Walk into Lucchesi's Ravioli & Pasta Co. and the aroma of Italian herbs immediately fills your nose and your mind with the anticipation of good things to eat.
Lucchesi's, which is best known for its prepared entrees and handmade pastas, expanded its lunch menu a couple of months ago when Alyce Mantia came on board to manage the deli and expanded cheese department.
She added some favorite menu items from her now-closed grocery/deli, Mantia's, to the paninis and hoagies on Lucchesi's regular lunch menu.
"It's kind of a merging of the two menus," said Mantia, who has found herself a comfortable home in the East Memphis establishment.
On a cold damp day, homemade soup is irresistible. I especially liked the tangy tomato-basil, which is slightly spicy and thick but not creamy.
But the earthy and robust flavors of black-eyed peas and rice combined in a hearty bowl of Hoppin' John soup were equally satisfying.
Fish tacos, a special of the day, featured grilled tilapia topped with creamy coleslaw served in a soft tortilla. Although these could have used more zip from spices or a squeeze of lime, they were not bad.
I always like it when you can order soup along with a half sandwich or small salad without breaking your lunch budget and that's what Lucchesi's offers. We got it with one of the reliably tasty standbys at Mantia's, pimiento cheese with lettuce and tomato on tangy wheat bread.
It was difficult to narrow our choices to one of the six paninis on the menu. We were tempted by roast turkey and brie, roast beef and gorgonzola, mozzarella caprese, Erinway chicken and a pressed version of the New Orleans muffaletta.
But we settled on the Italian Tuscan panini featuring a tender slab of grilled chicken breast topped with chopped artichoke hearts and fresh mozzarella cheese on a crusty ciabatta roll.
When those ingredients are laced with sun-dried tomato aioli and basil pesto, you've got an exceptional sandwich.
In another selection, the meaty flavors of grilled portobello mushrooms are enhanced with feta cheese and basil pesto in a sandwich served on a hoagie roll.
Sandwiches can be ordered on several different breads including ciabatta, sourdough white, white or wheat hoagie rolls, tangy wheat and marble rye.
Several kinds of homemade cookies as well as cannoli and tiramisu are available for dessert. We sampled a fudgy brownie and a large square of gooey butter cake.
Similar to a chess square, the gooey butter cake at Lucchesi's is sweet, rich, fattening and decadent. I enjoyed every bite I took, but felt guilty afterwards.
One of the good things about lunching at Lucchesi's is you can pick up everything you need for dinner at the same time, including pastas like raviolis stuffed with seafood, exotic mushrooms and cheeses, Italian spinach, salads and even a pizza to bake at home.
And if you like unusual cheeses, you can select from about 65 to 70 kinds.
When at capacity, Lucchesi's seats 28 people at its closely placed tables. When the weather warms, the four tall-top tables will be placed outside under an awning for al fresco dining. They will be replaced with shorter, and to my mind more comfortable, tables and chairs indoors.
Lucchesi's Ravioli & Pasta Co.
Address: 540 S. Mendenhall
Telephone: (901) 766-9922
Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Handicapped access: Yes
Alcoholic beverages: Beer
Don't miss: Tomato Basil Soup, Italian Tuscan panini, Gooey Butter Cake.
Web site: lucchesis.com