By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published May 08, 2019 at 11:10 AM Photography: Lori Fredrich

You need to do little more than drive past the former Juniper 61 at 6030 W. North Ave. to see that a transformation has taken place. That’s largely due to the hand-painted exterior signs that grace the building, which is now home to Ca’ Lucchenzo Pastificio & Enoteca.

In fact, if you love pasta, you’ll likely want to make it a point to investigate further.

Ca’Lucchenzo, the new restaurant, pasta shop and wine bar owned by husband and wife team, Sarah and Zak Baker, will open its doors to the public on Wednesday, May 15.

The two owners bring much to the table, from their collective knowledge of the wine and cuisine of Italy, to a wealth of industry experience working in the dining rooms and kitchens of restaurants including Lake Park Bistro, Ristorante Bartolotta, c.1880 and Pizza Man.

That’s evidenced in not only a menu of snacks, appetizers, pastas and desserts, but also in the little touches the two bring to the mood and aesthetic of their restaurant.

A peek inside

Open the exterior door and you’ll be greeted by personal touches. That includes the stained glass window installed in the interior door, which was created for the Bakers by Jon Schroeder of Cobalt Glassworks. The colored glass in the piece has a storied history; it was supposedly part of a collection of glass made by artisans for Frank Lloyd Wright. 

The interior of the space is the result of a collaboration between the Bakers, architect Thomas Vavra and Matthew Magyar of ADK Design.

"We didn’t hire a designer for the project," notes Sarah Baker. "But Matthew was a great project manager. He was really the driving force behind bringing my vision for the restaurant to reality."

Magyar is also responsible for the restaurant’s exterior signs, which he hand painted himself.

Baker says the design of the space grew up around the color scheme and feel of the Italian tile installed around the bar areas in the restaurant.

Diners will find seating for just over 50 in the casual dining room, which boasts neutral tones and warm lighting from the gently shaded windows.

That includes accommodations for 14 around the pasta bar, where guests will be privy to the pasta-making process during service Wednesday through Thursday evenings.

"The restaurant has been labor of love for us, but I felt as if there was something really special about this spot. All the sub-contractors brought their best to the table. The team was really on the same page, and that shows."

On the menu

The menu at Ca’ Lucchenzo is casual, but built for lingering with friends. It’s accompanied by beverage selections which include domestic and imported beer, a wine list that emphasizes regional Italian selections, and spirits, including a nice collection of amari.

Food offerings are rooted in the Italian tradition of seasonality, which means an ever-changing selection of dishes, many of which will sport produce gleaned from Rare Earth Farm in Belgium, in Ozaukee County.

"Working with what’s available from week to week from the farm will be key to the way that we operate," notes Zak Baker, adding that a partnership with the farm will allow the restaurant access to specific ingredients grown for them throughout the season.

In addition to items on the regular menu, that could include specials, including the addition of an entree or two on weekends.

The opening menu is divided into five sections: cicchetti (snacks), antipasti, housemade pasta, polenta, risotto and dolci e formaggi (sweets and cheeses).

Shareable snacks, all of which are made to be prepared and served quickly, are items like housemade focaccia ($5), braised meatballs ($10), goat cheese crostino with bitter greens and spicy Calabrian honey ($9) and sopressa veneta salume (Italian aged salami) served with pickled vegetables ($10).

There are also antipasti and salads including fonduta arancino (risotto fritters filled with fontina fondue and served with warm frisée and spring vegetables salad, $12), polpo alla piastra (griddled Spanish octopus with chickpeas and ‘nduja vinaigrette, $14) and insalata tricolore (a salad of mixed chicory, hazelnuts, aged balsamic and Parmigiano-Reggiano, $9).

There is also the misto della casa featuring a variety of nibbles from salumi and cheese to roasted vegetables and grissini ($11), which Zak Baker says is reminiscent of a lunch platter he enjoyed Rome. "It’s very much like something you might bring on a picnic," he says.

Pasta selections include simple fresh dishes like rigatoni al pomo d’oro ($16), and bucatini cacio e pepe ($17), along with ravioli della casa (pasta filled with ricotta and chard and served with browned butter and walnut pesto, $18) and malloreddus sardo (Sardinian gnocchi with lamb ragu, bitter greens, anchovy breadcrumbs and pecorino, $18).

Gluten-free options include risotto with spring vegetables ($18) and polenta served with seasonal vegetables and sauteed lacinato kale ($17).

Desserts, which will be on the comforting rustic side, will include options like Venetian semolina doughnuts served with grapefruit marmellata ($7), slices of dark chocolate and hazelnut tart ($7) and plates of both domestic and Italian cheeses accompanied by fruit mostarda, honey and housemade foccaccia ($14).

Ca'Lucchenzo to go

Beginning in June, Ca’Lucchenzo will also offer ready-to-cook housemade pastas and sauces for carry-out, along with accompaniments like grated Italian cheeses and wine. It’s a convenience far superior to carry-out. Fresh pastas cook in 6 minutes or less, and cooking them at home preserves their delicate flavor and textures.

Beginning May 15, Ca’Lucchenzo will be open Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.