Roman Pizza was housed in vintage filling station, and for years people around its Uptown neighborhood used it mainly as a quick stop for take-out or delivery.
Now, a new café called Luca Eats has opened here, and its owners are aiming to entice people to linger just a bit longer with a menu of breakfast sandwiches and coffee drinks.
Luca Eats also marks the next chapter for one branch of a longtime local restaurant family, who for many years ran Frankie & Johnny’s.
Roman Pizza closed last year after about two decades in business. Darryl and Ellen Cortello bought the property to develop Luca Eats.
Their breakfast sandwiches, served all day, take the shape of chorizo and eggs with chimichurri, a shrimp and grits combination on a banh mi loaf and a croissant filled with apples, Brie and brown sugar. At lunch, the menu adds the likes of steak sandwiches and fried green tomato BLTs along with salads, gumbo and sides like hummus and onion rings.
Darryl Cortello was a partner in his family’s restaurant Frankie & Johnny’s, the Uptown boiled seafood joint, which changed hands in 2013. They had also taken on Zeke’s in Metairie. The family later sold the restaurant, which closed the following year.
Cortello said they had other restaurant plans in store at the time. But then Ellen received a cancer diagnosis, which sidelined their projects. She’s made a full recovery, and now the family is eager to return to the business with their own neighborhood café.
“We want to start small and do what we do well,” said Cortello.
Luca Eats is indeed a small spot, and it sits deep in its neighborhood near the Uptown universities and just across from St. Mary Cemetery.
The original filling station building dates to the 1920s and some old Deco-style contours are still visible. Inside, Luca has an open kitchen, a dining counter and room for a few tables. Some of the weathered old lumber removed during the latest renovation has been worked back into the décor as paneling around the kitchen.
“I think using part of the old building, physically, adds a good spirit to the place,” Cortello said.
Luca Eats has an espresso machine for coffee drinks, though Cortello said the decision of whether to add anything stronger is with the neighbors.
“If people tell us they want to have mimosas here, that sort of thing, that will let us know whether to go after a liquor license,” he said.
As for the name Luca, Cortello said there are two competing explanations.
“It’s either for Luca Brasi,” he said, referring to the mafia enforcer from the “The Godfather” saga. “Or our seven-pound Shih Tzu.”
7329 Cohn St., 504-866-1166
Breakfast and lunch daily
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.