By all accounts, Cafe Louie in the East End was a bona fide hit — an all-day cafe by brother-and-sister chef duo Angelo and Lucianna “Louie” Emiliani, the cafe’s namesake. Visitors loved it. The reviews—both in the mainstream press and on social media—were enthusiastic and laudatory.
Four months in, however, the Emiliani’s realized that their vision for an all-day cafe—open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays serving breakfast, lunch and dinner—wasn’t sustainable. Staffing was a huge issue, and financial viability was another. A pivot needed to happen in order for the fledgling enterprise to survive. This is where Louie’s comes in.
“I love Italian American food,” proclaimed Angelo during a phone interview with Eater. So much so, that he began offering a Sunday prix-fixe supper called “Red Sauce Sunday” shortly after Cafe Louie opened. It was meant to bring the neighborhood together, and it succeeded. Sunday evening revenues soon surpassed the breakfast and lunch business. The writing was on the wall. “It took us a while to come to the conclusion that we needed to change Cafe Louie,” Angelo explains. “But, once we realized it had to happen, ‘Red Sauce Sunday’ became a proof of concept for the rebrand.”
Louie’s opened on December 8 after a brief, two and a half weeks closure. They used the time to take a much needed break — Angelo confesses he was stretched entirely too thin while running the operation as an all-day cafe — and to make cosmetic changes to the restaurant and finalize operational details. The result is a restaurant open for dinner service only, Thursday through Monday evenings, from 5 to 10 p.m.
Breakfast and lunch service have been scrapped. The Italian espresso machine is gone, and so are the baked goods and viennoiserie. Louie still sells these products on a wholesale basis at Little Red Box Grocers, also in the East End, Catalina Coffee in the Heights, and Giant Leap in Uptown Park, but you won’t find them at Louie’s. Brunch is also a thing of the past, though Angelo says he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of bringing it back somewhere down the line.
Louie’s menu offers a variety of small plates, pastas, mains, sides, and desserts. Angelo says 90 percent of the dishes came from his “Red Sauce Sundays.” Mainstays include the meatball appetizer; Caesar salad, made with special recipe palladin croutons he adopted from his time working at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Yountville; and mushroom marsala tajarin, a pasta shape from Piemonte, similar to tagliolini, which he has been making since his days as a chef at Lolo’s in Los Angeles.
With the exception of the rigatoni, which is served with a choice of vodka sauce or lamb sausage ragu, all of the pasta is scratch-made, in house. Representative pastas include a spinach ravioli in choice of sauce; tagliatelle bianco finished with 24-months aged Parmigiana-Reggiano, which you can get with prosciutto or freshly shaved truffles; and ossobuco tortellini.
Mains include a saucy chicken parmesan, sausage and peppers, and redfish piccata. Sides are typically a seasonal vegetable, such as seared cauliflower or roasted pumpkin. Desserts, overseen by Louie, include options like tiramisu, fiore de latte panna cotta, and a blood orange float. For those looking to try a bit of everything, Louie’s has introduced a Family Meal option, priced at $60 per person, with a minimum of two people, served family-style across four courses.
The interiors, which were once painted in hues of pink and sea foam green, have been replaced with an Italian-themed palette of deep reds and yellows. Bougainvillea wallpaper was added to give the space a homier feel, and is an ode to Angelo and Louie’s mother’s favorite flower.
The restaurant’s facade also announces the transformation in a big way. The gold lettering in the Louie’s logo, done by sign painter Melissa Easton, is made from real gold leaf painted over a deep red background.
Louie’s has a full liquor license, so in addition to beer and wine, patrons can now indulge in cocktails too. The bar program is still under development, but among the current choices are a frozen Negroni, an Aperol Spritz, and a Louie’s Martini, made with gin and salted passionfruit, one of Louie’s favorite fruits.
“We really wanted the neighborhood to come to the restaurant,” says Angelo. “With our rebrand, we’ve started to see a lot more of the neighborhood come out. We feel that a greater part of our story is not just being a good restaurant, but being a good steward of the community.”