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Luigi's Pizza and Catering
9950 Transit Rd., E. Amherst, NY 14051
Phone: 716.639.8162
Rating:    [learn more]
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"This wasn't the typical Italian restaurant where a tiny cutlet or two was overshadowed by a larger 'side' portion of spaghetti; here, there was enough of the entree left to take home."

Visit a country with enough castles or churches, and at some point, you'll undoubtably find yourself saying, "seen one, seen 'em all." Western New York's pizza places are equally numerous, but somehow, there's always a chance that an unfamiliar venue will turn out to be memorably good. That, in a nutshell, is Luigi's Pizza and Catering in East Amherst, a restaurant that's neither hidden nor especially conspicuous in the Swormville area of Transit Road. We walked in at around 5:30 to find the medium-sized place perhaps 30% full, but by the time we left at 6:30, there was a line for tables, and a surprisingly long wait to get our check.

Luigi's isn't fancy. You can see the pizza kitchen from one of the two dining rooms, the tables don't have tablecloths, and the servers seem like they're as relaxed as they can be given the crowds they're dealing with. After a half hour of sitting and eating, you notice that most of the people there are either regulars or about to become regulars. One family at an adjacent table struck up a conversation with people who were looking at their food, noting aloud that the slightly sweet, slightly tangy red sauce was the reason they loved Luigi's so much. There are plenty of ways to try that sauce, including pizzas, some subs, pasta dishes, and between eight and ten dinner specials, depending on what's on the board in front when you walk in. Lasagna, three types of parmigiana, and non red-sauce dishes such as Chicken Frangelico and Veal Milanese are on the menu. All are affordable; shockingly so, really.

In keeping with the tradition that satisfied mouths tend to be quieter than dissatisfied ones, our dinner conversation all but stopped when the food started to arrive: first, the dozen Chicken Wings ($8.23) we'd ordered as an appetizer, then the salad that came with one of our entrees. Luigi's wings were large, moderately crispy, and meaty, soaked in a very good and reasonably but not insanely hot sauce that we were told was as spicy as the place could make. As serious wing fans, we're quick to blow off a plate if there's something wrong, and ordered other dishes expecting that we wouldn't finish these. Instead, we gladly ate them all - they weren't our local favorites, but they were big, balanced in flavor and texture, and very good.

By contrast, the side salad was as healthy as the wings were dangerous, its field greens, sliced tomatoes, and chick peas completely fresh. A nice included side of six breadsticks appeared with the salad, each coated in garlic and butter, doughy on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside. We kept nodding our heads: the meal was off to a very good start.

Another pleasant surprise was the traditional Pizza ($11.75 as ordered). We picked the 13" "small" version, only to receive a big, medium-thick crust with the aforementioned red sauce, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, onions, and hot peppers on top. As with the wings, it wasn't the best we've ever had locally, but between the freshness of the ingredients, their generous quantities, and the sauce, we were just plain sated. One of us was as impressed by the sauce as the people at that neighboring table, noting its chunky tomato content, sweetness, and strong basil flavoring, while the other liked it but didn't find it memorable - possibly interference from the wing sauce. In any case, the crispy, strongly meaty pepperoni was a noteworthy draw for both of us.

Our other entree, the Chicken Parmesan ($12.83), offered another opportunity to sample Luigi's sauce: served in a bowl that's not done justice by our photo, the portion was absolutely gigantic, with four or five breaded, sauce-covered chicken cutlets hiding underneath the top layer of ever-so-slightly browned cheese. Neither of us was blown away by the quality of the cutlets, which were thin like schnitzel and not as moist as one might have guessed - there wasn't quite enough surrounding red sauce - but the quantity for the price, especially including the side dishes, was literally staggering. This wasn't the typical Italian restaurant where a tiny cutlet or two was overshadowed by a larger "side" portion of spaghetti; here, there was enough of the entree left to take home. Same with the pizza.

And same with the pasta - yes, we also wound up with pasta, because it too was included with that $13 plate of Chicken Parmesan. Given the choice of spaghetti or ziti, we let our server pick for us; the side of ziti that arrived was so large that it could have served as an entree at most restaurants. Coated in enough sauce to make up for the Parmesan's omissions, it was served in its own separate bowl, and we wound up boxing almost all of it to bring home. We'd really had no idea what we were in for when we ordered the entree; people far hungrier than we were would still have walked out of the place stuffed.

Given how many pizza joints and Italian restaurants Western New Yorkers have to choose from, we're tempted at times to consider the quest for the best to be an impossible mission - there are more Italian options within five miles of us than Indian restaurants within 60 miles. They could easily blend together or be dismissed as more of the same. But places like Luigi's somehow manage to keep us interested in hunting around; if there are still well-kept secrets like this one serving very good food at great prices, we want to experience them for ourselves.

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