Fiamico – Waukegan, IL

I’ll start with the niceties; The restaurant is really very attractive and warm. It looks and feels cozy, and the seating is comfortable, and the décor is very nice. From the fireplace in the center of the restaurant, to the wood burning brick pizza oven and the bar, it all looks great with nice classy touches and shows what must have taken a good show of money to make it all work.

Unfortunately for them, I’m the guy who would have been more ecstatic about eating on wobbly used plastic TV trays while sitting on stacks of milk crates if the food and service had been stellar, because great ambiance only goes so far.

To put it bluntly; I was massively disappointed by my meal and service at Fiamico. And the long 6-9 month wait and buildup for this hopeful gem to finally open it’s doors in a sea of restaurant despair that is downtown Waukegan, only made the whole experience seem even more deflating.

The dinner fiasco began with a basket of sliced crusty Italian & focaccia breads placed at our table without butter, oil or cheese, so I asked our WINOT (Waiter In Need Of Training) for some. After 10-15 minutes passed by with no sign of the WINOT. I flagged down a passing waiter to help find the WINOT and have him stop by. The WINOT showed up empty handed, and wanted to know what we “wanted”. And after being reminded, WINOT brought out oil & cheese but of course forgot the butter.

By the way, the oil was herbed and tasted low grade, the cheese smelled and tasted like that pizza Parmesan-Romano mix from a can, and not a quality fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano like most quality establishments at this price point would normally provide.

I ordered the meatball appetizer and had asked if an Italian sausage link could be added alongside the meatballs for me to try out. What came out from the kitchen was this bizarre 3” high pile of ground up sausage meat in the shape of a cone (wish I had a picture of it!). Without a doubt, this is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen served. I sent it back, and reminded the WINOT that the request had been for a sausage link, but not to worry about it now, and just cancel the order.

Somehow that last part of what I said got lost, because near the end of the meal, the kitchen sent out a whole intact sausage link anyway. Then later when the check came, WINOT pointed out that someone named Gino was nice enough to mark the link “n/c”. What I wish is that Gino would have got up and stopped by my table, and if he’s reading this, I’ll bet he’s wishing that he had too.

While I could go on about how the rest of the meal went on like this, there were just too many mis-queues to even bother recounting.

I guess what bothered me most, is that the meal from start to finish was so poorly executed by the kitchen. From the minestrone soup that did not taste cooked all the way through to tender, to the canned tasting marinara sauce used on both the meatballs and pizza. The main attraction wood fired pizza itself was a disappointment as well, with an underdone crust, resulting in a limp/soggy pizza center and that terrible sauce.

I left feeling like I wasn’t important enough to warrant the undivided attention of a WINOT, in what was basically an empty restaurant. And that no one who represented the ownership or family of the restaurant ever came by any of the tables to see how things were going, bothering to build new relationships or welcoming in new customers. Or to even find out what had gone wrong after food was sent back and then care enough to get customer feedback on how to improve.

Fiamico, whether they know it or not, are in the awkward position of trying to backfill a pretty big gaping hole left by the successive failures of downtown Waukegan’s last three Italian eateries, which were all pretty good, Bacci’s was even a real standout. But that was then, and this is now Fiamico’s time. And they have a great opportunity and a rare captive audience to try to win over for Italian food in this area, but they better get their heads in the game or I’m afraid they won’t last.

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