In early 2018, nearly eight years after opening their cult-favorite Dallas restaurant Lucia, David and Jennifer Uygur announced that they would open Macellaio, Eater Dallas’s 2018 restaurant of the year. From the moment the doors opened, Macellaio became an instant classic thanks to its deeply involved menu of charcuterie offerings, fresh breads, and a dining room that’s a whole lot easier to access than a still-coveted reservation at Lucia.
When Lucia first opened its doors, David and Jennifer Uygur were there each and every time the restaurant was open for service. It was essential in the beginning, until the duo could establish a staff that could run the restaurant to their exacting standards. As they planned to branch out with Macellaio, though, the Uygurs were confident that they would be able to keep Lucia the same without their constant presence.
“When we first opened, if David and I weren’t there, the restaurant was closed. But having had that time to build a great team at Lucia, the folks who are in management have been with us for literal years, and they know who we are,” Jennifer says. “They know how things run, and they’re part of the people who have made this restaurant what it is. It’s kind of been odd to be able to be away from the restaurant, but I feel a special pride in knowing that it functions beautifully without me. If someone texts me that they missed us at Lucia, I know they had a great time because we’ve got great folks in place. That’s a great feeling, and it’s also pretty great to have the two places so close together that we can pop over if we’re needed.”
Eight years into running Lucia, and focusing almost exclusively on Italian cuisine, David Uygur was feeling a little bit restless in a culinary sense. “I was always kind of pushing the boundaries of what Italian food was and what fit inside an Italian restaurant in Northeast Texas, but yeah, completely,” he says. “I definitely wanted to do some things that didn’t fit into the typical antipasti, primi, secondi, dolci format. I wanted dishes that were more fun to eat, and to not have to worry about where the inspiration for it was from.”
There were, of course, at least a few growing pains as David transitioned into a brand new kitchen, working with ovens and other appliances for the first time. “As you would expect, there are some adjustments to times and temperatures that you need to mess with, but nothing too crazy,” he says. “We were mostly excited to be in there and have all of that space.”
As was intended, the salumi program that David Uygur made a staple at his first restaurant saw a major expansion thanks to the new restaurant’s larger kitchen. After hanging his meats in upright refrigerators for most of Lucia’s history, Uygur upgraded to a specialized chamber for his cured meats at Macellaio. “I needed a walk-in, I needed more physical room to produce all of it,” he says. “Once you get everything set up and everything’s hanging in the chamber, it’s basically like gardening. You’re waiting to see the white mold bloom on the outside of the casing, you’re going through and checking to see how the meat has changed over time, and then finally harvesting it.”
Anyone who’s ever dined at Lucia can testify to the restaurant’s uniquely intimate, cozy vibe. In the tiny, 14-table dining room, front-of-house manager Jennifer Uygur somehow manages to make each patron feel like they’re dining in her living room. Macellaio, though, with its significantly larger, 55-table space, presented a number of different challenges. Unlike its predecessor, where reservations are frequently made weeks in advance, the larger, more accessible Macellaio would give the Uygurs are more direct line to the community that they serve.
“We didn’t want to create Lucia 2.0,” Jennifer says. “One of the things that we’ve heard over and over again at Lucia is that people want to be able to get in a little bit easier. But it’s a big city, and Lucia is a small restaurant. Just by having a 19-seat bar with comfy leather seats has made a major difference. People can just walk in and have dinner, or they can have a drink before going to dinner at Lucia.”
She does, however, note that some people may have had some expectations for Macellaio based on their experiences at Lucia. Because scoring a reservation at Lucia has been a challenge since its opening, the Uygurs see more and more people trying their luck at getting a walk-in table or seat at the bar. “This is exactly what we were hoping for,” Jennifer says. “We want people walking in, because there’s a very good chance that you can get a table. Where Lucia is much more planned out, Macellaio is easier to drop in spontaneously.”
One of the most common misconceptions that she and her service staff have experienced is that diners expect pasta to be on the menu at Macellaio, and there’s none to be found. Fortunately, though, the fare at the restaurant makes it pretty easy to manage — and then exceed — those expectations. “There were some initial ‘where’s the pasta!’ surprises, but people are enjoying what they eat,” she says. “Even though it isn’t exactly what they were expecting when they walked in our dining room, it’s the tastiest thing that they weren’t expecting.”
This is the first in a monthly series of features on Eater Dallas’s 2018 Eater Awards Winners. Stay tuned in February for the next installment.