Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

Finding a Niche

Former bartender opens neighborhood eatery near VCU.

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The narrow slip of a restaurant has quirky character, from its purple walls and funky terrarium to its open kitchen and smooth jazz. And the fact that Lou is right there behind the bar is a charming, old-fashioned bit of Americana. I'm even taken by the fact that as he joked with the bar full of regulars, my wife leaned across the table to say, "Now I know what happened to Isaac from The Love Boat." The resemblance is that uncanny, and pretty cool in my book.

But when it comes right down to it, aside from a quick and reasonable lunch, Lou's doesn't offer enough to stand out in our competitive restaurant market. Lou isn't going for avant-garde food. He says he wants "folks to walk through the door and feel at home —like you're in somebody's kitchen." But his pricey entrees will hold him back from becoming the casual dinner go-to spot for some.

At lunch you can find the usual suspects arrayed from $6.95-$9.50. From Buffalo wings to spaghetti and meatballs, from the Reuben to the hamburger, these are things you would expect to find just about anywhere. The overall quality is good. There was even a special on two chilidogs for $5 the day I was there. The service was excellent, the homemade Key lime pie just as good as my wife's, and the food was well prepared.

Perhaps best of all, you can get in and out of here on a business lunch schedule. You can preorder for dine-in or carry-out from the Web site, www.lousonline.com, which is handy if you're in a rush.

The dinner menu offers a bit more variety, but there's not enough culinary skill to warrant the cost. With offerings like Havana chicken paired with black beans and corn, and fettuccini with proscuitto (really a Carbonara without the raw egg), the result is a hodgepodge of various cuisines. The problem is, all the dishes are very safe executions of recipes that I've encountered elsewhere. There are steaks and ribs and a veggie gratin, all of which are fine and good, but with prices ranging from $9.95 all the way up to $22.95, I'm expecting something to really catch my attention.

Lou's probably won't cross my mind the next time I'm trying to decide where to eat, but for some in the area its location will be the draw. If Lou lowered the dinner prices he might be able to tap into the college niche, which seems to be what he's done at lunch. Considering he's one of the few serving American cuisine in the neighborhood, he could serve a need. And with his friendly demeanor the neighborhood might begin to feel a sense of loyalty towards the place — and keep it from sitting empty again. S



Lou's ($-$$)
308 N. Laurel St.
359-7568
Monday- Friday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Saturday, 6 p.m.-11 p.m.

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