Last week, the link spread like wildfire. Trattoria Lucca was recognized by Travel + Leisure as one of the 20 best Italian restaurants in the United States, sandwiched between Mario Batali’s four-star Del Posto in NYC and Chef Tony Mantuano’s famous Spiaggia in Chicago.

Writer Arthur Bovino singled out Lucca for Ken Vedrinski’s focus on local seafood (crudo!) and his way with dishes like flounder in shellfish broth. He also mentioned the four-course family-style meals on Monday night, which Aaron and Elise Richard recently praised in the City Paper as one of the “10 things that should be on the next list,” if we decide to do another 101 things to eat roundup. They called it the best deal around.

Of course, we already knew this. Lucca has been a hidden jewel since the first day Vedrinski opened his little trattoria on the most unlikely street in Charleston — Bogard. And Vedrinski has been long overdue for some national love and attention.

Let me tell you a story about Lucca and how it always exceeds my already-high expectations. On a recent hot July afternoon, my husband and I found ourselves free — no kids, no obligations. I was laying by the pool, flipping through the latest issue of Bon Appetit and seriously craving some simple Italian — particularly panzanella. I mean, it was July, and tomato, bread, and olive oil were just the things to be eating, but unfortunately I was lazing around my backyard in Charleston not staying in a villa in Italy with restaurateur Ruth Rogers and her family. The next best thing for me to do was to head downtown to Lucca and pray we could get a table on a busy Saturday night.

That’s just what we did. After a small wait at Elliotborough Mini Bar (cutest little bar in the ‘hood), we were able to snag a window seat and get down to business. I didn’t see panzanella on the menu, but before I could even ask for something of the sort, the waitress announced two specials: an octopus panzanella and a black sea bass crudo. Yes, please.

A “couples-sized” portion of the panzanella arrived, and I’m pretty sure I ate it all by myself. It was a beautiful plate, more gorgeous than my iPhone picture can convey, and it was bursting with bright flavors. Not only did it have octopus, but there were beans and fresh cukes and a dressing that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. We ate a bunch more stuff that night (and spent way more money than we had any business spending), diving into plates of pasta and full entrées (including that aforementioned grouper in shellfish broth), but nothing satisfied me quite as much as that panzanella and the crisp white wine Vedrinski, in his flour-dusted apron, suggested we pair with it.

That’s the thing about Vedrinski. You’ll find him there most nights, after he’s spent the afternoon making fresh pasta on the bar, working the line or expediting dishes. And his passion comes through on the plate, time after time. Congrats on the recognition, chef. You totally deserve it. Now here’s hoping us loyal locals can still get a table on a busy Saturday night!

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