LDV Hospitality owns Iron Chef Marc Forgione’s American Cut and Alain Allegretti’s Azure in Revel, but the New York-based restaurant group is most proud of its more casual concept that may not have the buzz of its more expensive peers.
Lugo Cucino e Vino, a casual, authentic Italian experience that opened its flagship location three years ago in New York, has the potential to become one of Atlantic City’s finest Italian restaurants without a hefty price tag.
“We have some amazing, acclaimed restaurants in New York,” says John Meadow, principal and founder of LDV Hospitality. “We have places such as Scarpetta, which received a three-star review from the New York Times, and Veritas, which received a Michelin star, and we also have American Cut and Azure, but Lugo represents who we are as people and our company ethos. Lugo is the one that most resonates with LDV Hospitality and it’s why we are in this crazy restaurant business.
The charming Lugo offers an eclectic menu that is both simple and upscale while also being accessible — both in price and familiarity. The Italian cafe offers a charming experience with a clean, black-and-white decor accented by matching photos of Italy, a wall of Italian liquors and a beautiful bar area. Think a modern version of Fellini’s Rome.
“The key to Lugo is that it is not a fancy restaurant where you have to pay $100 a head,” Meadow says. “It’s accessible and still elegant with pasta made in-house and mozzarella stretched to order. The pizza is amazing. There’s something for everyone. It’s about delivering a charmed experience to everyday people every day at an everyday price.”
That charmed experience comes with hard work as the kitchen staff arrives before the crack of dawn to prepare for the day, making every one of its pastas in house, including the ricotta and spinach ravioli ($21) in a butter sage sauce, the penne a la vodka ($23) with prosciutto and peas and the rigatoncini Bolognese ($22) with a traditional veal, pork and beef ragu and tomato sauce.
“Lugo is not built to be fine dining, but that doesn’t mean it comes easy,” Meadow says. “We don’t have dry pasta or the same mozzarella. If you do that, you’re like everyone else. There’s still a real passion behind it, even though the prices are affordable. Just because it’s $40 a head instead of $90 a head doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make all of our pastas and do things right.”
Then there’s the mozzarella stretched on premises, fresh salads and homemade soups, paninis for lunch and Meadow’s favorite: six different styles of pizza made in a brick oven, baked at 800 degrees and take about two minutes to completely cook.
“I think the pizza we do in Atlantic City is amazing — and it’s different than the one in New York because the one at Revel is a true Neopolitan-style pizza,” Meadow says. “In New York, it’s a more cutesy, flatbread style.”
Selections include the traditional margherita ($15) with fresh tomatoes and basil; housemade sausage ($17) with broccoli and provolone; and the four-cheese pizza ($28) with fontina, mozzarella, gorgonzola dolce and ricotta.
At lunch, Lugo customers can treat themselves to a Lugo meatball ($13) or porchetta ($12) panini, and, day or night, they can feast on entrees that range from traditional — Mediterranean branzino ($27) with tomatoes, salsa verde, asparagus; seared scallops ($32) with vegetable risotto and pea puree — to Americanized Italian comfort food such as veal Milanese ($30) and piccata ($32), and chicken parmigiana ($24) with aged provolone.
“We don’t want to be alienating, but we learned what people wanted along the way,” Meadow says. “When we first opened Lugo in New York, there was no red sauce, no meatballs, no chicken parm — it was all authentic Italian. But I will never forget when one customer came in and ordered veal scaloppini with a side of marinara and a side of parmesan and said, ‘See, now I have my parm.’ We had a meeting that day and came up with a different approach to our menu that is more balanced. We can have authentic Italian and we can also have great chicken parm and unbelievable meatballs.”
The Lugo menu also evolves based on Meadow’s — and his culinary team’s — experiences. For example, a visit to the Twiga Beach Club in Forte Dei Marmi, Italy, resulted in one of Lugo’s best dishes — Trofie ($23), hand-twisted pasta with fresh basil pesto and rock shrimp — being added to the menu.
“It doesn’t get much more fancy, snotty or fufu than that place, but when I tasted it, I knew we had to have it on our menu. And it works on our menu,” Meadow says.
Revel’s Lugo, Meadow says, will take more time to develop a loyal fan base as opposed to New York. But when it does, Meadow says he hopes Lugo will become as much of a locals hangout as it is a place for resort guests to dine.
“New York City is obviously less transient than the casino environment,” Meadow says. “We see the same faces four or five times in New York. They have breakfast on Monday, a lunch meeting on Wednesday, dinner on Thursday and happy hour on Friday. We are across from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. So there’s a million people in that area, and people got it really quickly. But in the end, we know it’s about repeat guests and finding a real home. The first time people go to Revel, they are likely to go have that theater dining experience at American Cut and Azure. Lugo is not about the entertainment of dining. It’s about the comfort level. So the next time they come to Revel and they have that big, spectacular fancy meal, they may just want to enjoy themselves at Lugo. We are there long-term; we are not interested in just chasing the tourist from out of town. We want to be a part of the community and be their go-to, local Italian choice.”
Lugo may not be the best-known restaurant at Revel, but Meadow says people who try it will never forget the experience and will walk away satisfied.
“Italian food is not about the chef’s craft,” Meadow says. “It’s about simple ingredients treated with respect and prepared with passion. Italian food for me has never been about a fancy experience. It’s about simple indulgence. I think the beauty of Lugo is that if you want to come in at 5 p.m. and sit down and have a cappuccino and tiramisu, you can do that. But if you want to have a huge, 30-course meal at lunchtime, you can do that, too.”
Jun Aizaki of of Creme Design modeled Lugo after inspiration from 1950s Fellini films in Rome, capturing the charms of Italian cafe culture. With white wood work, Lugo offers a clean, bright, modern aesthetic with retro elements. It’s the kind of cafe you would find in Italy if it was built in the last 10 years. “I don’t know another Italian restaurant that has the feel we offer at Lugo,” says John Meadow, principal and founder of LDV Hospitality. “Everything is usually those traditional dark, mahogany woods everywhere. It’s about communal seating where we mostly have two-tops that can come together. It’s a fun, high-energy place that is supposed to be loud and engaging. It’s designed to be bustling with people.”
No Celebrity Chef?
When LDV Hospitality was discussing an Italian concept with Revel, Meadow says Revel officials were pushing for a big-name chef to helm the restaurant such as Iron Chef Marc Forgione and Alain Allegretti at American Cut and Azure, respectively. “But as adamant as they were, asking for us to work with this chef or that chef, we thought Lugo was too special. We are blessed to have guys like Marc and Alain, but Lugo is more about the concept and not about a gimmicky celebrity chef. The brand is not to be manipulated and is a very pure vision. It’s our new version of a grand Italian cafe.”
Must-try Lugo cuisine
Start off with the roasted beet salad ($14) served on top of yogurt with crispy fried shallots, hazelnut and a balsamic glaze; the mozzarella tasting ($20) with bufala, stracciatella and ciliegne fior di latte; the grilled Spanish octopus ($15) with chick peas and lemon parsley oil; and the mozzarella in “Carrozza” ($14) with fresh tomato ragu. Pasta standouts include the Trofie (see main story); and the cavatelli Malloreddus ($24), a rustic treat with homemade sausage and a porcini ragu. Entrees worth devouring include the balsamic-glazed Berkshire pork chop ($29) with creamy corn sugo; and the grilled marinated lamb chops ($39) with rustic potatoes and broccoli rabe. And don’t leave without trying the desserts ($9) such as the panna cotta with raspberry gelee; lemon ricotta cheesecake with blueberry compote and fresh berries; and fresh gelati and sorbet.