Intorno serving 'unpretentious' classic Italian fare downtown

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Italian fare at Intorno, 801 Massachusetts St., includes seafood dishes such as the Linguini Monte Mara and the Crab Cakes appetizer. The linguini comes with jumbo shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops and cherry tomatoes in garlic cream sauce. The Maryland crab cakes are served with dill and adobo sauces.

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Jim Vaughn, who has spent most of his career cooking in the Italian district of St. Louis, Mo., is chef and owner of Intorno, the new Italian restaurant at 801 Massachusetts St. His wife, Leslie Vaughn is general manager.

Lawrence’s newest Italian restaurant might have opened in Topeka instead, undoubtedly under some other name.

But around the same time a deal on space in the capital city fell through, Jim Vaughn heard a restaurant here was for sale and decided to check it out.

“When I pulled into Lawrence and stood on this corner, I fell in love with the place,” he said of 801 Massachusetts St., the unique building in the center of downtown, with its rounded-corner entrance, walls of windows and patio seating.

Vaughn named his new restaurant Intorno, an Italian word for round or around, to pay homage to the building’s architecture and historic longtime tenant, the Round Corner Drug Store. Vaughn is the owner and executive chef, and his wife, Leslie Vaughn, is general manager.

At Intorno, Italian food doesn’t translate into the overstuffed menus and trough-sized entrees of some Midwestern restaurants’ approaches to the cuisine.

Like its understated, rustic-modern decor, Intorno’s menu features a carefully selected lineup of dishes on a simple one-page menu.

“Food stacked this high, and plates this big?” Vaughn said, shaking his head while reaching up high then splaying his hands like someone telling a fish story. “I like unpretentious food.”

Intorno’s appetizer menu includes a stuffed and baked portobello mushroom, toasted ravioli and meaty, zingy crab cakes served with smears of both dill and adobo sauce, a recipe that Vaughn said has won a couple of awards.

“We use the best crab meat,” Vaughn said.

Dinner entrees include baked lasagna, grilled chicken spidini and tenderloin Siciliano, a grilled and breaded cut finished with provel cheese in a mushroom wine sauce. From the pasta section, Vaughn said his linguini Monte Mara has been a customer favorite so far. A silky garlic cream sauce covers a bed of linguini with jumbo shrimp, scallops, mussels and clams.

The lunch menu includes meatball, grilled cheese and Italian club sandwiches, plus an antipasto salad plate of olives, salami, prosciutto and cheese.

Vaughn said his menu is an “ongoing process.” There are a few dishes he wants to perfect before putting them on the menu and, depending on diner feedback, there are others he may take off.

When opening Intorno, his first restaurant, Vaughn said he wanted to keep things simple and stick with what he knew — and that’s Italian.

After attending cooking school, Vaughn spent about 30 years cooking for Charlie Gitto’s restaurants in St. Louis. He started as a cook and worked his way up to executive chef at Charlie Gitto’s on The Hill, the Italian district of St. Louis.

“I found passion there, so I just stayed there,” Vaughn said. “I love Italian food.”

Several years ago Vaughn, burnt out and with failing knees, left work on the Hill. He cooked at a high school for several years and underwent a double knee replacement.

“After my knees healed I was ready to jump back in, and here I am,” he said.

Esquina, the former restaurant at 801 Massachusetts St., served its last customers on Oct. 31, and Vaughn and his wife moved to Lawrence the following day. In less than a week, Intorno was open for business.

The restaurant didn’t need major changes to the decor, and Vaughn purchased the space with all its equipment. Same story for most of the employees.

“I also inherited the help, too, and they’re great,” he said. “It’s a good fit.”

Comments

Belinda Rehmer 1 year, 10 months ago

Ummm this sounds delish! I think I'm going to check it out!

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irvan moore 1 year, 10 months ago

will they have plain old spaghetti with meatballs

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momof2ku 1 year, 10 months ago

We had the Swordfish for lunch last week. It was delicious! Waiter was a dud. But the food was really good. We're already talking about going back.

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somebodynew 1 year, 10 months ago

Ate there the first time last week. Will NOT be the last time. I agree the help needs some improvement, but hopefully will get better. Food was great and can't wait to go back to try something different. BTW - the crab cakes are great (I would prefer more sauce, but that is just me).

