by Brandon Fox
One dance and suddenly, Mike and Maria Oseguera of Maya Mexican Grill & Tequileria were about to open another restaurant.
The Osegueras hadn’t planned on expanding. Maya Mexican was humming every night in Short Pump and with three children, the Osegueras had their hands full. Sometimes, though, you can stretch those hands a little bit further than you thought, the couple discovered. Mike Oseguera was home sick one day, clicking around on the Internet. “I like to keep abreast of what’s going on online,” he says, and when he ran across the old 525 at Berry Burke space, he unexpectedly found a property that made him seriously consider another restaurant. When Maria came home that day, Mike was ready with a plan.
The Berry Burk building is owned by Ted and Jim Ukrop. “The Ukrops were looking for someone with a following and backing to occupy the space,” says Mike. “They came to Maya to see us.”
“This nice man said, ‘Can I have this dance?’” Maria says. “Of course, I danced with him — I didn’t know who he was until we met to talk about the place.” It turned out to be Jim Ukrop.
The space was tricky — the kitchen was tiny and the dining room was vast. Mike knew that another Maya Mexican wouldn’t work there. However, if he created an open-air kitchen, put in a pizza oven and focused on Mediterranean food, he thought the different concept could be successful.
“The location was kind of risky and people I talked to were hesitant,” he says. “But I saw prospects for the place and the street.”
When you walk into Lucca Enoteca Pizzeria, the first thing you notice is that the space is airier and lighter than it was in its previous incarnation. There’s more wood, and although the white tablecloths remain, the coal-fired pizza oven that is the centerpiece gives the restaurant a more casual vibe.
The difference between wood and coal is temperature. When coal is used to bake a pizza, temperatures can rise to 1,000 degrees — this speeds the process. A standard-sized pizza only takes about five minutes before it’s ready to go to a table. Crispy and topped with a pungent red sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil, it’s a step above the usual takeout variety.
But the Osegueras don’t want Lucca to be known only as a pizza place — there’s a full Mediterranean menu with pasta and lots of seafood as well. “We’re creating food inspired by the Italian coastal sea, the Ionian Sea of Crete and the Iberian Peninsula of Portugal and Spain,” says Mike. “Pizza is the exclamation point.”
I try grilled octopus in a saffron butter sauce that chef Zachary Mims brings out for the couple to try. The dish is effortlessly tender and punctuated by salty black olives. “It’s good,” Mike tells the chef. “Good?” Mims replies. He turns to me. “If Mike says its good, it’s really, really good. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say that.”
Lucca Enoteca opens tonight, Jan. 8, for dinner at 5 p.m. at 525 E. Grace St. Bring an appetite.CORRECTION: This article originally stated that the Berry Burk building was co-owned by Tom Haas and Taylor Hasty, along with Ted and Jim Ukrop. The Ukrops are the sole owners. And Maria Oseguera danced with Jim Ukrop, not his brother, Bobby.