BAR LUCCA 729 E. Hector St., Conshohocken, (610) 825-2700, barluccarestaurant.com. cuisine: Tuscan-inspired small plates, pizzas, pastas and entreÌes. cost: Starters, salads and pastas $5-$14; pizzas average $14; main plates under $20. attire: Smart casual. atmosphere: Dimly lit and moody, with a rocking soundtrack. hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4:30-10 p.m. Sunday. extras: Tuscan-style happy hour Monday- Friday features tempting food-and-drink specials and an attractive after-work crowd.
Every great neighborhood deserves a great neighborhood bar. With that aphorism in mind—plus the understanding that Conshohocken was in dire need of a convivial yet casual place for outstanding pub fare—area resident Brian Pieri opened the StoneRose Restaurant in October 2009. Suddenly, the borough had its first real gastropub. A rookie restaurateur back then, Pieri seemed like a natural, taking a dingy, tar-stained taproom on Fayette Street and turning it into a place where locals would soon go for reliable food and drink.
With a tactician’s verve for assembling key personnel (executive chef Will Langlois comes by way of Iron Chef Jose Garces’ restaurant group), Pieri quickly turned his keen vision into a successful reality. Pieri has similar hopes for his second Conshy enterprise, Bar Lucca, which debuted this past September in the Hector Street space that once held the long-running Totaro’s. The former Italian steakhouse’s stodgy environs have been transformed into a hip Euro atmosphere of the sort Pieri appreciates in his home away from home: Lucca, Italy.
Amid shades of dusky cocoa and muted red, caged Edison bulbs throw off a constant glow, and colorful street scenes from a recent trip to Lucca dress up the walls. At night, a mix of classic rock and new-wave tunes provides an energizing pulse from overhead speakers.
Much like at the StoneRose, the vibe at Bar Lucca would suggest your basic watering hole, if not for the elevated quality of the cuisine and the heightened professionalism coming from snappily dressed staffers. Playing it cool in their Converse Chuck Taylors, most of them appear as eager and as invested in this restaurant as their boss.
Many menu items are fit for sharing— like the three mouthwatering meatballs with roasted cherry tomatoes wallowing in sumptuous pan drippings. A bowl of 10 rosemary-scented littleneck clams offered a nice sea-salty bite, while the marinated fennel salad—with fresh cucumber, apple and endive—finished with a satisfying Meyer-lemony crunch.
Bar Lucca’s meat board featured coppa, prosciutto di parma and hot capicolla, all from Di Bruno Bros. Among the fresh past selections, my wild-boar- studded pappardelle was an indulgence worth savoring. And then there are the Neapolitan-style pizzas, emerging blistered and cheese-covered from the 850-degree, white-oak heat of a brick oven. These pies are right up there with those of Phoenixville’s much-hailed Vecchia as some of the best wood-fired beauts west of City Line.
Main plates include braised, balsamic-kissed rabbit atop parsnip puree and milky veal risotto laden with dainty rose petals. My wood-fired prime sirloin steak was steeped in a red-wine reduction and so tender it literally dissolved on my tongue. For dessert, we opted for roasted pears, creamy pistachio gelato, and that sweet staple of Italian street food, Nutella doughnuts—all delicious.
By meal’s end, I would’ve sworn chef de cuisine Steve Kozak had somehow channeled Marc Vetri from behind the food line at Center City’s acclaimed Osteria. Every- thing was that good—and that consistent. Pieri’s smartly supervised beverage program emphasizes hard-to-get Italian beers (like a Piccolo saison on draft), interesting Mediterranean wines, and creative cocktails mixed with splashes of limon- cello, prosecco and Aperol. Bar Lucca offers several other tangible pluses: a cozy upstairs lounge (dubbed the Vespa Room) with a tiny eight-seat hideaway bar; a tastefully appointed events space; and a secluded 14-person chef’s table. Meanwhile, on the culinary front, the kitchen takes meticulous care in baking warm loaves of addictively earthy bread, while blending its own brand of olive oil, as well.
As we departed, we met floor manager Christina Maslin, Pieri’s fianceÌe. The couple plans to marry in June, with a wedding in—you guessed it—Lucca, Italy. THE SKINNY: Conshohocken deserves a great neighborhood bar. Thanks to Pieri’s StoneRose and, now, Bar Lucca, it’s lucky to have two.