First Look: Street food comes indoors at Luna in Collegetown

July 23, 2015 by Mark H. Anbinder

The last few years have seen a surge of food trucks, stands, and other "sometimes food" venues in Ithaca, but food trucks face the challenges of unpredictable -- or predictably harsh -- weather. What happens if you take the street food concept indoors? That's what Kevin Sullivan and Bryan Keller set out to do with Luna Inspired Street Food, now open on Stewart Avenue in Collegetown.

The Connection's old pizza counter has given way to extra seating space at Luna.The Connection's old pizza counter has given way to extra seating space at Luna.Sullivan's also the owner of Loco Margarita Grill, which remains open right next door, and the Connection, the pizza shop that he transformed this summer into a brick-and-mortar tribute to several kinds of street food at once, and small portions and reasonable prices combine -- or is it conspire? -- to let visitors try a little of everything.

They're still serving pizza, by the slice or the pie, but there are more interesting options now beyond the pepperoni or chicken bacon ranch, which of course are still there. Huevos Rancheros pizza? Charred corn and gouda? Even the "Hawaiian" ham and pineapple has been upgraded with pork carnitas. We got a mushroom, spinach, and ricotta pizza; an artichoke and bacon pizza; and a "lotsa pepperoni" pizza. Three larges were plenty for seven people to share, with some left; they're 18-inch pizzas, not the all-too-common 14-inch "large."

Korean short rib taco topped with koji slaw.Korean short rib taco topped with koji slaw.Even better, the pizza joint's evolved into a taco truck, a Korean BBQ stall, a poutinerie, a pretzel cart, and a wings-and-burger stand, all at the same time, with a fusion of flavors that defies the expectations. Korean short rib tacos are braised to melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, then topped with koji slaw and charred tomato butter. 

Sullivan and Keller spent the summer experimenting with recipes and cooking techniques, including a sous vide approach that produces mouthwatering chicken for the Japanese-inspired yakitori chicken and pineapple skewers. Keller's restaurateur friends have tried to tell him the menu's too broad, but he can't bear to part with any of his creations.

Pork belly bao bun, steamed to perfection.Pork belly bao bun, steamed to perfection.A pork belly bao bun features house-cured pork from a Western New York provider, as well as pickled cucumber, carrot, and daikon. The flavors of the pork belly, pickled vegetables, and hoisin sauce explode in your mouth. And "The Only Burger," both the only burger on the menu and perhaps the only burger you'll need here, features a mixture of Angus beef and chorizo sausage topped with caramelized red onion, jalapeño jam, bacon, and cooked-just-so over-easy fried egg. It's just a three-ounce slider-style burger, and just $6, but it's awfully satisfying.

Vegetarian tofu wings!Vegetarian tofu wings!The crisp, fresh vegetables that are part of many of the dishes here are part of the flavor explosion that characterizes the whole menu, and much of the produce is locally sourced. In fact, Luna's menu features plenty of vegetarian options, including the rich smoked gouda macaroni and cheese, a black bean taco, and seasonal roasted vegetable paninis with fig balsamic glaze, and Sullivan says they're working on a list of items that are, or can be, vegan. We're pleased to see the crispy tofu "wings" here; Sullivan offered them early on when he opened Jack's Collegetown Grill several years ago.

There are also chicken wings and boneless "wings" on the menu, long a popular item next door at Loco's wing night, where the bleu cheese dressing has always been freshly made in-house. Regardless of your choice of wing form, options include bourbon honey BBQ, pineapple teriyaki, old bay, garbage, and of course Buffalo-style hot or "screaming hot."

The expanded seating area has benches and stools, and a walkway between Luna and Loco. Sullivan figures his bar crowd will wander next door for a snack, and they'll even be able to order food right at the bar. The food crowd can order their food, and wander next door for a pint of Ithaca Green Trail or a margarita.

If parking on the street for your street food bothers you, even though metered spots are free after 6pm, Sullivan points out that there's a Cornell-owned parking lot right across the street. Students who live nearby can get a year-long permit to park there, but anyone can pay for an hour or a whole evening using the Parkmobile app or a toll-free number. Show your Parkmobile transaction at Luna, and they say they'll help defray the cost.

Plan on spending $5-15 on a snack or a meal. Find Luna at 310 Stewart Avenue next to Loco Margarita Grill in lower Collegetown daily from 11am to 1:30am, visit lunastreetfood.com, or call them at 607-256-5862 and tell them you heard about them here

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