March-April 2011 | BANKING ON SUCCESS




Davide and Christine Jones renovated an old bank into a fine-dining hotspot that celebrates the flavors of Italy

Written By: Jonathan Westman | Photographer: Stephen Cherry

It’s almost a certainty that when you’ve considered a fine dining establishment on the Eastern Shore, downtown Millsboro wasn’t set as the final destination on your GPS. With Luca Ristorante and Enoteca, the vision of Davide and Christine Jones, that will change.

No matter how far you travel to experience Luca, you’ll journey to Tuscany during your stay thanks, in part, to a sensational transformation from a neglected building in the center of town to a lively and romantic hotspot brimming with Italian inspiration. With room for just 50 patrons, the setting is open yet intimate.

Set inside the historic Delaware Trust Bank, which originally opened in 1916, and named for Davide’s great-grandparents, Luca and Carmela Rao (whose pictures are proudly displayed on the main wall), the restaurant has received rave reviews from nearly all who have dined there since its opening in early December.

The menu boasts of flavors found in different regions of Italy and is predominantly prepared from ingredients from the finest Italian purveyors. From Duck confit, brick oven bone-in filet and salt-incrusted sea bass (branzino) to braised duck ragu, gnocchi gorgonzola, even freshly steamed mussels in a delicious homemade broth, Luca delivers appetizers and entrees unique to the beaches. Lamb, veal chops, other fine cuts of beef and fresh fish such as salmon and rockfish assist in making a dining decision even more difficult.

“The only thing frozen is the gelato,” Davide said. “All of our seafood is traceable. We are advocates of the Slow Food movement. Everything is made in-house. Even our meatballs are made from the remnants of our trimmed meats. They are high- quality and melt in your mouth.”

A generous assortment of personal pizzas — including short rib, duck confit and traditional — are available. Their pastas and breads are made fresh daily, as is the stock for the evening’s dishes. Most applicable dishes are finished off in the wood-burning oven, which adds a delectable and unique finish to the flavors of the dish. Luca’s menu changes seasonally to embrace the diversity and availability of the freshest local ingredients.

Chef Joe Churchman, who came to Luca from Philadelphia’s La Virtu, creates rustic, regional Italian cuisine nightly.  “Joe is very passionate about his work and it shows in our food,” Davide said. “Our duck confit and duck ragu, or porchetta… everything we do takes some time to cook — and plenty of prep time. Yet, every step is meticulous. We really enjoy the chef’s passion, time and skill — it’s evident in every dish we serve.”

The Joneses were very much a part of the renovation from concept to completion and spared no expense in restoring the old bank, while also bringing touches of Italy to the forefront of the restaurant. The original ceiling is “a jaw-dropper,” as Christine and Davide describe it, which has been restored to its initial glory. Hanging 18 feet above the rich, original-wood flooring, the tin- pressed ceiling of bronze and copper has been patinaed perfectly. The Tuscan feel really comes into the play from the warm brown, yellow and orange tones adorning the walls.

Davide researched early-1900 bank teller stations to find inspiration for the wine bar — or enoteca. He designed and constructed the back of the bar, incorporated a Cruvinet system and brought in a custom painter to etch the concrete bar top in acid. The result is a striking work of art that features dozens of hues.

Then there’s the vault. The original bank vault, positioned in the center of the restaurant, is now one of most exclusive and unique dining settings on the Eastern Shore. Outfitted with a 7-foot, old wooden plank table and accompanied by Renaissance-themed chairs, cherub figures painted on the ceiling and drapes for complete seclusion (if desired), the vault seats up to six quite comfortably for any occasion.

Later this spring, Davide and Christine will create an Old World, al fresco-dining patio, for up to 20 people, on the left side of the property. “Once you step off of the sidewalk, you’re going to feel as if you walked off of one of the main alleyways in Italy,” Davide said. “It’s going to be really cool to look at and even more fun to experience first-hand.”

Luca Ristorante and Enoteca, located at 303 Main Street in Millsboro, is open Tuesday—Sunday from 5-11 p.m. Reservations are strongly encouraged.

Luca Ristorante and Enoteca, 302-934-5822

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