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walterbradley 1 year, 10 months ago

Dined there Sunday afternoon and not very impressed. There is potential, the space is great but the menu is super small, not creative or exciting and not executed well enough. If your going to have a "non pretentious" approach to the food and have it be so simple you better make sure it is executed flawlessly. Service was so so but there were alot of errors made especially being a slow sunday afternoon. Owners and management were present though you wouldnt know it as not one of them spoke to guests, said hello or asked about our experience once. Not being a hater just hate to see a place have tons of potential and fall short. I will try them again but speak to your clientele and execute your menu fully and stick to it, I went in wanting items I saw on their facebook page menu and it had changed already and was missing 3 of the items I had wanted to try. The basics were missed the chicken was dry ,sides were to small, service fell way short from the moment we walked in to when we left. I dont think they have found their identity or know exactly what they are doing yet. Good luck I hope you pull it together and make it work but you certainly have a way to go beginning with the staffing and food.

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naturalist 1 year, 10 months ago

We had really good food but pitiful service. I didn't recognize any of the staff from Esquina and I went there fairly often. I would have guessed the staff I saw had no restaurant experience because that's the level of service they provided, from the hostess down to the bartenders. I'll give it another try once I hear the service is improved because Lawrence deserves to have a good, St. Louis style Italian restuarant. My guess on the food sitting in the warmer was that the server did not go back to get the food when it was ready. The GM has her work cut out for her.

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Lawrencelovesdogs 1 year, 10 months ago

"Dinner entrees include baked lasagna, grilled chicken spidini and tenderloin Siciliano, a grilled and breaded cut finished with provel cheese in a mushroom wine sauce."

"Provel" is a processed cheese-like food abomination that should never be served in a "good" restaurant.

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08Champs 1 year, 10 months ago

Tried it for lunch, but was very disappointed. I usually wait a few weeks so they can work out the "bugs" but it apparently wasn't long enough. No crab cakes, mixed up order, cold food, cheerful but very ineffective server. The beef on my sandwich was chewy, VERY well done roast beef, bread, and completely tasteless brown water for au jus. No seasoning, no flavor (besides a slight odor of "this beef is too old") and as uninspired as you can get. Just awful.

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Mick Lowe 1 year, 10 months ago

First, I would love to see this restaurant work because we could really use a good St. Louis style Italian restaurant in Lawrence, and I like this space and location for a restaurant. Having eaten there twice, the first time a couple of days after they opened and again a couple of days ago, I believe the jury is still out on whether they'll make it. The first experience was not great-they had 4 wine bottle choices, and the cheapest was $31. That won't fly in Lawrence. Second, the bread was awful, dry with no body to it. Finally, he crab cakes were just average, the pasta entree was cold in the center, and the Caesar salad consisted of a small serving of iceberg lettuce with not much dressing flavor. We chalked it up to "new". On our second visit, it was a bit better. The wine list had grown and there was a $26 red choice, the house salad was larger, with a variety of lettuce and veggies and tasty Italian dressing. The lasagna was ok, however some of the noodles were mushy and it was just lukewarm in the middle, but the sauce was adequately flavored. The bread was a huge improvement, more of a "Wheatfields" quality. The service was very good and a staff person asked how our meals were. This restaurant has a long ways to go but if the improvement from visit 1 to visit 2 is any indication, they are trying. Good luck to them, I hope they eventually "get it".

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nicole 1 year, 10 months ago

I went to this restaurant with a couple of friends about two weeks ago and it was a mediocre experience. The selection and drink menu seemed fine. The atmosphere was okay aside from the anxious, bored greeter hovering about and occasionally staring at us. Also, the table being right next to a giant coat rack could be improved by a plant or something inbetween.

We ordered a cheezy bread starter and drinks, and waited. And waited. After a long time our drinks arrived. Apparently it takes 30 min to melt cheese on a piece of bread because that didn't come. We reminded the waiter and it came with everything else bearing a leathery layer of flavorless cheese.

The waiter was strange. He would disappear for long periods of time, and then he would grovel patronizingly in a way that was blatantly disingenuous. It seemed he wanted us out of there because we had to take our own initiative to find out the dessert options.

I am not one for big portions, but seriously, My "entree" consisted of about ten dainty tortellinis huddled together which I consumed in about 5 bites. All in all, the food was pretty good but I don't really feel like going back.

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one2no 1 year, 10 months ago

Ok so I have tried this place a few times. The waiter Michael is a dud,lol. One of the gals that works behind the bar is a unfriendly bartender. They change the menu what seems like every week?? I guess the kitchen is to small to get much done outside of cooking a hamburger. They have nothing for kids which maybe they don't want. They need some new staff and to get their sh-t together!!

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