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Feb 21, 2008 04:49 AM

Luca Cafe Locust Point - First impressions are very good

I went last night, and the place is already buzzing. Nice space, with some interesting art in the upstairs dining area. There were a few glitches with the computer system, and other such, but on the whole a very respectable "just after opening". They are already much more on track than many places are much longer after opening.

I had two items off the menu, but then, I'm a growing boy. Too bad the growth is now out, rather than up. Oh well.

First up was a veggie pizza. Very thin, crispy crust, of the neapolitan rather than "soda cracker" type. Not exactly like either Joe Squared or Iggies, but I think fans of either of those places will find much to like here. Fans of the doughier, yeastier "Maryland style" pizza crust may not be as happy. The toppings were a wonderful fresh assortment of veggies that made a local critic's list of thigns that are "not pizza vegetables". Tough - this was wonderful. squash, zucchini, arugula, onion, and I forget what all else. Everything was very fresh, very high quality, and the balance of flavors and textures was dead on.

The one oddity on the pizza front was that the menu listed five or so variants, but did not imply any sort of "choose your own toppings" option, and I don't remember seeing a "plain cheese pizza" option that would give one a basic pizza to add toppings to.

The follow-up was "Sam's Hoagie" which contained "every kind of Italian meat you can think of" with "no 'F' mayo!". The menu description was accurate, but failed to mention a very wonderful roll (ciabatta, maybe?) that the hoagie comes on, or the shavings of hard cheese (Parmesan, Romano, or Grana would be my guess - I'm not enough of a cheese maven to tell which) that topped the sandwich, or the roasted peppers hidden under the various meats. It comes with a batch of very respectable fries. This is a big, well made, satisfying sandwich.

If this is an indication of their approach to sandwiches, those searching for a decent cheesesteak might want to try their rendition. Based on the menu description, they aren't going for a traditional Philly steak, but it sound good. If the quality of that hoagie carries through, the cheese steak will be a contender. They also offered a chicken salad sandwich that sounded interesting. There was also a "Luca burger" on the menu described as being slow cooked in a sauce of tomatoes and onions. If I'm grasping what they are saying, it sounds like they cook the burgers in the way one would normally cook Italian meatballs. That might make for a very interesting flavor difference.

In all, I give this one a vigorous recommendation. The menu is limited, but has enough variety (there's also a steak, baked chicken, fish of the day, goulash, and other such) that one should be able to find something of interest. Check it out!

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  1. Dude. I am supposedly dieting off my post-quit-smoking weight, but I may have to stop by there this evening. Sounds very good. Is there a bar to eat at?

    1 Reply
    1. re: JonParker

      Bar downstairs (and maybe a table or two), dining area upstairs, food available in either area, or that's what it appeared.

    2. A day late but thankfully not a dollar short I followed Warthog to this new place.

      The bad news: when I had heard the supposed association with Matthews I had hoped, if not for another of that esteemed pizza joint, at least a similar business -- a Baltimore just-above-a-dive that served great great food, filling the hole left by Federal Hill/Locust Point/SoBo's utter lack of a decent take out pizza joint. Well, I'm still looking.

      That said, I'll absolutely second Warthog's vigorous rec, although there's no way I had enough room for both a pizza and a sandwich. The veggie pizza looked awfully good, but knowing that I'd probably be writing about it led me to order something different. I was torn between the Mediterranean (olive tapenade, feta, goat cheese and mozzarella) and the steak (sliced steak, roma tomatoes, garlic, pesto, onions). Given the cold weather, i opted for the heartier steak.

      It's an oval pizza served on an oval platter. As Warthog said, it's a Neapolitan style crust. The ingredients were very, very good -- tender bits of steak with tons of fresh garlic. The exception was the tomatoes, and I don't fault them for not serivng great Romas in February. Crispy, slightly charred crust. This was one of the finest pizzas I've had in a while. Diet be damned, I'm ready to go back tomorrow. The fellow next to me at the bar was having the fold -- two kinds of sausage in a pizza folded over so that it resembled a calzone, served with a cup of marinara. This thing looked like the stuff of whitemarshjohn's dreams.

      Point I wish they'd fix -- they seemed to be doing a booming business at the bar in froo-froo "martinis" (a martini is gin, vermouth and olive -- anything else is something else). But the beer selection was horrible. I drank a couple of Sam Adams because my three first choices (Stella Artois, Sierra Nevada and Harp) weren't available. It's not like those are uncommon beers, but their beer list didn't run to anythng more exotic than Heineken. Bad, bad move. Get some decent beer.

      I also agree with Warthog that a create-your-own pizza option is in order.

      But absolutely I'd recommend this. Good stuff all around. Can't wait to explore the menu further.

      1. I tried that steak sandwich yesterday after my Saturday movie. It was good, but not on the same level as the pizza. Thinly sliced medium rare steak, fried peppers, garlic and provolone on that same ciabatta. Tasty sandwich, and came with fries that seemed to be actual potatoes rather than from a bag.

        Still, if someone is looking for a cheese steak (or a steak and cheese) I'd still recommend Magerk's over anything else in the area. If someone is looking for a steak sandwich, this is a pretty good one. Certainly the ambience at Luca's beats Magerk's in all kinds of ways.

        But I think I'd rather have the pizza.

        One correction from my last post. The bartender told me that they didn't have Stella Artois, but he may not have realized it. When I asked about beer this time, the bartender pointed me to one of those rows of bottles that bars use to display their selection. This one is unintuitively on the wall behind the bar stools. Stella was there, I still think their beer list needs work at the upper end, but it's not as bad as I first thought.

        3 Replies
        1. re: JonParker

          Hey Jon, was that you in there around 2'ish in the afternoon? I was there with a friend. We ate at the bar. I thought the pizza was just ok. The toppings were fantastic, but the thin crust was too well done for my taste. I'll have to return and try some of the non-pizza items.

          1. re: KAZ

            That was me. I was sitting alone at the bar and reading a book. I actually like that slightly charred crust. Now that you know what I look like, holler at me if you see me around again. What's up with FCP, by the way? Have you heard?

            1. re: JonParker

              FCP is done. Gone. Gutted. I'll be sure to say hi if I see you around the neighborhood again.

        2. The wife and I (based on Warthog's glowing rec) decided to try Luca's on Thursday Night - We were NOT disappointed. We started with "The Dip" which is a fantastic take on traditional crab dip. Highly recommended. For our main entree, we gave "The Fold" a try...basically it was a calzone (with the thin neopolitan crust) chocked full of Broccoli Rabe, Sausage, Peppers and Ricotta Cheese. Really "light" tasting.

          As previously posted, the wine/beer list was a shaky, but we ended up trying a bottle ($18) of Cannonball Cab.

          There were some small problems with service, but I fully expect the service will mature with time. After all, it was only their second night being open...

          Be sure to give Luna's a try!