Cooking has always been on the front burner for Jeremy Luers, chef at the popular Enoteca Emilia Wine Bar and Restaurant in O'Bryonville. (Enoteca means wine repository or wine shop; Emilia is a region in northeast Italy.)

"When I was a kid my brothers made fun of me for watching all the food shows like "¢Frugal Gourmet' instead of action shows," says Luers, 34. And though his mom "canned everything she could get her hands on . . . and tends to cook Southern" (think fried chicken with pan gray and corn, his favorite birthday dish) her pasta sauce was near the top of his list.

That lack of pretension in the kitchen and appreciation for casual, carefree food hit a chord with him when Margaret Ranalli, Enoteca Emilia 's owner, sought him out last May for her new restaurant spotlighting the Emilia Romagna area of Italy known for its emphasis on cured meats and "Parma" cheese.

And though Luers was trained in the precise ways of French preparation (when he worked with chef Gethin Thomas at a Fortune 500 company in Columbus, Ind. after graduation from The National Center for Hospitality Studies at Louisville's Sullivan University), he appreciates the casual nonchalance of an Italian kitchen.

"When it comes to preparing food, Italians seem to enjoy it more. There's no pretension. It's not like they are spending hours cutting everything a certain identical way. It's a little more casual, rustic, a bit more carefree." A visit to Enoteca Emilia is much like that with a chatty, neighborhood atmosphere.

Ranalli and Luers found themselves a good fit last spring in the venture to spotlight mid-priced Italian food . "We both thought there was a big gap here for that," he says.

In creating the menu he brought experience from the kitchens of Boca, Rookwood and Teller's, and the celebrated Babbo's in New York City. And though Rookwood was his first "chef" position where he "took all the praise . . . and all the criticism as well," ideas for every dish at Enoteca Emilia started with him, though sous chef Rachel Roberts gets credit for the follow-through. The two have worked together since Boca.

Focus is on the cured meats and cheeses that make the Emilia region famous, all creatively presented in bar snacks, cheeses, artisanal pizzas, skewered meats and seafoods, pastas and desserts.

Food critics get especially weak-kneed over the "whipped lardo and nduja," (cured pork fatback and a spreadable salami ) but Luers has built in something for the less adventurous as well. Wine sippers can rely on meatball sliders made with red sauce, salsa verde and parmigiano reggiano or deviled eggs with trout, mortadella bread crumbs and salsa verde.

Everything has Luers' twist, even the bolognese which he says "has been done a million times. But here it has duck liver instead of chicken liver with pork and beef. I try to find what I enjoy and what relates to the restaurant."

Holiday Indulgence
There's more to easter goodies than chocolate
Golden Lamb
So popular is this Lebanon, Ohio classic (known for hosting Charles Dickens) that last Easter even the Bunny, yep, the Big E, showed up. Service is fantastic and thefood is delightful. 27 S. Broadway, Lebanon. (513) 932-5065 or
Greyhound Tavern
This Fort Mitchell landmark is Northern Kentucky's most award-winning restaurant. Famous for its traditional dishes with regional inclusions, Greyhound promises an all-day buffet including carved prime rib and famous fried chicken. 2500 Dixie Highway, Fort Mitchell. (859) 331-3767 or
Hilton Netherland
Dine in a 1930s French Art Deco setting and enjoy a phenomenal buffet at the Grille at Palm Court at the Hilton Netherland, says Susan Lynch, marketing manager. The restaurant draws about 1,000 guests on Easter. Freshly carved meat and seafood entrees are among scrumptious favorites. Reservations required. Valet parking is complimentary. 35 West Fifth Street, Cincinnati. (513) 421-9100 or
Palace at The Cincinnatian
The Palace will feature a full, a la carte breakfast menu from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Reservations required. 601 Vine Street, downtown. (513) 381-3000 or
Taste of Belgium
Expect this Over-the-Rhine rage to be hopping. The chef recommends calling ahead but could not, at printer time, promise reservations would be available. Signature waffles and crepes are only the beginning.12th and Vine Street, Over-the-Rhine. (513) 381-4607 or
Teller's of Hyde Park
Patron favorites include Eggs Benedict, Crab Cake Benedict and Bananas Foster's French Toast. Hours will be 10 a.m.-3 p.m. 2710 Erie Avenue, Hyde Park, (513) 321-4721, or
Virgil's Café
On Sunday, chefs decide the brunch menu early in the morning. Easter differs only slightly: They will decide a few items in advance and build "a scratch brunch" using creativity to fuel the menu. He hints at Eggs Benedict and so much more. Reservations highly recommended. 710 Fairfield Avenue, Bellevue. (859) 491-3287 or