When Luca Lagotto opens on February 27, the Homewood restaurant will take diners on a culinary vacation to Italy, serving two distinct styles of sourdough pizza, house-made pasta, small plates, and salumi.

“It’s meant to be a spot where you can come in for a weeknight dinner with your kids,” says Rita Bernhardt, Luca’s executive chef. “But it’s also a great date-night spot or for a special occasion.”

Many of the ingredients and preparations used by Bernhardt’s kitchen crew—plus wine, desserts, and other goods—will also be for sale to home cooks through an attached store, Luca Mercato Lagotto.

(Angie Mosier/Contributed)

Luca’s restaurant-market duo is the latest addition to the lineup at the Pihakis Restaurant Group, founded by longtime Birmingham restaurateur Nick Pihakis. Pihakis, who opened Jim N Nick’s BBQ in 1985 with his father and expanded to 36 locations before selling the company in 2017, has been a six-time semifinalist for an Outstanding Restaurateur award from the James Beard Foundation.

PRG has built local restaurant brands (Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, Hero Doughnuts & Buns, and Pihakis’s Little Donkey) into multi-state entities, and recently added its own Birmingham-area startups, Tasty Town Greek Restaurant and Lounge. Pihakis recently announced a collaboration with famed chef Sean Brock on a Birmingham outpost for his East Nashville restaurant, Joyland.

Pihakis’ new Homewood restaurant and market are named after the family pooch, Luca, an Italian Lagotto Romagnolo dog.

The menu is designed for tablemates to create a communal meal, says Bernhardt, who has cooked Italian food for most of her career including at New Orleans’ famous Domenica restaurant. Share some small plates, pizza, perhaps pasta, and one of the stand-alone main dishes like grilled Gulf snapper.

(Angie Mosier/Contributed)

Pizza is the star at Luca. The menu offers two types—square deep-dish Roman-style made with the restaurant’s focaccia dough, and thin-crust round pies. Each is cooked in different imported Italian ovens. Both are made from sourdough recipes developed for the restaurant.

“I had a lot of fun doing R and D on pizza for this,” Bernhardt says. “I nerded out and tried a lot of flours and yeasts. What we settled on is a little bit of whole wheat flour and a high-gluten bread flour, naturally leavened.”

In addition to BYO options, Luca Lagotto’s menu features six composed pizzas. Four are deep-dish including the Calabrese, topped with soppressata salami, olives, capers, and Calabrian chiles.

The two composed round pizzas include the Neapolitan classic pie, Margherita. But fans of the famous “apizza” of New Haven, Conn., are likely to dig Luca Lagotto’s tribute clam pie. “It’s probably my favorite on the menu because it’s so different,” Bernhardt says.

The kitchen also prepares its pasta dough. One is egg-based and stretched thin for filled pastas like ravioli. The other, a basic semolina dough, is extruded into shapes.

(Angie Mosier/Contributed)

Small plates include snapper crudo, cured meats, and cheese plates (as well as fried mozzarella sticks geared toward younger diners). Among the sharable main-course options are a giant porterhouse steak, a smaller filet, a half chicken, and the aforementioned grilled snapper.

Adult beverages lead with Italian-style spritzes made with Aperol and other bitter aperitifs, variations on the Negroni cocktail, and of course plenty of Italian wine.

Luca’s market carries many of the foods and wines found in the restaurant, as well as a house-made line of dried Luca Lagotto pasta. Italian pantry staples like flour, rice, coffee, vinegar, tomatoes, plus fresh-baked bread also are for sale. The market stocks eight flavors of house-made gelato, as well as desserts like cannoli and coffee-based affogato.

“It’s a one-stop shop,” Bernhardt says. “All of our to-go food will come out through the market. You can pick up dinner for tonight, and grab a jar of sauce, a pound of pasta, and some bread for tomorrow.”

Luca’s overall design combines modern elements and old-country touches. One of its most distinctive features is the patio, which seats 60. The bar that serves the interior also opens to the outdoor space. Fountains are strategically placed so their pleasant gurgling cancels noise from surrounding businesses.

It’s all designed to be an elegant yet approachable local hangout, like the eateries Pihakis and Bernhardt enjoyed while scouting restaurant concepts in Italy. “The most important thing for me is that it’s the neighborhood’s spot,” Bernhardt says. “Because it’s my neighborhood.”

Hours: Open Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m

Address: 1722 28th Avenue South, Homewood