Winning couple

There's a saying that everything old is new again. Or maybe, new things are really old -- sorry, when you have to keep track of openings, closings, chefs moving all over the place, it gets a bit confusing.

Take, for example, Louie & Maria's over on East Colonial. I recognized the place -- the one that looks like a giant merry-go-round, with the bright colors and carousel horses out front -- as Carnevale d'Amalfi. And I knew that Louis and Maria Palo owned Carnevale, as well as Amalfi's on Chickasaw Trail. So either there was an incredible string of coincidences going on, or the new sign was just another part of the restaurant name game.

Turns out I was right -- and wrong. Louie & Maria's is a new take on the old restaurant. Carnevale was what you might call an oxymoron: good Italian food in a drive-through, fast-food atmosphere. In case you never had the kids demand you drive through "the place with the horsies," there were two windows where you could pick up a decent parmigiana or pizza, if you wanted to wait, of course.

There just wasn't enough room for 20 or so cooks to make that concept work, so semi-abandoning the fast idea, L&M's has stuck with what worked -- the good food.

There is still a drive-up window. Notice I don't say "through" -- when you get to the window, you aren't going anywhere for a while. In fact, if you head inside to the dozen or so tables, expect a wait as well. There's a long-established and deserved reputation here, and with the Amalfi restaurant under different ownership, this is the only place to get Lou's chicken caprese ($10.95) -- tender medallions of chicken stacked with fresh tomato and mozzarella sprinkled with basil -- or one of their crusty, down-home pizzas.

Unlike the scant seating, the food portions are huge. The large pizza ($8.99 to $14.95) comes with more toppings than I've seen at most pizzerias and tastes better too. All of the traditional items are on the menu: veal with peppers, fettuccine Alfredo and the like. That's good because I'm an eggplant parm fan, and L&M's has wonderfully toothy slices under rich, thick marinara and lots of stringy cheese ($8.95).

Prices, as you see, are very reasonable, even for slightly more unusual items like grouper in lemon cream sauce ($11.95), or the dark and wine-laden chicken Marsala, replete with fresh mushrooms ($10.95).

If you squeeze through to the counter (Louie, next time put the counter at the front) and order takeout, go sit in your car and they'll bring it out. That's because it may take less time than waiting for a weekend table. But the wait is definitely worth it.

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