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First of all, if you're looking for authentic Italian food ... GO TO ITALY! I've been to many American-Italian restaurants and have yet to find one serving "authentic Italian". Lidia's in Kansas City (near Grand Station) is about as close as you will find (and it's good, but pricey).
Being new to Lawrence, we are trying different restraunts to find some we like. Our first night here, my son wanted Italian and Paisano's was all we could find on a Friday night without reservations or a long wait.
We were served quickly and our waiter was Jake, a nice lad and very helpful. He brought the salad and bread sticks, which I was not overly impressed with. If I wanted the Olive Garden, and I DO NOT, I would go to dinner there.
The veal parmigiana and Marsala are tasty enough and portions are moderate, but the veal is too thick. Pound it out dadburnit!
The meat sauce on the accompanying pasta is chock full of, no not nuts, ground beef, almost too much. There needs to be a bit more tomato, after all, it is pasta "sauce". It is very good, even if it is a bit too thick.
The ravioli appears homemade and was decent, but only 8 or 10 ravioli left us hungry for more, literally. The baked pasta "al forno" (in the oven) was creamy and savory, a better value for the price than the ravioli.
The pesto, which my wife ordered over penne, was tasteless, seemingly watered down for no apparent reason. She NEVER adds grated cheese to pasta, Italians love their pasta after all, but she succumbed in order to enhance the taste of the dish.
I wanted to try the "Sicilian" meatballs, not knowing what makes them different from other meatballs, but the server told us "we are out of meatballs tonight". An Italian restaurant out of meatballs...seriously?
Paisanos is "OK" as far as Lawrence Italian restaurants go, but that is, unfortunately, not saying much. We will return only because there are no better options in town ... unless you consider Olive Garden in Topeka (25 miles away) ... and I do not! CombatCritic Gives Paisano's 5 OUT OF 10 BOMBS ... Bombs Are Good!
Key Words: Paisano's paisano Italian restaurant food eat Italy Lawrence Kansas pasta ravioli veal parmigiana Parmesan cheese pizza pesto Bolognese spaghetti Iowa
If you like arsenic poisoning, you will love the Mad Greek in downtown Lawrence! Seriously, this restaurant is actually pretty good and reasonably priced. The reason I made that comment is because they seem to serve rice and green beans with EVERY dish and rice has been linked to high arsenic content with recommendations, according to OneGreenPlanet.org and others, tolimit rice consumption to once a week among other precautions.
Greek "Side" Salad
On our first visit to The Mad Greek, my wife ordered the spinach pie ($7.99), spinach and feta cheese with herbs baked in a light phyllo dough with tzatziki (a creamy cucumber sauce used extensively in Grecian cooking) and fresh pita bread. The spinach pies were light and flaky with a perfect ratio of filling to crust. For the price, I would think a salad would be included, but you must pay $1.99 to add a Greek salad ($1.59 for "house" salad) to any entrée. My wife and I both ordered a Greek salad with our meals and at $1.99 extra, not a bad deal considering the quality. Fresh romaine lettuce, tomato, Greek Calamata olives, and crumbled feta cheese in a Greek olive oil and vinegar dressing. I would prefer chunks of feta over the fine crumbles, but the taste is the same either way…very good.
Moussaka with Pita Bread and Fries
I ordered the gyros platter, a reasonable ($9.99 - not abundant) amount of sliced gyro meat (a combination of seasoned beef and lamb), pita bread, tzatziki, green beans, and rice (of course). The gyro meat was fresh and tasty, and the tzatziki delicious, but the pita bread was a little too soft for my taste. The green beans were simmered in a tomato sauce and were "OK" and the rice was similarly boring, but I am not a huge rice lover. I ordered a side of french fries ($2.99), which were hot and crunchy just the way I like them, but I will probably ask to substitute fries for the rice and green beans on our next visit.
On our second visit it was my wife's birthday, so I ordered the "flaming" saganaki, a slab of fresh Greek goat cheese soaked in batter, deep fried, and served in a flaming extravaganza table side. The "oohs" and "aahs" of fellow customers followed the lighting of the cheese, but at $7.99 the dish was overpriced by AT LEAST $2.00 in my opinion, coming with one slice of pita bread (cut into six pieces). The birthday girl ordered the moussaka, one of her staples (along with Greek salad) during our month-long visit to Greece in 2005. The moussaka - eggplant, ground beef and other ingredients covered with a béchamel sauce and baked - looked as though it had been sitting for a while and the serving was small, a cube no more than two and a half inches in diameter and at $9.99, about one quarter of the size of servings we received in Greece. The moussaka came with pita bread, rice and green beans, so my wife substituted french fries at no additional charge. She did not like it and I thought it was very "average", being overpriced for the serving size.
I decided to try one of the Italian offerings, so I ordered the cannelloni Florentine, pasta tubes stuffed with veal, spinach and seasonings then baked after being covered with alfredo (white) and red sauce. The cannelloni was actually pretty good, but the sauces were both rather boring, most likely coming from a can or jar, not homemade. Again, we had to pay $1.99 each to add a Greek salad and mine came with two small pieces of garlic bread ($9.99 for pasta and bread, $11.98 including the salad, not bad, but NOT A GREAT VALUE).
Wine is reasonable at $3.50 per glass for the house wine, a tasty, inexpensive burgundy that went well with both meals. They have a full bar and prices seem fairly reasonable with a decent selection of drafts at $3.99 to $4.59 (stout). Water is served wit a lemon slice, but I had to ask for refills, something that should not have happened considering the small number of customers that night.
