Luca Modern Kitchen is the Italian restaurant Charlotte desperately needed

By Stephanie Hoyt

March 15, 2017

Luca and Jessica Annunziata embody the best of Italian culture and have recently rebranded Passion8 as Luca Modern Italian Kitchen to share their enthusiasm for Italian cuisine with Charlotte. Upon entering Luca, diners are welcomed like family, with a warm smile, as if arriving at Nonna’s house for a Sunday dinner. With the new menu Chef Luca offers traditional Italian fare he savored since childhood, while still allowing his remarkable creativity and culinary talents to shine through in each dish.

To appreciate the opening of Luca, it is noteworthy to mention the couple’s love story. Chef Luca was born in Sorrento, Italy, into a family of cooks. Jessica hails from Long Island, New York. They met while working at a restaurant in New York during the busy summer season, when Chef Luca was still speaking mostly in Italian. Jess and Luca fell in love and moved to Italy together where she studied Epicureanism and spirits and he worked at a Michelin Star restaurant. Fast forward to 2006, when they opened Passion8 in an inconspicuous house off Highway 51 in Fort Mill, SC. After eight years of success in Fort Mill, the couple decided to relocate Passion8 to the busy Elizabeth neighborhood in Charlotte, where they had almost triple the dining space.

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Chef Luca Annunziata. Photo by Jonathan Cooper

Passion8 concentrated on innovative dishes highlighting produce from local farms. After two and a half years of constantly keeping up with culinary trends, the Annunziata’s felt like they had lost touch with why they opened their own restaurant. Luca invented cutting-edge dishes, including foams and innovative presentations, perfected for complex critics instead of creating an emotional connection with diners. After more than ten years as Passion8, Chef Luca decided he had a social responsibility to introduce his experience of traditional Italian comfort food to Charlotte. With the opening of Luca Modern Italian Kitchen, the Annunziata’s have found their focus again: to please customers with beautiful food that emphasizes simple ingredients and methods.

Luca Modern Italian Kitchen is open in Elizabeth with a new logo created by a local artist, Brittany Davis. Chef Luca proudly proclaims his name on the door manifests the authenticity, transparency and confidence in his skills and the food he serves. The Annunziata’s intend to highlight local art and music by complimenting the restaurant space with murals by Charlotte artists and hosting special events to highlight unique and interesting aspects of the city.

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Photo credit: Jonathan Cooper

Luca Modern Italian still features three dining rooms with large, luminous chandeliers, and a fully stocked bar. With 23 years of experience behind the bar, Jessica can easily assist patrons in discovering something new from the cocktail or wine menu. Jessica wants Luca’s to be a destination where the party never stops, the perfect place for Charlotteans desiring a gourmet bite.

The new menu focuses on traditional recipes that show who Luca is, where he is from and where he has been, with a modern twist. When conceiving the menu, Luca created a section for classic Italian staples made with his family’s recipes, while the rest of the menu features his creative take on customary Italian dishes. Starting with Italian tapas, the Fagottini imbottiti has been the most popular menu item. Fagottini literally means “little bundles” in Italian and this dish is typically made with pasta shaped in mini purses stuffed with cheese and meats. Luca’s interpretation of Fagottini consists of a crepe shell for a light, fluffy exterior surrounding savory ham, ricotta and spinach in a rich, smoky mozzarella fondue cheese sauce. The crispy polenta fries and panzerotti popover are two other small plates diners will enjoy.

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Fagottini imbottiti – Crêpes Filled with ham ricotta , spinach , smoked mozzarella fondue cheese. Photo by Jonathan Cooper

In Italy, pasta is considered a primi piatti (first course) and all are homemade in Luca’s kitchen. The Rigatoni con pesto di noci is Jessica’s favorite, with a twist on authentic pesto sauce: adding toasted walnuts and local mushrooms. The Pappardelle alla genovese starts with carrots, onions and celery simmered with chopped rabbit meat and white wine until the meat is tender. The white bolognese is then ladled over homemade al dente pappardelle noodles. The ingredients are so simple yet make a hearty and flavorful dish.

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Rigatoni con pesto di noci. Rigatoni pasta, walnut pesto with sausage and mushroom. Photo by Jonathan Cooper

A popular classic item is the Branzino acqua pazza, a whole Mediterranean sea bass stewed with cherry tomatoes, garlic, parsley and white wine typically served for family events in Italy. Luca serves his Branzino whole and presents it table side for a unique, fresh appearance. The Zuppetta di uovo pomodoro is a common Italian comfort food Luca remembers from his childhood consisting of baked eggs in a tomato sauce with grated parmesan and grilled, rustic bread.

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Pappardelle alla genovese – Pappardelle with rabbit stew, shaved pecorino. Photo by Jonathan Cooper

In the first weeks of opening Luca’s, feedback from guests have been overwhelmingly positive. The prices have been reduced from the Passion8 menu and the plan is to update Luca’s offerings based on clientele’s opinions. The Annunziata’s have put their heart and soul into Luca’s. A genuine Italian chef seems a rarity in Charlotte but Luca’s passion about all things Italian really shines through in the food and atmosphere. Luca Modern Kitchen serves the authentic and heart warming Italian cuisine that Charlotte has desperately been craving.

For more information, check out Luca Modern Italian Kitchen or visit the Annunziata’s at 1523 Elizabeth Avenue.

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Panzerotti – Popover, roasted cauliflower, soft cheese, raisin tomato coulis. Photo by Jonathan Cooper
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Zuppetta di uovo pomodoro – Baked eggs in pomodoro, grated Parmesan, grilled bread. Photo by Jonathan Cooper
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Patatine di polenta – Polenta fries with creamy garlic aioli. Photo by Jonathan Cooper

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