Lorenzo's latest restaurant brings Italian fare to
Las Cruces' foothills neighborhood.
When I first came upon the trio of Lorenzo's restaurants in Las Cruces — on University Avenue, North Alameda and in Mesilla — I figured it must be a national chain operation with which I was unfamiliar. The quality of the food and atmosphere, however, indicated otherwise. A few well-placed questions revealed that, no, in fact this was a family-owned and -run business that was so successful it had spread to three locations, each with its own way of serving up classic Italian fare.
These days, Lorenzo's is still a trio, even though it numbers, well, four. Confused? Don't be. At a recent lunch, the owner explained to me that she sold off the Mesilla eatery to a relative, and had just opened her third Lorenzo's, a spacious, multi-floored restaurant on East Lohman Avenue in the fast-growing foothills area. "Oh, you've got to try it!" she exclaimed. I didn't need much encouragement.
My favorite Lorenzo's for lunch is the "Caf" on Alameda. The place has a friendly, casual feel, walls covered with Olde Worlde-ish murals, and a relaxed, capable staff, used to smilingly funneling a bustling lunch crowd into just 11 tables. The quaint "pensione-style" eatery offers up salads, in half or full portions and with warm, fresh bread, hot and cold sandwiches, a plethora of 10-inch pizzas that serve one or two people and, of course, half and full portions of pasta, pasta, pasta.
My favorite salad — a meal in itself — is the Insalata Di Lusso ($7/$9.35), a generous bowl of greens with pecans, bleu cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, currants and Greek olives. Others include a classic chef's salad with Italian meats and cheeses ($7/$9), a vegetarian salad ($6/$8.35) and the delightfully intense honey-smoked salmon salad ($9.50/$11.35). Pizzas ($9.50-$13.50) range from the simple "Formaggio" classic red sauce and cheese pie to others heaped with everything from artichoke hearts to sausage, from eggplant to green chiles. Try the "Genovese" with fresh pesto. And the sandwiches ($8) all are hearty and homey. The classic meatball is a belly-warmer, and you don't have to be a vegetarian to appreciate the fresh and tasty tomato-mozzarella-basil.
Lorenzo's Pan Am on University is the one I've frequented most often — with spouse, friends and even solo — for homey, classic Italian dinners. It's my choice for a decent, yet expeditiously served meal before I hit the road back home. Alternatively, when I'm traveling alone and stay in the city overnight, I've lingered over dinner here for more than two hours, with a good book, wine and dessert. There's often at least one large party, laughing, eating and drinking.
Lunch here can be as light or hearty as one wishes, with the salads, sandwiches and pastas similar to what's offered at the Caf. There are even more pizza topping options and the pies come in small ($10-$15), medium ($13-$19) and large ($14.50-$21).
This location also features ravioli dishes, in half and full portions, served with salad and a basket of warm, fresh bread. I recently enjoyed the Spinach Artichoke Ravioli Con Panna. The artichoke hearts in the bite-sized pasta were delightfully astringent, perfectly cutting the creaminess of the sauce, to which red pepper flakes gave a delightful kick.
Save enough room for dessert, as the lunch menu contains nearly as many options as dinner. The light spumoni ($4.25) features chocolate, cherry and pistachio ice cream. Or indulge in raspberry and crme brule cheesecakes, cannoli filled with ricotta and chocolate chips or a triple chocolate mousse (all $4.85).
The dinner menu at the University Avenue restaurant is echoed at the new "Lorenzo's Avanti" on Lohman, so in the interest of giving the new kid on the block a whirl, this is where I head with friends. The place is impressive — big, open and airy, and abuzz this evening. We are seated immediately, but I wander over to another room, open to the second floor with a fantasy "villa" mural from floor to ceiling. At the top of the open stairs, you can hear just how busy the place is, with conversations and laughter bouncing off the plaster walls. It's a happy noise.
By the time I return to the table, our wine has arrived (glasses $4.50, half-carafes $9-$24, carafes $14.50) and my friends have ordered our appetizers — fried calamari, fried mozzarella sticks and fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and basil (all just over $7). As soon as the server sees I've returned to the table, she comes to take our entre order — impressively attentive service on a busy night!
We barely have time to clink our glasses when the appetizers arrive. The fried dishes are pleasantly non-greasy, and the dipping sauce is a nice marinara. I prefer the fresh mozzarella and tomato dish, enjoying it with warm slices from the bread basket.
We decide to share dishes tonight, picking a wide range of entres and salads, to be brought all at once — even our side salads that come with some of the entres. The chef's salad ($9) is like an antipasto plate with greens. The grilled chicken salad ($9.50), with its feta cheese and olives, has a Greek flavor. Both are pronounced winners.
The three-cheese cannelloni ($12) are appropriately rich and creamy. The green chile and meat lasagna ($12.40) loses none of its Italian heritage in its trip across the border. The grilled ribeye ($20) comes to the table rare, as ordered, with mushrooms sauted in merlot and a side of fettuccini Alfredo. And the chicken parmigiana proves ample, cheesy and saucy, with a side of penne in that slightly spicy "sugo" sauce.
With the four of us having consumed four entres and two dinner salads, it goes without saying that we've left no room for dessert tonight. Pushing back from the table, rubbing our bellies and laughing, we all agree we'll just have to come back soon.
So which Lorenzo's is now my favorite — the sweet, downtown lunch spot, the well-established University Avenue location or this impressive, spanking-new eatery extraordinaire near the foothills? Hard to say. It may take quite a bit more delicious research before I'm sure — and that's work I'm willing to do!
— Donna Clayton Lawder
Lorenzo's Cafe, 741 N Alameda Blvd.: lunch Mon-Fri., 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 524-2850.
Lorenzo's Pan Am, 1753 E University Ave., 521-3505, and Lorenzo's Avanti,
3961 E. Lohman Ave., 522-7755, both open 7 days: lunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m., dinner 4-9 p.m.