Jan. 16 2013 12:00 AM

Food Fight team focuses on Italian favorite

Well that didn’t take long: Barely two weeks into the new year and already the folks making up this month’s Food Fight team have reverted to our gluttonous selves. But with the title of Best Lasagna in Lansing at stake, could we really be expected to stick to our diets?

We visited six of Lansing’s most high-profile Italian restaurants — and one that was rumored to have pretty good Italian fare — on a search that would make Garfield green with envy. Each restaurant was graded from 1 to 10 in five sections, with those scores averaged together to get an overall rating for the restaurant. Categories included cost per portion, meatiness (we’re leaving veggie lasagna open for a future Food Fight), cheesiness and the consistency of the pasta.

Fun fact: this week’s team included two research scientists who took this thing rather seriously. How serious? One of them signed the voting sheet “Dr. Lasagna.”

Falsetta’s Casa Nova: 6.1 out of 10

It’s not that we found the “unmemorable” lasagna at Falsetta’s off-putting; it just left so much to be desired — most of our complaints were crimes of omission. Variations on “needs more cheese” and “needs some herbs” popped up several times. For $9.99, it ranked in the middle of our value scale. On the positive side, a couple of judges enjoyed the sauce, which was one of the evening’s thicker and “more viscous” consistencies. However, it was hard to argue with one of our reviewers, who said it tasted “like Chef Boy-R-Dee sauce — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” Still, when the highest compliment you can pay a dish is comparing it to a mass-produced canned product, maybe it’s time for a little tweaking. 

Falsetta’s Casa Nova, 138 S. Waverly Rd., Lansing, (517) 323-9181

Cugino’s Italian Restaurant:  6.5 out of 10

To be fair, when five people come into a restaurant during the dinner rush and ask to share a single entrée, you’re not exactly making your server’s day. Still, hard feelings are no excuse for the 40 minutes we waited for our meal at Cugino’s. Even with our hunger, however, this order still left us feeling empty. The “ricotta was clumped in one solid lump,” the meat was “scarce” and the sauce was “rather bland.” What that sauce lacked in flavor from the herbs we were looking for — such as basil, parsley or fennel — it more than made up for in garlic, which some of us found “excessive.” And come on, we’re talking lasagna here: when more than one person complains there’s “not enough cheese,” something’s amiss. For $11.65, you do get a heaping helping, but the “terrible” garlic bread really left a bad taste in our mouths. Literally.  

Cugino’s Italian Restaurant, 306 S. Bridge St., Grand Ledge, (517) 627-4048

Deluca’s Restaurant and Pizzeria: 6.7 out of 10

We enjoyed the fact that our lasagna arrived “floating in sauce,” but the number one complaint came from our collective inner carnivores: “where’s the beef?” and “the meat is almost undetectable” were common laments. For $9.50, you get a good portion, but the only cheese we could pick out was mozzarella, seriously costing Deluca’s some points. Or perhaps mozzarella is their best foot forward. Remarked one of the judges:  “They’ve got pizzas figured out — now they need to perfect their lasagna.” 

Deluca’s Restaurant and Pizzeria, 2006 W. Willow St., Lansing (517) 487-6087

Pizza House: 7 out of 10

Now we’re starting to get somewhere. Interestingly, the Pizza House lasagna includes both Italian sausage and pepperoni in the meat sauce, which “could have used some more seasoning — fennel, basil, anything.” Everyone enjoyed the “nice mix of cheeses” and the pasta, which “held up nicely” and “didn’t turn to mush like some of the (evening’s) other plates.” Still, it was hard to justify that $13.99 price, which we agreed was on the low end of the value spectrum. “Nothing on this plate justified this robbery,” said one of the more bitter judges. But hey, if you like to hear terrible karaoke over some good Italian food, Pizza House seems to be the place to be. 

Pizza House, 4790 S. Hagadorn St., East Lansing, (517) 336-0033 

Emil’s: 7.9 out of 10

A couple years ago, City Pulse ruffled some feathers over at “Lansing’s oldest (still operational) restaurant” with an unfavorable review. We were tempted to skip this one to avoid adding fuel to the fire, but thankfully we didn’t — the lasagna at Emil’s was the second best surprise of the evening. Although initially the appearance was “far from appetizing” (at first, it just looked like someone had filled a small baking boat with marinara sauce), Emil’s’ offering was “much better than expected.” The meat was “spicy” the dish was “loaded with stuff — good and dense” and the serving was “pleasantly cohesive.” Rather than order a full meal ($11.95), we opted for a side order ($7.95), which, when considering you also get a choice of salad or soup, made for a decent value. Emil’s has been taking some ribbing lately, but they still put together a good plate of lasagna. So … truce? 

Emil’s, 2012 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing (517) 482-4430

Trowbridge Pizza & Pasta: 8.4 out of 10

If Emil’s was the second best surprise, this one was the eye-popper. For starters, you get a whopper of a serving for a meager $7.41 (including a big piece of above-average garlic bread), shattering all previous cost-per-portion ratings — of any Food Fight ever — with an impressive 9.9 average. “A great combo of meats,” “solid blend of cheeses” and the lasagna noodles had a “pleasant ruffled texture” that led one of our reviewers to remark, “ribbed … for my pleasure.” The server also offered a service unique for the evening: “she pre-cut our slice — yay, no mess!” A little bit of service goes a long way. Bravo, Trowbridge Pizza.  

Trowbridge Pizza & Pasta, 970 Trowbridge Road, East Lansing, (517) 203-5140

Spagnuolo’s: 8.7 out of 10

Long story short: Spagnuolo’s knows lasagna. We all “loved the fresh parmesan on top,” enjoyed the “chunkiest meat” sauce of the pack, which had “huge pieces of Italian sausage,” and finally we saw some green (as in fresh herbs), including the “fresh chopped parsley (which) gave it some good zip.” Furthermore, the “al dente noodles held the layers together the best out of anyone.” It was only middle-of-the-road for value, however, at $10.99, but it does come with both soup and salad, so there’s that. Dr. Lasagna did point out, however, that he felt “this was a metamorphic lasagna, but it should be sedimentary.” God only knows what he was rambling about. 

Spagnuolo’s, 662 W. Grand River Ave., Okemos, (517) 349-9605

When we asked our Facebook followers who had the best lasagna in town, it was hard to argue with the folks who said that it’s a dish that tastes best when it’s homemade, with several claiming to have the best recipe. If you are one of those people, we humbly point you to the masthead of this paper for City Pulse’s street address so you know where to submit your entry; for everyone else, now you know what restaurants to patron.  

And yes, this was all done in a single evening. Please don’t tell our cardiologists.

If you’d like to weigh in with your own choices or rip any of ours to shreds, email us at food@lansingcitypulse.com.