First Look

A First Look at Luca Lagotto

By: Amber Chase

Luca Lagotto, a quaint and wholesome Italian restaurant and mercato from the team behind Pihakis Restaurant Group, is set to open February 27 in Homewood, Alabama, just outside of Birmingham. Guests should feel an eager and homey welcome from the name alone which is a reference to Luca, the beloved dog of Pihakis Restaurant Group founder, Nick Pihakis. Lagotto is a dog breed known for its curly hair and Italian origins, and Luca is no exception. His jovial spirit and instantaneous warmth inspired the ethos of Luca Lagotto and serves as their primary branding mark. It’s worth noting that while the spirit and spunk of dogs is well-celebrated within the restaurant, dogs will only be allowed in the restaurant’s courtyard.

Interior of Luca Lagotto

Executive chef Rita Bernhardt will head the kitchen at Luca Lagotto, and promises to bring an authentic taste of Italy to Homewood, Alabama. The menu will focus on simple flavors that come from vibrant, well-sourced ingredients. “I’m a pizza, pasta, and salad type of girl,” notes Bernhardt, and the restaurant menu aims to keep these at the forefront of their offerings. As a precursor to opening Luca, Bernhardt and the team traveled to Italy last October and spent much of their time in the Emilia Romagna region, known for its rich gastronomic heritage and traditions. “Pretty much anything delicious is sourced from the Emilia Romagna region,” says Bernhardt. This trip informed and solidified the Italian roots for Luca and guided the selection process for their mercato as well.

Luca hopes to suit the neighborhood’s need for both family-friendly dining and intimate date nights. “We will offer things like ranch for approachability’s sake, but we hope to encourage patrons to taste the classic Italian dishes as we experienced them in Italy,” says Bernhardt. Think caesar salads with collards and romaine, dusted with the highest quality parmesan, nodding to both Southern and Italian influences. Homewood is known for being a family-centric neighborhood on the outskirts of Birmingham with lush parks, great schools, engaging local events, and an active community that deserves quality food even during busy weeks. Bernhardt herself lives just 10 minutes from the restaurant and is deeply familiar with the community and the families that will be her future patrons. Bernhardt’s background is in the kitchens of New Orleans, and she’s excited to step out from behind the kitchen line. “Personally, I’m looking forward to being part of the whole picture. I can walk through the restaurant and get to know our guests personally. I’ve always missed out on that level of interaction,” says Bernhardt. 

Pasta Boxes at Luca Lagotto

One of the biggest draws to Luca is their pasta program. All hand-crafted in house, both the restaurant and mercato will feature favorites like bucatini, rigatoni, and cacio e pepe. A dish Bernhardt is personally anticipating is mafaldine with vegetarian white mushroom bolognese that will be savory, creamy and “absolutely heavenly.” Keeping with tradition, you’ll find ample amounts of Italian salumi integrated throughout the menu and available for purchase in the mercato. Pizza will also be prominent on the menu, with Luca offering both a round and square pie, reminiscent of the pizza traditions of New York and Italy. 

Designed by Montgomery-based Chambless King Architects, Luca’s decor emphasizes the historic structure of Italian architecture, but has the eclectic in-house feel of a space built over time by fond memories. From the piazza-inspired courtyard to the charming pictures gracing the walls (yes, there is one of Luca the dog himself), there is a seamless flow between the restaurant and market. The mercato will house imported delicacies that are hard to find outside of Italy. The mercato shelves will be filled with select wines, olive oils, vinegars, canned tomatoes, tinned fish, flowers, snacks, and other condiments. A large case will feature Italian cheeses, salumi, and housemade pastas, jarred pasta sauces, and vinaigrettes. The idea is to have a one-stop neighborhood hub where you can settle in for an evening of fresh-made pizza and aperitivi or compile a fresh charcuterie board to enjoy in Homewood Central Park just down the street. 

Luca Lagotto hopes to supply fresh Italian cuisine to the busy residents of Homewood, providing a respite inspired by the lush region of Emilia Romangna, but intentionally curated for the neighborhood community.

Luca Lagotto Dining Room

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