Even though it's been one of Frank Bonnano's longest running restaurants, serving solid Italian food since 2003, Luca only just launched an afternoon happy hour in March, meaning it's the new flavor on the block once again — a block already held down by happy hour heavyweights Vesper Lounge, Benny's, Bones, Lala's Wine Bar and the infamous Govnr's Park. Regardless, I had to know how one of our favorite Italian restaurants would tackle happy hour.
I can hardly think of a more beautiful happy hour selection that the one laid out at Luca from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. You've got your classic cocktail, $5 glasses of wine and $3 drafts of Moretti beer, complemented by bite-size appetizers old — the Bolognese ($6) — and new — a bowl of squishy, spicy calamari ($6). More on those later. Bonnano Concepts restaurants have always been strong on happy hour, but the new menu at Luca marks the group's most intriguing melding of elegance and value. I would have figured that a classy joint like Luca wouldn't need to cut prices, but in this town, happy hours are as mandatory as craft cocktails. Not that you'll hear me complaining with a mouth of chef Eric Cimino's straight-forward Italian.
Starting from light and eating our way to heavy, we split a plate of burrata cheese ($6), fluffy as a cloud, spread over grill-kissed bread. Then, a plate of salumi ($7), cured at sister restaurant Salt & Grinder, was hitting beautiful notes of meat music. The care in the smoked speck and spicy soppressata spread across the tongue, and paired well with the crisp pasta "breadsticks" cleverly plated alongside. Along with the new, the happy hour menu brings out miniaturized portions of cream sauce-glazed fusilli pasta ($6) and pappardelle Bolognese, two pastas that have been on the menu since the beginning. These won't be a surprise to Luca veterans, but you're missing out on the full experience by forsaking these classics.
If you're playing along at home, you may want to take a breather. Grab a drink, relax before the next course. May I suggest a crisp Negroni ($5)? or perhaps a simple Aperol spritzer ($5) topped with prosecco? They're both ideal pairings for this evening, reacting well with the spicy Calabrian chilies in the Sicilian calamari. Rather than seafood Funyuns, Luca offers baby squid, suckers and all, among chiles, marinara and capers large and small. A dish with a bit of challenge to it, something not often seen on a happy hour menu.
All these dishes are pretty wispy by themselves, but after finishing off plate after plate I got the warm feeling of an Italian feast for just a bit of the price. You'd never guess Luca is new to the happy hour game, because serving great stuff like this is what they've been doing for years. Happy hour devotees should welcome Luca into their lives, just as it's now welcoming them.
Perfect For: Under the leadership of Cimino, the classic flavors of Luca should be familiar to any East Coaster who complains about the lack of good Italian in the city. If a meal here doesn't change their mind... well, they probably won't admit it.
Don't Miss: If you're drinking, the Negroni is your best bet, made with Leopold Bros. gin. And if you don't mind a little slither, the calamari is worth a shot for the brilliant brininess of the squid within and the giant caper on top.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.