A brand new restaurant in an historic end of town, Luca focuses on the simple ingredients that make Italian food so irresistible.
Located on West James Street, locals may drive right past it, expecting the old warehouse/grocery store to remain where the restaurant now resides and shares a building with Tono Architects. The outside looks renovated and modernized to welcome customers, but the more notable difference is in the restaurant, owned by the husband-and-wife duo responsible for Ma(i)son on Prince Street.
“The building has been here since 1940,” says owner Taylor Mason. “I just love the idea of bringing food back to a building that was built for food. We’ve had so many interactions with guests who’ve come in who say, ‘I grew up around the corner, or down the street, and we used to shop here with my parents as kids.’”
In taking on the renovations, the bare bones of what used to be are still present; the garage doors are intact to be opened for guests when weather permits, and a high ceiling with exposed beams hints at the restaurant’s grocery store past.
You’ll also notice inside the eatery that bare walls and minimal decoration aren’t due to lack of time or energy – it’s a strategic plan to keep an Italian simplicity to the interior, while still welcoming visitors home with delicious smells and rustic furniture. This plan resonates in the food as well.
“The artichokes and the cauliflower – those are both coming off the wood-burning grill, and they’re so deeply infused with smoky richness and a depth of flavor,” Mason says.
But how much flavor can a simple veggie pack? You have to know how to complement it, according to Mason.
The wood-roasted cauliflower is cooked with pistachio and Calabrian chili pesto (think juicy peppers that add an almost-sweet flavor), as well as various herbs, and lastly topped with breadcrumbs. It doesn’t taste so much like a veggie appetizer as it does a sample of Italy itself. Don’t be thrown off by your memories of mom’s boiled, bland presentation. For veggie-phobes out there – the singular vegetable tastes like an entire salad. Add a dry white wine, and you’ve got a party in your mouth.
“You just get better at paring things back and creating simplicity,” Mason says. “Simple food is really complex simplicity, because – sure, anybody can put just a few things on a plate, but finding vegetables and produce at their peak ripeness, and then understanding how to exemplify that just with an accent of a few things – that’s where it’s at.”
A bar allows for alcohol that further brings out the flavor of the menu, but doesn’t offer the variety of your regular watering hole. Beers on tap are rotating craft beers, along with a few different Italian vodkas and other liquors, as well as wine, of course.
“Good food should be a daily part of life,” Mason says. “That’s partly why I love the French and Italians so much, because food, wine and beverage and the table are such prominent figures – a pillar in their life. Every day, that’s what we try to do.”