Osteria LuCa serves authentic Italian food in a cozy new neighborhood spot.
by Michelle Boudin
Ken Martino started working in restaurants after being fired from his lawn mowing gig — by his parents. “They didn’t like how I was cutting the grass, so I went to a local steakhouse and started washing dishes.” He worked his way up to line cook at the restaurant before heading off to the University of Notre Dame and ultimately landing in New York City. That’s where the owner of one of Charlotte’s most talked-about new Italian restaurants really honed his craft.
Martino worked at the famed Tribeca Grill, owned by actor Robert De Niro. He was assistant manager there, and his now wife, Tricia, was a hostess. In January, they opened Osteria LuCa, named for their son Lucas and daughter Caroline, in Park Road Shopping Center.
Osteria LuCa is the couple’s fourth restaurant in the Charlotte area. They also own two Nothing But Noodles and TRUE Crafted Pizza at StoneCrest at Piper Glen. Osteria LuCa is their first local restaurant with a full bar and dining room.
“We wanted it to be a pizza-focused neighborhood restaurant where people could come and gather, reminiscent of the restaurants throughout Italy. We wanted a very communal vibe, where you can come in and have a drink and have some really good, simple Italian food,” Martino says. “To focus on the essence of Italian food, it’s all about simplicity and good quality ingredients.”
Osteria was among the first Charlotte restaurants to close temporarily during the coronavirus pandemic, reopening for takeout May 1.
“We had a good two month run — it was busy and seemed like the response was very positive,” Martino says.
When Osteria opens its doors again, guests will find creative combinations on wood-fired pizzas like the bacon and egg, garlic and clams, or broccoli rabe and sausage pizza.
The restaurant also offers classic Italian dishes like chicken parmigiana, meatballs with marinara sauce, and pasta made in house.
But the pizzas are what really makes Osteria LuCa stand out in Charlotte’s increasingly crowded Italian restaurant scene, Martino says. Osteria LuCa was one of about a half-dozen Italian spots that opened in the city right around the same time.
“We knew that going in, but we feel as though Charlotte is a big enough city to support that and those that are already here. We also feel if we do what we’re supposed to do, and we provide the quality food and service, then it doesn’t really matter what happens around us.”
Part of ensuring that means having his family work with him and making sure his staff knows what’s important. He and Tricia are there every day, while daughter Caroline works the front of the house several times a week. The staff wear shirts that say “Work Hard, Be Kind.”
“That’s kind of our mantra. I tell the staff if we could do those two things — come to work, work hard, and be kind to each other and the guests, I think we’re gonna be OK,” Martino says. “Trish and I are very driven by the service and hospitality side of the business. … People come first because they want to try the food, but they come back because they ate well and they liked the feel of the place.” SP
Osteria LuCa is located at 4127 Park Rd. osterialuca.com