Taste Buds: Food = Love at Chestertown’s Luisa’s Cocina
At some point, we’ve all known someone who thinks that food is love. It might even be you. They’re easy to identify, these people. They’re the ones who say, “just one more helping.” They have kitchens that always smell vaguely delicious in an unidentifiable way. They make generous portions, they say cooking ‘relaxes them,’ and they are always happiest when whatever tempting morsels they’ve spent hours preparing are being joyfully consumed.
Winter dinners at Luisa’s Cocina in Chestertown are like being cooked for by someone who loves you and wants you to sense that feeling in every bite. Of course Luisa’s serves Italian-American cuisine, because who has mastered cooking with love quite like the descendants of Italian immigrants? Generations of the diaspora refining on the bright flavors and comforting dishes of their homeland, cooking for their family’s memory and connection. Luisa’s food is not flashy, not trendy, not hip. Rather, it is fresh, flavorful and familiar. When paired with a glass of Chianti and shared with some friends, it is the foundation for the kind of winter night that has you groaning over your food baby and laughing at the conversation still lilting through your head the whole way home.
When ordering at Luisa’s, follow local ingredients to your comfort-food bliss. Co-owner Vincenzo Assante is proud to serve classic dishes that are prepared with regionally sourced meats and produce and to have his menu change to reflect the seasons. To Assante, it’s simply how Italians live. The staple dish of linguine with clams a-la-Luisa’s is a perfect example. A light infusion of garlic and parsley over al dente pasta is the ideal complement to the sweet local littlenecks from the Chester River Clam Co. The traditional spaghetti and meatballs is also elevated thanks to St. Brigid’s Farm, which supplies the beef for the incredibly soft, rich, pillowy meatballs. And the towering crab quiche (a lunchtime specialty) prepared with local zucchini from White Pines Farm outside of Church Hill, is an unforgettable combination of flaky crust, silky eggs marbled with cheese, and sweet crabmeat that may have you settling down for a little mid-afternoon shuteye after you pay your bill.
Those in the know pay close attention to the specials, where head chef Mimmo Favola’s creative takes on seasonal ingredients and classic staples shine. Rockfish and other locally sourced seafood, St Brigid’s veal, Cedar Run pork, and K&B Market sausages all take a star turn for limited runs, so take full advantage. Pizza purists should drop in on weeknights for Luisa’s stellar brick-oven pizzas. The smoke-kissed crust presents an ideal palette for your choice of toppings (we recommend the timeless Margherita).
Wintertime will see locals lingering at the cocktail bar after dinner, enjoying the cozy warmth of the brick oven while daydreaming over the dessert menu. Take a page out of their book and save room for the artistry concocted by Luisa’s pastry chef, Melissa McGlynn. Armed with a few extra forks, split the dense decadence of the cinnamon-infused chocolate cake. It’s the end of a meal that will have you feeling deeply satisfied — and if Luisa’s chef and owners have their way, maybe also a little bit loved.