A sweet new sandwich shop has popped up on Merivale Road, next door to The Merivale Fish Market that has been a fixture in this spot for almost 20 years. Luigi Panini is a great example of a “next generation” eatery, where the children of long-time Ottawa restaurateurs grow up and get into the business themselves.
In this case, Anthony Epifano is the son and nephew of the family-owners behind the fish market. He and his pal Andrew Fisher (both Algonquin culinary program graduates) run the new lunch counter that doubles as an espresso bar and gelateria (serving a limited selection from Pure Gelato). The “Luigi” in the name is Epifano’s grandfather.
The open concept means you can watch as lunches are prepared fresh to order on crunchy-chewy ciabbata bread from Art-Is-In Bakery. Knowing that seafood would come from serious purveyors next door, it was a toss-up between the daily special, fish tacos, and the lobster melt.
The sandwich won out: it combined large chunks and shredded pieces of lobster — including the hilariously sinister-looking meat of the entire tiny claw — with a soft, gooey layer of cheese (a mild, slightly nutty mélange of havarti, mozzarella, and gruyere). As a rich lobster grilled cheese it was good — but for me it seemed to be missing a fresh contrasting element like tomato or greens, even avocado, to make it memorable. No matter, equilibrium was restored with a lovely homemade quinoa salad studded with sweet potato, black beans, and sweet peppers. The water dispenser filled with floating lemon slices further attests to the attention to detail here.
I am compelled, however, to offer a word of warning to lovers of the classic sandwich combo of mozzarella, tomato, and basil. The Caprese Panini here gets a surprise smear of chopped garlic (and plenty of it), which might not suit all tastes. Next time I will ask for it to be left off.
Espresso fans should not miss the affagato — a shot of dark espresso served with a scoop of gelato. The vanilla gelato was sold out so I opted for Bacio (chocolate hazelnut) and the combination was sensational.
Cost: panini $5-$14, salads, $4, affagato $5.
Luigi Panini, 1482 Merivale Rd., 613-762-2280.