Louis restaurant serves plenty of comfort food at comfortable prices

11:19 AM EDT on Thursday, June 17, 2010

By Gail Ciampa

Journal Food Editor
The pancakes at Louis on Brook Street are to die for — no syrup or butter needed. These are fruit pancakes, with blueberries, strawberries, bananas and other fruits.
> The Providence Journal / Sandor Bodo I love breakfast at Loui's. I love breakfast at Louis Family Restaurant. Most of all I love breakfast at Louis, just Louis. I don't care if there are different names assigned the place depending on whether you look at the sign that juts out over the sidewalk, the awning that provides sun protection from the few tables on the street, or the paper menu. It all spells comfort food. Last summer I met "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" host Guy Fieri there when he filmed a segment for his Food Network show. Now this College Hill institution is my go-to spot in Providence for some of the best pancakes you never had at Mom's. Since 1946, this tiny diner at 286 Brook St. has been enjoyed by college students, local workmen taking a coffee break and indeed anyone looking for a home-cooked meal, and a bargain. The prices are ridiculous. A short stack of pancakes costs $3.80; a full, $5.10. A side of bacon or sausage is $2.25. A half order of Shepherd's Pie is $3.25, and a full, $5.55. When ordering, go for the smaller portion every time because it's more than enough. Louis Gianfrancesco was a cook in the Army and when he got out, he opened the place up. Today, his children run the place, including John and Albert there cooking up a storm. "As long as they come, I don't care what they call it," said John in the low key manner that is his signature there behind the counter. Nor do I, as long as they keep making the granola, pumpkin or fruit pancakes. I've had all three and I love them all. These are pancakes that don't even need butter. And to put syrup on them would be a travesty. All the pancakes start with the batter from Louis' Army cookbook, John told Fieri. But how could turmeric and rum be in that book? Whatever that recipe calls for, it's got it right. The granola ones add in old fashioned oats, raisins, wheat germ, sesame seeds and bran that is baked with fruit, honey and maple syrup. How can they not be amazing? The pumpkin ones are so full of all those great fall spices, you long to rake leaves. I can't decide which I like better so I order one of each ($1.90 each). The fruit ones, currently strawberries, are drenched and delicious. Of course there are omelets and hash, egg breakfast specials, with home fries, and breakfast sandwiches, too. It took me three visits before I was ready to try lunch. Chicken barbecued ravioli is a specialty. They are an interesting blend that starts with marinated chicken shredded and paired with ricotta cheese and stuffed into homemade ravs. The marinara sauce is simple but it completes the ravioli dish. On Tuesday, the Shepherd's Pie special is a wonderful version of mashed potatoes, gravy and ground beef paired with peas, spinach and corn. It now rivals breakfast as my favorite dish at Louis. But I like the griddle hamburger and fries, too. Always, the coffee flows. Eating alone? There is a counter where you can watch the cooking or you can sit along the wall where photos will occupy you for the very few minutes it takes to get the food hot from kitchen to you. There are daily board specials and it's hard to believe this small place offers so many different dishes from sandwiches to Italian specialties to fried scallops. But everyone loves breakfast and there are as many versions of that as there names for this place. John Gianfrancesco surprised me by telling me about the Brown University students who appear at the door when they open at 5 a.m. If they've been up studying all night, they love an order of fish and chips to start the day. Louis Family Restaurant, 286 Brook St., Providence, (401) 861-5225, louisrestaurant.org. Diner. Street parking. Not wheelchair accessible. Highchairs. Wifi. Open 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. AE, D, MC, V. Menu items from 50 cents for toast to $8.50 for a veal Parmigiano plate. Wine and beer. A breakfast for two at Louis might look like this: Two-egg special…$3.80 Short stack  pumpkin pancake…$3.80 Side bacon… $2.25 2 coffees… $2.70 Total…$12.55 Tax…$1.00 Tip…$3.00 Total…$16.55

*Please note above picture displays full order of granola pancakes $5.10 Plus added Fresh Fruit $2.50 for a total of $7.60. Short stack granola and fresh fruit is $6.30. Plain full order with fresh fruit $6.70, short stack plain with fresh fruit $5.70.

*Prices subject to change