A Kansas City couple and their son are finding that their Italian sandwiches are going over well in Lawrence.
I first caught sight of the Panini Grille when I was headed home for lunch after shooting aerial photographs of the recent flooding in Douglas and Franklin counties. "Panini" means "sandwich" in Italian, and an Italian sandwich was just what I wanted that day.
The restaurant is at the north end of the Kansas River bridge, in a building that formerly housed a gas station and a leather shop. The owners -- Richard and Janice Weneck and their son, Jason Sukut, all of Kansas City, Mo. -- have turned the small brick-and-stucco building into a culinary mecca.
The interior is decorated in green, red and white -- the official colors of Italy. Plastic grapes, cans of olive oil and a photograph titled "American Woman in Italy" help carry out the theme.
A glass deli counter full of meats, pasta salads and cheeses greets diners as they walk in the door. And the spicy, full-bodied aroma is enough to make you think you've died and gone to Milan and Venice.
I ordered a Tuscan panini -- two slices of bread with layers of Italian roast beef, provolone, tomato, onion and black olives in an oil-and-vinegar dressing. The sandwich was prepared on an Italian grill and was ready within five or six minutes. One bite and I thought, "Thank God; I don't have to drive to Kansas City anymore for this type of sandwich."
The price -- $4.95 -- was easy to swallow, too.
While I was there, a woman came in and ordered the lasagna. When she was told the restaurant had already sold out of the entree, she exclaimed, "Strike me dead!" The restaurant has been open a month and already has regulars.
I was so impressed that a couple of days later I made a return visit to the Panini Grille. This time, I ordered a pasta salad made with green olives, onions and three kinds of pasta in an oil-and-vinegar dressing. The flavorful salad did not disappoint. The cost: $1.29.
Other items on the panini menu include The Deluxe, with smoked turkey, honey ham, genoa salami, pepperoni, roasted red peppers, banana peppers, provolone, mozzarella, sharp cheddar and marinara/pesto sauce; the Santa Fe, with mesquite grilled chicken breast, roasted red peppers, jalapenos, Monterey Jack cheese and homemade salsa; the Very Veggie, with herbal cream cheese, baby Swiss cheese, green peppers, tomato, onion and grilled mushrooms; and the Leaning Pizza, with pepperoni, onion, green pepper, black olives, mozzarella cheese and homemade sauce.
All paninis are $4.95 for a whole sandwich and $2.99 for a half.
In addition to a variety of appetizers and salads, the restaurant also offers an Early Bird Special, which is spaghetti with meat sauce, a house salad and Italian toast, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. each day. The cost is $3.49.
And there are desserts, of course. The Chocolate Panini ($2.99) is two slices of bread, with chocolate between, that are coated with cinnamon and sugar and then grilled until the chocolate is melted. The Fried Poundcake ($2.25) is homemade poundcake grilled in butter and orange peel. Also on the dessert list are Italian cheesecake, carrot cake and Italian ices.
Seating is not available, so all orders are carry-out or delivery.
The Panini Grille is a great addition to Lawrence's restaurant scene. Business has been good so far, even though its presence has been mainly word-of-mouth. It just goes to show that if you offer a good product, you'll succeed.
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