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Luca’s blends new twists with classics done right

Luca’s blends new twists with classics done right

Duck wings? They have them at Luca's, situated across from Union College
Luca’s blends new twists with classics done right
Margherita pizza, left, and gluten-free veggie pizza at Luca's Grill in Schenectady.
Photographer: Beverly M. Elander

Mama used to say, “It’s a dull day you don’t learn something new.”

Fresh duck wings (6/$10) are on the menu at Luca’s Grill on Nott Street in Schenectady — an entirely new item for this restaurant reviewer. 

Along with chicken wings (bone-in or boneless), duck wings are fried crispy, then seasoned with anything from barbecue sauce to lemon pepper and habanero mango (my choice).

I attempted to simulate the Grand Marnier/fresh orange sauce that roast duck is often served with and believe I succeeded.

Celery sticks and a sturdy bleu cheese dressing accompanied the wings. The drummers (no wing tips) were slightly larger than their counterpart chicken cousins, and were meatier and slightly darker, but not gamier. 

Luca’s, named after the chef-owner, is a modest brick venue opposite the Union College campus and is open most days for lunch and dinner.

The door to its brick façade leads directly into a large room with a 10-seat bar on the left and about eight high-tops scattered in various configurations on the right side of the room.

A worn wood floor connects brown and tan walls of various materials.

Historical black-and-white photographs that wrap around the walls are the only decorations. There are no tablecloths, candles or flowers on the formica tabletops.

But the atmosphere brightens when the food arrives.

Dinner guest Gail, aka the Wondering Wandering Woman, had stopped in Schenectady long enough to enjoy a meal with me. 

A big fan of caprese salad (sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil drizzled with balsamic reduction), Gail noted that the reduction was added in a quantity that was “ample without going overboard.”

With the addition of some red lettuce, the salad is simply called Tomato and Fresh Mozzarella ($8) on the menu.

Her Pork-Boy specialty sandwich ($10) on a toasted and branded (“LUCA’S GRILL”) bun was filled with homemade pulled pork topped with coleslaw. The slightly spicy tomato BBQ sauce served as a foil for the tangy (not sweet) slaw.

An abundant pile of lightly deep-fried onion rings sprinkled with parmesan cheese accompanied the hefty sandwich. Heavy-duty aluminum foil pressed into a small metal tray made the potentially messy meal easy to serve and even easier to eat.

Other specialty sandwiches ($10-$12) were intriguing. The Stuffer was a half-pound grilled burger stuffed with cheese and served with lettuce, tomato and onion.

For another dollar, bacon or a fried egg can be added.

The Greek God features ground lamb with pesto and tzatziki sauce on pita, while the black bean burger is the vegetarian counterpart of a regular beef burger.

Sandwiches, quesadillas, deli subs, wraps, calzones and salads round out the menu, but it was pizza (ranging from $13 for a 6-cut to $17 for a 12-cut) that caught my eye.

It should be noted that I am a purist when it comes to most things in life, especially food.

I judge ice cream by vanilla because it is the least flavored. For me, chocolate and nuts disguise the essence of the ice cream. The sweetness of caramel sauce can overwhelm whatever it covers. The subtleties of a crème brulee could be lost under whipped topping and a cherry.

Should a customer prefer something fancy, he or she could request a pulled pork and mac and cheese pizza, a hot wing pizza or a shrimp pizza. 

I chose to assess Luca’s pizza by ordering a classic margherita pizza — tomato pie topped with slices of fresh mozzarella, leaves of fresh basil and fresh garlic. 

Luca’s margherita pizza emerges from the oven with flying (tri-)colors. His tomato sauce is otherworldly — not too thick, but with small chunks of tomatoes.

It is a pomodoro sauce with character that does not overpower. Large leaves of basil transported me to a sunny Italian herb garden. 

Although the menu suggested we “Ask about Desserts!” we were already sated, and decided to ask cheerful and efficient Tina next time.
In the 19th century, master pizza maker Raffaele Esposito, was preparing to honor Queen Margherita with a special tomato and mozzarella pizza (tomato, olive oil, mozzarella, basil) the colors of which the Italian flag was made.

The Queen was so impressed that she sent a thank-you note to Esposito, who in return named his creation after her — “Pizza Margherita.” 

Luca’s Grill

WHERE: 547 Nott St., Schenectady, NY 12308; (518) 346-3130;

WHEN: Mon. 4 p.m.-10 p.m., Tues.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat.
11 a.m.-11 p.m.,  Sun closed

HOW MUCH: $45 with two soft drinks, but without tax and tip.

MORE INFO: Street parking, credit cards accepted, noise level
permits conversation, four stairs into building, high-top tables, waiting for alcohol license, gluten-free pizza, nonsmoking, online ordering, delivery 30 minutes before closing ($12 minimum).

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