I moved to the Quad Cities fifteen years ago and for the longest time I said the area had no good Italian restaurants. The height of Italian cuisine for most people was the Olive Garden. Then we discovered Lunardi's.
Since 1989, Lunardi's has been run by Terry Lunardi, a large jovial guy who looks a little like Santa Claus without the suit. (Actually, Terry lives right down the street from us.) Lunardi's is located in a strip mall near North Park Mall in Davenport (see map - but be careful, Lunardi's has an East Kimberly address, but it's actually behind the Hooters and Northwest Bank). I'm usually against most restaurants in strip malls but Lunardi's is a notable exception.
Terry Lunardi - photo courtesy Quad City Times
We were going to go to Dubuque last Saturday night to go see Wicked Liz and the Bellyswirls open for Styx at America's River Festival. But I'd been on the road all week, up late the previous two nights and had to drive back from Omaha on Saturday morning. Plus it was unseasonably cold - temps didn't get out of the 50's on Saturday - and it was an outdoor concert. So we decided not to go. I felt bad because we really did want to see them open for Styx, but I knew it wouldn't be comfortable out.
So, instead we met up with Scott and Marcia Schroeder for a few drinks at the Circle Tap in Davenport, then we went up to Lunardi's for dinner. Our daughter, Leah, came down on Friday night and she went with us.
We got there around 8:30 and we got right in. There have been some nights that we've had to wait about 20 to 30 minutes to get a table, but since the night was cool, there weren't a lot of people out and about. We all got a menu and tried to figure out what we wanted that evening.
Lunardi's is not large, but not small. It has a nice cozy feel to it. There are booths on the opposite walls with tables able to seat 2, 4 or 6 people in between. The bar is in the middle of the restaurant and seats about 12 people.
Cindy and Leah were in the mood for fettuccine alfredo, so they went with that (adding grilled chicken and broccoli). I went with the old stand-by - Lunardi's lasagna. Their lasagna is served in a huge baking dish and only the most hearty appetite can finish it in one setting. I like the large chunks of Italian sausage in their lasagna. It's very good.
Scott and Marcia went with Lunardi's pizza. It's a deep dish with loads of toppings and sauce. In fact, I call it one of my favorite pizzas in the Quad Cities (see earlier post, and scroll down to "Best of the Quad's"). It's certainly a very underrated pizza.
As is Lunardi's as a whole. I've had a couple things on their menu that aren't that good (their clam chowder is supposedly homemade, but it tastes worse than any canned clam chowder I've ever had - and they have a stuffed chicken dish that I've had that was pretty bad, as well). Their dinner salads and homemade dressings are average, their bread is pretty non-descript, but the majority of their Italian specialty entrees are above average.
Lunardi's is pretty low-profile - they don't advertise much, and they are sort of off the beaten path. But it's some of the finest Italian food in the area. Given that it's a stone's throw from The Olive Garden, people going over there to get generic Italian food don't know what they're missing by by-passing Lunardi's.
(Update - Tragically, Terry Lunardi passed away in August of 2009. We had gotten to know Terry pretty well since he was a neighbor. When we would come in to Lunardi's, he would always talk to us about what was going on around the neighborhood. We'd see him drive by on his motorcycle and if we were out in the yard he'd stop and talk with us. His brother and nephew (who now lives in Terry's old house) continue to run the restaurant. But Terry is sorely missed by his friends, family and those who worked for him.)