Despite being in a small strip mall, if you’re driving down Lindbergh, it’s impossible to miss the large signs encouraging drivers to try Cugino’s for lunch. I tried it in its first week, which might be where I went wrong.
Since I’ve never tried Cugino’s previously, I’m not sure if the problem was the lunch time kitchen staff or the menu. I'll work under the assumption that the daytime cooks are in training.
Lunch is a seat yourself affair in the bar. The small menu focuses on sandwiches, such as roast beef with provel, blackened chicken with provel and a burger with provel. There's no question that this restaurant caters to St. Louis taste buds. Side dishes for everything (including the burgers) include the option of mostaccioli.
They also offer a few salads, some tasty looking build-your-own pizza options, and smaller versions of dinner entrees. I was about to order the blackened chicken fettuccine, but the beef spedini caught my eye.
It’s been far too long since I’ve had a good beef spedini, so I was downright excited to try it. In retrospect, I wish I’d ordered a burger.
Honestly, the beef spedini wasn't what I expected. I'm accustomed to beef nuggets or thin pounded slices of beef that have been breaded, deep fried and served in a white wine sauce. Instead, I was served what appeared to be thick cut deli slices of beef rolled around a stuffing of provel cheese.
The tomatoes, onions and spices listed on the menu were completely absent. I do believe the cheese stuffed beef slices were deep fried, but unlike the menu description, they obviously hadn’t been breaded first.
A sphere of fried roast beef and cheese was offputting enough, but the already thick white wine sauce rapidly congealed into a gelatinous, slightly wobbly mass. I suspect the cook threw in too much corn starch as a thickener to get it on the table quickly. My straw actually bounced off the surface.
I made myself eat some of it with the spedini just to see how the flavors balanced, but the texture combination of burnt edges from the fried roast beef and gelatinous sugary sauce was too much for me. I tried to eat the second spedini plain. Sadly, without the missing tomatoes, onions and spices that are supposed to be part of a spedini, the only flavors left were salt and grease.
The mostaccioli side dish was a perfectly serviceable rendition of penne noodles in a hearty marinara sauce, albeit heavy on the sweet side. I appreciated the nice flavor of oregano and some visible fennel seeds, though.
Overall, I was pretty disappointed. The thick, gelatinous sauce and the painfully salty, burnt edges of the second spedini made for an uncomfortable dining experience. Some bread to help soak up the heaviness of it all might have helped but not much.
The cheerful, attentive server not only bussed every table but also kept my iced tea full and did a great job answering other diners' questions.
Cugino’s has more than 30 lunch items under $10. I hoped it would be a good, Florissant alternative to St. Louis Bread Company for a quick soup and salad lunch. Alas, at the moment, I can’t recommend them at all.
In the spirit of fairness, since this is the first week they were serving lunch, I'm more than willing to come back in a few months to see if they have the rhythms down. For the moment, I give Cugino’s a sadly disappointed C-.