppy seed that goes on that chicken linguine.

And those salads are making up a big part of the lunch business. “If you look at our numbers, soups and salads blow out the pasta of the day,” she said.

The BLT salad is popular. It’s simple: Bacon on top of greens and tomatoes with a hard-boiled egg. I remember when the greens came in Sysco boxes. I probably used a few of those empty boxes over the years. But now the restaurant gets greens from Steve Kruse or Barbie Kruse, if at all possible, Michele said.

The bleu cheese pecan salad is simple but good as well. Bleu cheese crumbles go on greens with tomatoes with toasted pecans and is usually served with a honey mustard dressing that’s more oil-based than most.

Lucchese’s also has a roasted beet and goat cheese salad and has featured an ahi tuna salad on special. That’s seared tuna on greens, not a mayonnaise-based salad with really good tuna. The latter would just be sad.

The salads are good. They’re priced well at $7 to $9. And they’re pretty good sized. But they lack some of the zip that some other salads have.

I’d be glad for slightly better bacon on the BLT. I’d be glad for more mustard in the honey mustard dressing. The white poppy seed dressing Marissa makes for salads with strawberries is gold. And I’ll never tire of the traditional poppy seed dressing, though I miss the sweet and sour.

If Salad Quest, the search for the best salad in Elkhart County, was focused on pasta salads, Lucchese’s would win. But this is a lettuce-based search. And the salads are good, but the flavors don’t shine quite as brightly as at a few other places.

I told Michele, who has been a dear friend since before I was a food writer, they need a bit more zip. It was like telling a sister you don’t like her boyfriend. (four out of five stars)

Michele has been on the forefront of redesigning the menu at the restaurant. Her nephew, Zach Lucchese, left as executive chef and since then Michele and her family members have been working “to get back to what we were known for and be good at it,” she said.

Cousin Michael Lucchese moved back from Chicago and is making focaccia, sub buns and other items. The restaurant is making its own Italian beef again. And in addition to the garlic parsley fettuccine, spinach linguine is being made in the kitchen.

These are all very good things. The menu includes a section dubbed “Jackson Street Traditions” from its days on Jackson Boulevard downtown. The pasta dishes on that are what made the restaurant popular. And the seafood pasta list now includes white clam and red clam sauces. The white clam sauce on that garlic parsley linguine ($18) is a solid dish. The spinach fettuccine alfredo ($14) was toothsome and the sauce was delicate rather than a pool of fat-laden, gravy-like sauce that some places pass off as alfredo.

At first glance, appetizers priced at $9 to $14 seem high in comparison with the $11 to $14 Jackson Street Traditions dishes or other items on the menu. But Michele points out that they’re sized to share with a table. The cheese platter manager, Josh Bryant, has helped orchestrate a really nice appetizer with four cheeses, fig jam and fresh fruit. It needs slightly better crackers, but it’s a nice start.

The swordfish that’s on the menu is selling well, according to Lucchese. I look forward to trying it.

An item called Frankies Shrimp and Chicken is essentially a sauté of chicken, shrimp, asparagus, mushroom, green pepper, onion and giardiniera. It got added to the menu after people saw Frank Lucchese eating it and asked for it. The Elkhart County commissioner, who is Michele’s cousin and is now one of the active owners, was on a cleanse at the time.

It’s a decent dish ($20). It’s gluten-free and has pretty good flavor. But I still don’t understand when we stopped calling something a diet and started calling it a cleanse instead.

I love Lucchese’s and the family that has run it for three decades. I want the dishes to be consistently solid. I want John, or Poppy as his grandchildren call him, to gather his siblings to make meatballs as long as he can. On a recent Tuesday morning, a group of five siblings and a cousin made 833 in 40 minutes, Michele said.

The family and the restaurant are adapting to changes. They tried adding a draft beer tap and based on the success will add a few more. But the foundation John and Kathy Lucchese established is what the children and grandchildren involved now want to focus on.

That’s not a bad thing for Elkhart diners.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.

Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at mking@etruth.com, 574-296-5805, via Twitter @hungrymarshall or the Dining A La King Facebook page. His blog is at blogs.etruth.com/diningalaking.

If you go

What: Lucchese’s Italian Restaurant

Where: 655 C.R. 17, Elkhart

Fare: Italian

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 to 10 Friday, 4 to 10 Saturday

Details: Banquet room available, catering available, credit cards accepted, small outdoor dining area, handicapped accessible, no smoking.

Phone: 574-522-4137


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