What’s the easiest way to let someone know you’ve never been to Yonkers, NY before? Perhaps by creating a cocktail based heavily on passion fruit and naming it after Yonkers, as if the city that separates the Bronx from Westchester County were some kind of tropical paradise and not a dense, working-class industrial enclave. As I sipped the (certainly delicious) Yonkers Passion Fruit Drink ($22.50) at Louey’s, the new Italian-American restaurant at the back of the Esplanade Hotel, I thought about what Yonkers might represent in a cocktail. Something oily? Maybe smoke? Later, my sister helped. Like me, she attended a school not far from Yonkers. “Beer mixed with orange juice,” she joked.

It’s a weird thing, Melbourne’s obsession with New York-style Italian joints, especially when they get as fancy as Louey’s, a pop-art-decorated space with neon pizza slices adorning the ceiling, a disco ball, and, on many nights, a DJ spinning music under that reflecting orb. . It’s a bit like Disney’s version of the Italian-American restaurant, a pure fantasy that piles on gooey, cheesy decadence while mostly ignoring the reality of what would be served in any real American restaurant that isn’t in a theme park.

Louey’s is the park’s version of a red sauce Italian restaurant. Justin McManus

This isn’t always a bad thing. There’s a case of garlic bread ($16) that’s so full of cheese and butter that it’s impossible not to love it. The pizzas ($27-$34) are similarly gaudy, a little sloppy due to undercooked crusts and an abundance of toppings. The menu doesn’t address this: many of the descriptions include phrases like “too cheesy” and “too much basil.” Does not lie.

This approach works best with dishes like the Eggplant Parmesan ($26), which is not only cooked to a pleasant mushyness and crusted with a generous amount of Parmesan, but it’s also stuffed with ricotta cheese. precise? No, delicious sparkle? Yes.

Pastas range from simple (“large rigatoni” with red sauce and vodka, $28) to sophisticated, like the gnocchi carbonara ($33), which was so rich that I could only muster a few bites.

The half lobster is a bargain at $75, but the cooking was uneven during the reviewer's visit.
The half lobster is a bargain at $75, but the cooking was uneven during the reviewer’s visit.Justin McManus

Things get trickier when it comes to the half lobster, which can be considered a bargain at $75 (I’ve seen half lobster around town going for more than twice that price). But the spiny monster comes out unevenly cooked and is hard to wrestle with its skin, and its copious skin of green garlic butter helps but doesn’t hide its flaws.

And I wondered, in a kitchen so intent on fattening, frying, and otherwise enriching everything, why the side of green tomatoes ($12) were marinated and not fried, and the result was too sour and slightly woody.

“This place is as fun as can be, if you’re into food and extreme vibes.”

For a place that’s not shy about its pursuit of lighthearted fun, it’s strange that the dessert selection is limited to cannoli ($8 each), lemon gelato and syrup served in a lemon ($16) and gelato of the day (market price). I was expecting a sundae of ice cream, a pile of bomboloni, or at least a tiramisu rotini. Pretty good cannoli, though.

Service is a bit of a problem. Either the place is run down, in which case the friendly young staff are severely disturbed, or it is dead, in which case they become weak, failing to do basic table maintenance. On a recent quiet Sunday evening, a spray bottle of detergent and a rag for most of our meals were left on the booth section next to us, we had to beg for water, and servers walked past us, avoiding my hopeful attempts at eye contact.

But look, this place is as fun as can be, if you’re into food and extreme vibes. It’s great for kids – a friend’s daughter just celebrated her 8th birthday there and had a blast, the disco music, bright lights and cheesy food make for a proper celebration. And the Espy itself is something of a booze-filled theme park these days, allowing for multiple fictional versions of a bar: a Speakeasy bar and a grunge live music venue under one roof. Louey’s may be the smartest of them all, but he makes no apologies for himself. There is a certain charm to a place that is not ashamed of its abundance.

Low down

Vibration: A pop art-studded, disco ball-lit, theme park version of a red sauce Italian restaurant

Go-to dish: Eggplant Parmesan, $26

drinks: Cocktails that are almost new but are nonetheless well made; Short Italian and Australian wine list

it costs: About $130 for two people, plus drinks

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Default avatarBesha Ruddell is the anonymous lead restaurant critic for The Age and Good Weekend.

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