First you notice the ochre colored, long and low Tuscan villa-like building with the showy wide arches. Then the artfully sculpted fir tree lineup commands your rapt attention.
By the time you eye the electric fuchsia flow of cascading petunias and the vivacious potted plants, the perfect summer breeze comes blowing in with the viscous sounds of expertly played, live saxy jazz (courtesy of John Popovich and friends). And for a second you think, "I might be in Napa Valley" - but you're not. In fact, you've only gone as far as Powell. Welcome to brunch at Luce.
Gorgeous is a word I rarely use but it comes to mind when I try to describe the setting for some recent brunches I had at Luce. I might add that the mildest and most beautiful July weather in memory was a huge part of this, but Luce's food was doing its best not to break the spell. And the magic actually worked - a Saturday-night-induced hangover melted into pure Sunday afternoon comfort.
I got the ball rolling with Luce's unique and spicy Bloody Mary. I say unique because along with riding in pretty horseradish-heavy, it had a touch of Indian curry in it.
I liked the warm and crusty Tuscan-style house bread, too, and not just because it expanded on the tomato theme I was working with that Bloody Mary. You see, the bread came served with a sun-dried tomato and olive tapenade plopped down in a little pool of olive oil. Nice.
As for entrees, you can order off an abbreviated version of Luce's regular menu or stick to the short list of Sunday brunch items. Since I noticed the brunch specials came with a big side dish, were priced at only $10 each and weren't at all limited to just eggy things, I went that route. It was a path that led to some bargains, as those prettily plated and good-eating brunch dishes were often doggie-bag large. Here's what you can expect.
• Italian Omelette - a thick, richly yellow and hefty egg assemblage was rife with roasted red peppers, discs of nice fennel-seeded Italian sausage, melted provolone and a bright tomato sauce. A somewhat abundant balsamic syrup garnish looked nice but seemed unnecessary.
• Eggplant Parmesan - this delicious and hearty comfort-food bonanza could even make eggplant haters change their minds. It was an unusual pasta-free rendition that in effect fused its ingredients into an almost stew-like mass. So it was hard to tell where the eggplant ended and the loose breading and gooey cheese began. But tied together with Luce's tangy tomato sauce, it sure was fun to gobble down.
• Smoked Salmon Crepes - sweet and salty competed in the two eggy and thickish crepe logs that were criss-crossed and filled with briny salmon and scrambled eggs. Another balsamic syrup drizzle played up the mild sweetness of the crepes, and the diced tomatoes, scallions plus a sun-dried tomato sauce nicely suited the salmon. Unfortunately the menu-promised brie cheese was absent.
• French Toast - not at all too sweet or rich, it was a real highlight. Three long lobes of the good house bread were given a light ova coating and an enticingly crispy, ungreasy crust. The rocking toppings were a just-tart, small-diced strawberry compote, and a lovely, fluffy mascarpone creme with a bit of cinnamon. It was so good it made the side syrup completely superfluous.
On the side
Included in the $10 price tag:
Fresh fruit medley - by no means small, made primarily with melons, berries and pineapple chunks
Roasted potatoes - a massive mound of firm Yukon Gold cubes that taste a little smoky and are deliciously tricked out with tomatoes, scallions and peppers
Italian side salad - a refreshing full salad, nicely salted and made with iceberg and diced tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions. Comes dressed with a light, sweet and uplifting "55 style" (a Columbus classic) vinaigrette
For a complete guide to local restaurants, click to ColumbusDiningGuide.com