Get ready to say goodbye to Passion8, Luca and Jessica Annunziata’s Elizabeth Avenue restaurant, and say ciao to Luca/A Modern Italian Kitchen, a reset they hope will bring them back toward the food they started out to make when they got to Charlotte 12 years ago.
“It’s kind of been a long time coming,” she said after sending out a restaurant newsletter Wednesday to announce the change, which has been talked about in restaurant circles for several months.
The new menu, taking full effect in the next few weeks (some of it has already been changing), will bring things like more small plates, a late-night cocktail and bar food menu, a more reasonably priced menu, hand-made pastas and some traditional classics.
With Annunziata’s roots in Southern Italy and her own background in an Italian-American family, she says they had always been asked why they weren’t an authentically Italian restaurant, even before they left their original small location in Fort Mill and opened a more ambitious, fine-dining location in Elizabeth.
That was a loaded question to them, because in America, “authentically Italian” is often confused with stereotypical, spaghetti-and-meatballs kind of cooking.
“Since the day we’ve been asked that question, we’ve been reluctant,” she says. “For Luca, in a way, it kind of felt like selling out.”
What they’re hoping to do is use that inspiration while still putting his contemporary spin on things. In their new location, she says, they felt pressure to put out “wow” plates that people want to Instagram – “foams and gelees and dehydrated nonfood. It’s thought-provoking and weird.
“It’s lost a lot of what made us special – serving really beautiful food, and if they get it, they get it.”
Part of that will include a lower price point, with some prices cut in half, she says. They both felt like Passion8 had become a special-occasion restaurant, not a place where families could go on a Tuesday night and not spend a huge amount of money.
To that end, the new menu will be divided between small plates, “pasta fatto a mano” – handmade pastas made with very light Italian flour and dressed with seasonal ingredients – full-size entrees and a small section of classics. They also are working with an allergist to include a gluten-free menu.
That also will mean that the menu won’t be totally local as it has been in the past, a change she discussed carefully.
“If we can source it locally, we will, but it won’t be 100 percent of our mission as before. With Italian fare especially, you’re able to showcase a smaller amount of ingredients that become the star of the show. Will we be a farm-to-table restaurant? No.”
At the bar on Friday and Saturday nights after 10 p.m., they plan to add more Italian cocktails, including amaros and aperitivos, “all the things that make Italy special,” paired with things like housemade mozzarella and charcuterie.
The name change is something they’ve been debating for months before deciding to go with “Luca,” she says.
“It’s about remembering what we set out to do. It needs to be about personal connection. We forgot who we were for a minute.”