I had barely exited my car one day last week, when halfway across the street my nose collided with the most intense, heavenly, robust and mouth-watering aromas — I wasn’t sure if it was simmering spaghetti sauce or toasting pizza pies, but it was definitely Italian. All I knew was I was pretty darn happy to be headed in the right direction!
Since Luiggi’s Pizzeria is marking its 60th anniversary this month, I was actually there to meet up with Kelley St. Hilaire, one of six partners who now own the downtown mainstay. Still located after all these years at 63 Sabattus St., the plan was to talk about all things pizza.
And all things spaghetti.
And of course — all things Fergy. More on that infamous Luiggi’s Fergy in a moment.
Having just celebrated their own one-year anniversary, the new crew (consisting of St. Hilaire and her husband, Dennis; Marc and LuAnn Frennette, and Earl and Angie St. Hilaire, owners of the Blue Goose Tavern next door, which will soon celebrate its 80th anniversary) has continued the Luiggi’s tradition of dishing up enormous quantities of spaghetti and boxing up pizzas at the Italian restaurant, first started by Luiggi Talarico in 1953.
The owners have been sensitive to the history of Luiggi’s physical space, knowing that many generations of memories have been made at the small restaurant located at the intersection of Sabattus and Horton streets. “We wanted to keep it as it is. We didn’t want to change the feel,” St. Hilaire said
The owners have added very few new items to the menu, and have been very intentional about sticking to the tried-and-true for most menu items. “Contrary to popular belief, we haven’t changed any of the recipes!” St. Hilaire said. Their highly guarded spaghetti sauce recipe, she said, “has never been changed . . . Ever!” Perhaps their most noteworthy addition has been to begin offering beer and wine.
In charge of making their zesty Italian sauce is 31-year veteran employee Terry Roy. St. Hilaire referred to Roy as the “spice lady” — and although the spice-to-other-ingredient ratios are indeed safely written down on paper as a backup, she said Roy whips up the recipe by heart several times a week. She’s been doing it the same way all those years, St. Hilaire said, adding, “And the recipe will never change!”
The most quirky and unique thing about Luiggi’s Pizzeria? All their pizzas (made with Luiggi’s handmade pizza dough) come with meat on them — even the cheese pizza!
Lovingly dubbed “mystery meat” by Luiggi’s fans, St. Hilaire shed some light by saying it is ham luncheon meat. She admitted not knowing why the restaurant first began putting meat on their cheese pizzas, but that is why the wait staff will often inquire if you want your cheese pizza “meatless”; if you don’t specify, meat you’ll get.
The most dramatic change the new owners have made to the menu, St. Hilaire said, was based on customer feedback — the simple addition of meat in their lasagna. The meatless version is still available for catered events, she said, but is no longer on their regular menu, since the meat version has become much more popular.
Which brings us to Luiggi’s homemade meatballs. Since spaghetti with meatballs is a high-demand menu item (close in popularity to the Fergy sandwich), I wondered how many meatballs the crew at Luiggi’s makes each week. A lot, it turns out. St. Hilaire estimates about 1,200 a week. The six I brought home, smothered in sauce, were scrumpdillyicious and ample enough for two evening’s dinners (four servings total).
And what about the Fergy? As the story goes, this locally renowned sandwich — the recipe for which St. Hilaire offered up to readers — was actually a special concoction requested by an early Luiggi’s customer, Sgt. Arthur R. Ferguson, a Lewiston police officer who died in 1986. The sandwich caught on, became very popular and — incorporating Ferguson’s nickname — became known as the Fergy special.
Since the sandwich is relatively easy to make, we should actually refer to the recipe as “directions” — and St. Hilaire laughingly said the directions are extremely simple to follow, but she likes to issue a disclaimer: For some inexplicable reason, the homemade version just might not taste as fabulous as the restaurant's, she says. Luiggi’s offers up the Fergy in your choice of ham, turkey, tuna or chicken salad.
The Luiggi’s menu is quite comprehensive for a pizza place and includes several salad choices, dinner plates such as chicken or eggplant parmesan, calzones and several appetizer choices. The prices for most menu items range between $2.50 and $10. There is both street parking and a small parking lot located immediately behind the building.
With a year behind her, St. Hilaire is now looking forward to two things: A joint anniversary celebration in October with the Blue Goose and the grand opening — sometime in 2014 — of the restaurant’s second location at the site of the former Graziano’s restaurant in Lisbon.
The famous Luiggi’s Fergy
2 slices Italian bread
6 to 10 pieces of chopped onion
1 slice of ham
2 to 3 slices of tomato
Spread mayonnaise on one both slices of Italian bread. Top one slice with the following: Onion, ham, cheese, tomato and lettuce. Top with desired salt/pepper and the other slice of bread. Voila!!
Luiggi’s meatball sliders
Several cooked meatballs
Shredded cheese (they recommend a provolone/mozzarella mix)
Spaghetti or pizza sauce (not needed if meatballs were already cooked in sauce)
Raw pizza dough
Place meatball on top of a small amount of flattened pizza dough (enough to encase the meatball). Top with 1 to 2 tablespoons of shredded cheese. Add 2 tablespoons of spaghetti or pizza sauce if necessary. Wrap the pizza dough all around the meatball and seal dough where needed. Place on a greased baking dish or pan and bake following the directions that came with the pizza dough, or in a 425-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Serve with a side of heated spaghetti sauce for dipping.
Memere’s whoopie pies
Kelley St. Hilaire’s grandmother, Christine Ducharme, recently fell ill and passed away. In her honor, St. Hilaire wanted to share Ducharme’s recipe for whoopie pies, which she considers to be “the best whoopie pies you’ll ever eat!”
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
5 tablespoons cocoa
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl with a mixer until completely mixed, about 2 minutes. On a cookie sheet, place large spoonfuls of mixture leaving about 2 inches between each spoonful. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Once baked, place whoopie pie cakes on a rack to cool.
1/2 cup shortening
5 cups powdered sugar (or until desired thickness)
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, mixing until smooth. When cakes are cool, frost one cake with desired amount of filling and top with a second cake to make a sandwich.