The deer stays.
That’s the word from Dominic Badalamenti, owner of Shawano-based Luigi’s Pizza & Pasta, who is carving a new location from the former Refuge Restaurant on Antigo’s bustling north side.
Opening date is tentatively set for Jan. 1, although that could be moved up if everything goes well.
When the Refuge, a longtime popular eatery, closed this summer, there were predictions the prime spot at the intersection of Highways 45 and 64 would not remain empty for long. And it didn’t, with Luigi’s signing the paperwork just a few weeks later.
“This place had an excellent reputation and we want to build on that,” Badalamenti said. “It’s a family restaurant and we’re going to keep it that way.”
The Refuge had prided itself on its northwoods atmosphere, complete with the enormous deer replica on the main sign.
Fawn Kennedy, a former Refuge employee who will manage the Antigo location for Luigi’s, said that the deer will stay, but he may be dressed up once in a while, perhaps sporting a red, white and green scarf signifying a bit of Italian heritage.
“It’s a buck so we had to keep it,” Badalamenti added.
And much of the interior will also remain familiar, but freshened up a bit.
“It will be much brighter,” Kennedy said.
An exception will be the barroom and kitchen area, which are undergoing more significant changes to accommodate new restaurant equipment.
Luigi’s specializes in Italian-American pizza, pasta and seafood, along with traditional Friday night fish frys.
“People know Luigi’s as a pizza place, but we’re a little more upscale,” Badalamenti said, stressing that the company prides itself on the quality of its entrees.
The menu in Antigo will be similar to Shawano, with more dishes rolling out as the wait and cook staff become familiar. Diners can expect a full selection of Italian pasta dinners, such as spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna and stuffed shells along with various alfredos and chicken and eggplant parmigiana.
The seafood menu includes everything from deep fried perch and haddock and jumbo shrimp in a cream sauce to “Linguini alla Luigi,” which features noodles with baby and jumbo shrimp, clams and scallops in red sauce.
And of course there is pizza, with traditional, pan and stuffed crusts in sizes from 10 to 14 inches. Specialty varieties include barbecued chicken, alfredo chicken with garlic, and Mediterranean.
And, in a nod to the past, some Refuge specialties may make the cut as well.
“We do have some recipes left here from the prior owners, which are very helpful” Badalamenti said. “I thank them for that.”
Luigi’s has been operating in Shawano since 1995, priding itself on making all its sauces and dressings from scratch and serving everything in a comfortable, family atmosphere.
Badalamenti said Antigo will like what it sees and tastes.
“People will come here to have a great time and a good meal,” he said. “We do it right.”