Now open four years, DeLucca's Italian Grill and Pizzeria, a tiny tucked-away treasure, has become a favorite among Columbia's who's who, other restaurant owners, and - primarily - friends from the neighborhood. Michael Hicks, owner and chef, tells us a little about the restaurant.
What's good here?
"I could eat the Italian sausage over penne in a roasted red pepper cream sauce every day and not get tired of it," Hicks said. "Our baked spaghetti has become a big hit, and the crab cakes are one of our biggest sellers because of the sheer volume of crab meat in each one. And the Creazzo Chicken is a favorite. My sous chef, Nathan Creazzo, who is full-blooded Italian, came up with that one.
"Trying to pin down what is good is difficult because if it wasn't really good we wouldn't put it on the menu. Most often, items start off as specials. Then, if they work, we might put them onto the regular menu. That's what happened with Creazzo Chicken."
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DeLucca's offers a different flavored butter daily to go along with their homemade bread. Everything is made fresh - dressings, pizza dough, sauces - even croutons. And Hicks points out that he buys as much South Carolina produce as possible.
There are veal, chicken, fish and shrimp dishes, as well as gnocchi, cannelloni, paninis and even a stuffed eggplant dish with a pomodoro sauce.
Pastry chef Rebecca Morrow visits a few times a week to whip up desserts such as bread pudding, creme brulee and their sought-after chocolate torte with Italian buttercream icing.
What does the place look like?
The ambiance is simple: intimate European cafe style with jewel-tone hues, cafe curtains, and a wall of family photos exhibiting Hicks' German/Italian heritage. Italian music plays softly.
At 400 square feet with only a handful of tables, it is advisable to call ahead and check on availability. Hicks says he has plans to expand.
How did DeLucca's come about?
"I grew up in Lexington and went to Lexington High School. I've been working in restaurants since I was 15 and got my first job at Applebee's washing dishes. I observed everything. As I worked for other restaurants, I learned all aspects of the business," said Hicks, who has a business degree from Clemson, attended the culinary school at USC and worked for Tronco's for a short time.
DeLucca's is not a family name but a name a friend suggested. The business, which started out with catering, added takeout and delivery and then evolved into the restaurant. Hicks still does some catering - about two to three weddings a year and some larger events as well as supplying lunches to several business every day.
"I love this business and can't imagine doing anything else. The whole mix of it. It's a huge adrenaline rush to come in here every day and have it all going on.
"And I love the customers. . . And the staff. . . . We've all been here together from the beginning."
Who eats here?
"People just really come here because of word of mouth. And some are coming every week or a few times a week.
"There are days that I will walk out here and see congressmen, senators, attorneys, and even those I know who own or manage other restaurants. People who live near here tell me they appreciate that there is a good, locally owned neighborhood restaurant where they know they can get good food."