Community - September 7, 2011

It's wine time at Lutticken's After 5

After 5 p.m., the longtime deli is transformed into a wine bar, and small plates are served

by Jane Knoerle

Lutticken's Deli, a fixture in West Menlo Park for 30 years, has had an "extreme makeover." The once-worn interior has been transformed with "okra" green walls with white crown molding and woodwork, handsome lighting, and comfortable seating areas.

Wicker chairs are clustered before a cool "gel" fireplace, and black leather chairs and a couch are gathered around a wooden coffee table made by interior designer Michael Black.

"I wanted to create a rustic, yet contemporary look," says Mr. Black, noting two tables made from tree stumps. He has had experience in the restaurant business and as an interior designer in Los Angeles.

"Everybody that comes in is just amazed," says deli owner Bob Lutticken.

The smart interior is appropriate for the deli's new venture. After 5 p.m. it morphs into a wine bar. Looking for a niche where his store could fit into the expanding business along the Alameda, Mr. Lutticken brought up the wine bar concept to Mr. Black, a regular customer who designed the deli's Web page. "Michael thought it was a great idea," he says.

Deli manager Judy Congdon, who has worked with Bob for 30 years, took over choosing the wines. "I'm no expert, but I know what I like," she says. Working with a wine rep, she selected a large number of wines that sell by the glass from $6 to $12. There are also a number of beers. Domestic sells for $3; micro for $4. Chimay Red from Belgium is $8.

After 5, small plates are served, ranging from typical bar snacks such as nachos and chicken wings, to a cheese plate with baguette ($7). There are three kinds of panini ($8), sliders ($8), and four kinds of salads, including Caesar ($5); and a not-so-small plate of ribs with coleslaw ($9). There is also a kids' menu.

In the early evening, the wine bar's customers tend to be young families. The parents have a glass of wine, while the kids have a root beer or a snack. The families usually sit outside in an enclosed outdoor patio area with umbrella tables. Dogs are also welcome.

Later the 20-to-30 crowd arrives, meeting for drinks and to watch TV on the large flat wall screen, which is always tuned to a sports event. "We see a lot of Stanford and Menlo College students," says Mr. Lutticken, "and we're starting to see folks come in for meetings.

Customers seem to appreciate having a place for conversation and the fact they don't have to stand in line to order their food and drinks. "Bob was adamant on having table service," says Mr. Black.

The wine bar isn't the only innovation at Lutticken's. It now opens at 7 a.m., serving breakfast until mid-morning. "Prices are stuck in 1962," says Mr. Lutticken. Bacon and eggs will set you back $2.75.

The deli also has a coffee bar where you can order your favorite specialty coffee, latte or cappuccino.

It isn't unusual to see four construction workers eating lunch around the fireplace while ladies from Atherton occupy another nearby table, says Mr. Black.

The deli's transformation, begun in May, is now completed. The building's owner, Gary Souza, has also renovated the exterior with new stucco and paint. For many years, Gary's parents, George and Jean Souza, had a neighborhood tavern where Lutticken's now stands.

The Alameda-Avy Avenue area, once known as University Heights, continues to attract new businesses that cater to the area's affluent young families. Bob Lutticken hopes his wine bar fits into that trend, and he gives Michael Black credit for its transformation. "This is Michael's baby," he says.

Lutticken's After 5 is open Monday through Saturday, 5-10 p.m., at 3535 Alameda de las Pulgas. 854-0291. (The deli opens at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast and coffee, and stays open during the day.)


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