Loveria Caffe’s full sign reads: “Loveria Caffe — Taste of Italy.”
Well, that’s quite an understatement, as this month-old Italian restaurant-lounge-emporium delivers more than just a tidbit of Italy. Rather, it stages a bountiful feast for the eyes and taste buds in one of the area’s most architecturally enthralling and culinarily authentic settings.
Though Colleyville’s main water tower is visible from the cream-colored, palazzo-like facade of Loveria, this restaurant’s cooking and aura firmly plant it in the distinctive Italian region of Emilia-Romagna.
Loveria leans on Emilia-Romagna’s various cities, starting with its capital of Bologna, to inspire so many of its totemic Italian ingredients, from its “Bolognese” ragu-meat sauce and Bologna’s mortadella, to Modena’s balsamic vinegar, Parma’s prosciutto and, of course, its emperor of all Italian cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Loveria’s deep Italian roots are traced to three of its owners, all of whom hail from the Emilia-Romagna city of Ravenna, and for whom Loveria is their first restaurant venture. Andrea Matteucci and his wife of 25 years, Stefania Bertozzi, are career architects who asked longtime friend Michele Ragazzini to join them as Loveria’s head chef.
Their joint philosophy is to create, as they put it, a “door toward Italy.” That portal opens from the moment I enter Loveria Caffe. It feels akin to a modern pocket gallery displaying examples of the latest in Italian food, art and design.
While a large TV scrolls through snapshots of daily Italian life, nearby shelves boast examples of genuine Italian imported food products — from Olitalia Toscano olive oil to Casa Visconti egg fettucine — that play key roles in my meal.
Just past the entry is an inviting lounge area, bathed in sunshine pouring in from floor-to-ceiling windows. Loveria’s owners hope patrons will treat this sofa-accented area as a refuge, tailored to an afternoon espresso, a slice of almond tart or an early-evening cocktail, while paging through an eclectic collection of books on fashion, architecture and, of course, food.
Taking six months, and investing $300,000 of their own money to convert a former kids’ gymnasium, Matteucci and Bertozzi trained their architectural eyes on Loveria’s 3,000 square feet of raw space — providing room for 65 diners inside, 20 outside.
Loveria has a breathtaking, cathedral-high (at least 25 feet) ceiling. The owner-designers imported the finest Italian oak for its nut-brown plank flooring, along with the modern chairs tinted a cool gray, plus dangling, conical lamps and banquettes done in pale-blue stitching.
The overall result is a cool-surfaced, mid-century modern aesthetic that remains consistently cosseting.
There may be no Loveria dish more synonymous with Italy’s idolizing of grazing than its taglierino antipasti. Yes, it’s $19, but it’s easily shareable among two or three diners, and it’s the ultimate introductory plate to the meats and cheeses of Emilia-Romagna.
The prosciutto is one of its more restrained salty bites. Meanwhile, the mortadella carries a slightly earthier taste, with the real saline kick coming from the salami Milano.
I savored every minute and dry-tang of the 24-month-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano while its Tuscan cheese partner, pecorino, brought a creamier mouth feel. Elevating the complexity was the inclusion of a pumpkin chutney bursting with contrasting notes of acidity (from the pumpkin marinated in balsamic vinegar), crunch (butternut squash and red onion) and slight heat (from mustard seed and chiles). Completing the street-food quality of this starter were eight triangles of piadina, the flatbread of Emilia-Romagna.
I banished all cliched notions of a clumsy tower of pasta sheets with Loveria’s elegantly restrained lasagna alla Bolognese ($10/$16). There was an understated taste dance between the three-layer stack of spinach-flavored pasta and a classically executed béchamel sauce, all melding with the beef-and-sausage, rosemary and bay leaf-powered ragu. It takes more than three hours to prepare and I tasted every second of that care.
As for the garganelli al pesto ($9/$15), the penne-shaped pasta was lightly daubed by the basil-infused pesto. For those who feel the pasta veers too much toward “toothsome” al dente, the slight crunchiness of this tubular pasta actually gave it a textural punch seldom found in your average Italian-American eatery.
For chef Ragazzini’s frequently appearing special of pork cutlet ($22), two healthy slabs of pork were pounded and then breaded like a veal scallopini. The peas were then added to the robust, tomato-based sauce, and they acted as green studs on the cutlet. The pork was pleasingly tender, perhaps owing to its having spent three hours in a marinade of egg, lemon and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The grandmother’s or “nonna’s” touch was all over the wedge-shaped crostata della nonna ($6) dessert, which combined short-crust pastry, ricotta cheese, dark chocolate chips and raisin nubbins. The ricotta imparted a tart zing, avoiding the pitfall of being cloyingly sweet. The result can only be described as cheesecake with an uptown pedigree.
As I left Loveria Caffe, it hit me that, as much as Emilia-Romagna is famed for being home to such sleek and swift automobiles as Ferrari and Lamborghini, so too its food — especially as handcrafted at Loveria — travels in a sleek package, while delivering an exhilaratingly regional Italian experience.