Cafe Lucarne helps fill downtown Raleigh breakfast-and-lunch void
By Greg Cox
Review originally published 12/15/2016
When Lucky’s Deli opened in June, it brought a welcome new breakfast-and-lunch option to the evening-heavy lineup of restaurants in downtown Durham. Just a few weeks later, Cafe Lucarne did the same for downtown Raleigh with its opening in City Market. Both are counter service eateries whose owners have already earned stellar reputations as chefs and restaurateurs at some of the area’s best restaurants.
And that’s pretty much where the similarities end. (Read Lucky’s Delicatessen review.)
309 Blake St., Raleigh
Ask Will Jeffers about Cafe Lucarne’s unusual name, and he’ll explain that lucarne is French for skylight. Then Jeffers, who teamed up with Jeff Seizer and Jesse Bardyn to open Cafe Lucarne in July (and just four months later, Royale, which is quickly shaping up to be a City Market hotspot), will tell you that the name is tongue-in-cheek. The restaurant does indeed have a skylight, but it was tarred over years ago by a previous tenant or landlord. The owners haven’t decided whether to attempt to restore the skylight, “but we like the name anyway.”
If you detect a whiff of the ironic about that name, rest assured that Cafe Lucarne comes by it honestly. Jeffers is also a part-owner of Stanbury, known as much for its hipster vibe as for its outstanding food. A similar attitude is evident at the new counter service cafe, in everything from a Facebook page riddled with retro ’60s images (including James Bond – Connery, of course) to its menu.
Avocado toast, anyone? Cafe Lucarne’s version, punctuated with lemon zest and thinly sliced radishes and spread on a slab of wheaty toast (“Boulted bakes all our bread, it’s a custom loaf made just for us,” Jeffers notes), will get your day off to a promising start. Other variations on the toast theme include cheese (Welsh rarebit and heirloom tomato), ricotta with roasted apples and honey, and fava bean with mint, pecorino romano and olive oil.
You can also jumpstart your morning with a grits bowl, English muffin or big square biscuit – all available with your choice of additions ranging from Johnston County ham (pair it with seasonal jam on a biscuit for a popular combo known as the Ham & Jam) to egg and cheese (cheddar, gruyere or gouda). Other breakfast options cover a lot of territory in a little space, from house muesli to shakshuka, a northern African-inspired dish of eggs braised in a spiced tomato sauce.
Come lunchtime, that hearty Boulted bread takes on a new role in a varied assortment of sandwiches ranging from egg salad with Green Button Farm bacon to tuna melt with olives, smoked provolone and pickled peppadew peppers. Roasted eggplant with peppers, onions, harissa and cumin mayo is one of the menu’s many vegetarian options, and this omnivore would happily order it again.
There’s also a small selection of salads (panzanella, arugula and a market salad of mixed lettuces, radish and eggplant in tarragon vinaigrette), as well as a seasonal soup. If the curried squash soup is on offer, don’t pass it up. And don’t overlook the specials board, where you’ll find seasonal sides and entrees such as the Mediterranean Benny (poached egg on English muffin topped with arugula pesto, roasted tomato and pecorino).
When I spoke to Will Jeffers, he was excited to tell me that Cafe Lucarne had just gotten its liquor license. They’re phasing in evening hours, and will offer charcuterie, artisanal cheeses and a modest selection of wines, local beers and classic cocktails. You’ll still place your order at the counter, but they’ll bring it to your table. Lower lighting and weathered hardwood floors give the cafe a cozier feel in the evening. And after the sun goes down, you won’t even notice the blacked-out skylight.