The Mad Greek has original Greek recipes and decent food, but the value for the price is questionable. Ordering "ala carte" should be reserved for restaurants with cloth napkins and severs who take your payment rather than making customers stand in line to pay our bills (as is the case at The Mad Greek). I would recommend including a Greek salad with entrees and maybe increasing the price by fifty cents to a dollar to offset the cost and having servers handle payments as is done in even the cheapest sit-down restaurants these days. People should feel as if they are receiving a "good value" for their money and NOT feel like we are eating at McDonalds after having spent $25 each for dinner.
CombatCritic gives The Mad Greek 6 Bombs Out of 10 ... Bombs Are Good!
When I was told by a Lawrence Bohemian acquaintance of mine that "the Basil Leaf Cafe has the best Italian food in Lawrence", I was intrigued because we have yet to find a decent restaurant of ANY kind since moving here in August. Paisano's (reviewed in August 2013) is "OK", but nothing to write home about, so our quest to add a new Italian restaurant to our arsenal continues.
Enter ... The Basil Leaf Cafe. Yelp reviews are mostly positive with people raving about the food, but slamming the "gas station" decor of the previous location (it really was in a gas station). The new building sits in a row of shops on 9th Street not far from downtown and the University of Kansas campus. The decor is modern with a smattering of tables (about 8) in a room that could easily handle 12 or more. The arrangement of tables, bar, kitchen window and cash register is inefficient, appearing as though there really was not a plan in the first place.
Tortellini Cordon Bleu, Side of Meatballs
We sat at a table uncomfortably close to the front door and were quickly greeted and given menus. I ordered a glass of the house wine, a "primativo" that was aptly named being primitive and obviously cheap. At $6.00 a glass, I would not be surprised if the mark-up was in the 600% to 700% range. The glass was small and filled a little more than halfway, leaving four, maybe five, ounces ...
I ordered the New England (the white variety) clam chowder, the tortellini cordon bleu, and a side of meatballs. After asking for water three times, my wife finally received hers, but I had to ask yet again to get mine, coming in a mason jar for some odd reason. This restaurant is apparently trying to find an identity with its' eclectic menu, modern decor, and new location, but they obviously have not figured it out yet. The soup finally arrived just seconds before our
Having lived in Italy for three years and traveling there extensively over the years, I found that Italians would NEVER think of eating meat and pasta together. Basil Leaf's menu is not even close to authentic Italian. Meat loaf? Yes, Italians actually eat meat loaf, calling it "polpetone", literally "big meatball" (meatballs are called polpette in Italy). They eat meatballs too, but NEVER WITH SPAGHETTI! Spaghetti and other pasta dishes are called "primo piatto" or "first plate" and are also referred to as "primi" for short. Meat dishes fall into the "secondo piatto" or "second plate", aka "secondi" and are not brought to the table until the antipasto (appetizer) and primo have been consumed.
Anyway, the New England clam chowder came in the smallest soup cup I had ever seen and was filled a little more than halfway. I asked the server if I could get some bread with my soup, but she said "the bread sticks come with your entree". Translation: "No, you cannot". Fortunately, the entrees arrived just seconds after I got my soup, so it did not take long to consume it and prepare for my oversize entree.
I had heard good things about Basil Leaf's tortellini cordon bleu on Yelp, so I had to try it. The presentation was well done, being served in an oversize bowl (see photo). I love veal and schnitzel (pork cutlet) cordon bleu and this dish actually came close in terms of taste. Nontraditionally covered with a chicken cutlet (something you would never see in a classic Italian restaurant), the dish reminds me of a carbonara with ham and cheese added. It was delicious, but would have been better had it been served fresh from the pan and hot (warm). I finished half of the pasta, the lone bread stick (cut loose folks), and one of the three meatballs, leaving me a hearty dinner for the following night. The meatballs were excellent, having the correct consistency and seasoning and obviously homemade. Kudos to the chef!
Mac and Cheese
My wife ordered the "mac and cheese", another heaping helping of handmade pasta reminiscent of my Aunt Gina's chicatielli from Ariano, Irpino (Italy). The sauce was creamy and rich, but not overwhelmingly so. Being a native Italian born in Sicily, her palate is well honed when it comes to pasta, an Italian staple. She liked the mac and cheese even though there is no such recipe in her homeland.
Basil Leaf Cafe left us unimpressed. Maybe it was because of the hype, maybe a bad night, time will tell. The pasta dishes, "starters", and salads are overpriced ($8 for a house salad?) as was the wine ($6 for 4 ounces of cheap wine). The decor needs some warming up, the tables could be rearranged to seat more customers or create a much needed waiting area (waiting customers now hover over tables of seated customers), the service sketchy, and the menu and food underwhelming. I spotted only two or three dishes on the limited menu that I would bother ordering, so our options for a return visit are already limited. There are enough "classic" Italian pasta sauce recipes to fill the menu twice over (carbonara, amatriciana, ragu, bolagnese, boscaiola, marinara, alfredo to name a few), so embrace something ... anything ... and create an identity in your decor, servers, and menu fit for a town that still does not have an Italian restaurant worthy of our custom.
CombatCritic Gives Basil Leaf Cafe 5 Out of 10 Bombs ... Bombs are Good!