Truth Lounge tucked into cool South Side nook
Peter Kamaras grew up in a large extended Greek-American family, whose members often gathered for dinner with parents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
“Everyone got there an hour late and left three hours after they were supposed to,” says Kamaras, 47, of the East End. Discussing people they knew and issues of the day, family members ate and drank, and as Kamaras says, “The truth came out in the food and the drink.”
The truth that food, drink and social interactions can elicit is the reason Kamaras and his business partner, John Frentzos of Edgewood, named their South Side restaurant Truth Lounge.
Tucked into what Kamaras calls a “cool little nook” on South 12th Street, off Bedford Square near South Side Market, Truth Lounge opened May 11. Originally conceived as a small plates eatery, Truth Lounge quickly expanded into entrees. The menu is seasonal and changes quarterly.
The aim, Kamaras says, is to offer a relaxed social dining experience where people order an array of small plates and share them. A low lounge banquette in the bar is where larger groups often gather to celebrate events and linger.
The bar seats 40 diners, and the dining room fits another 34, with a backdrop of taupe walls, dark hardwood floors and windows that give views of South 12th Street and Bedford Square. Exposed brick in the bar and a low-slung, expansive banquette give an aura of a New York bistro.
The bar offers craft beers, an array of wines and cocktails and what Kamaras calls “craft drinks,” with fresh-pressed fruit if the drink calls for orange, grapefruit and other juices.
“And we make our own sours,” Kamaras says.
Executive chef Scott DeLuca, 31, of Baldwin, a West Virginia native, likes the creativity Kamaras and Frentzos allow him to exercise. Knowing at age 14 that he wanted to cook, DeLuca talked himself into a job on a restaurant line. Later, he left college to attend Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, then started work at Capstone Grill in Peters.
“I like fire and sharp things,” DeLuca says with a smile. “Capstone allowed me to try things out. I got the idea for mixing and matching flavors.”
That's a culinary approach he continues at Truth Lounge. After jobs at Keswick Hall in Charlottesville, Va., and the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, DeLuca interviewed with Kamaras and Frentzos and got the job without the owners tasting his food.
“We liked him,” Kamaras says. “He seemed like a solid guy.”
The menu is solidly based in a Mediterranean-Continental culinary tradition, with a bit of a twist. Diners can sample small plates as simple as an Artisan Cheese Plate or Italian Meat Plate, each available at $8 for a small plate or $15 for a large one. More complex small plates include Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin with black truffle potato salad, roasted Roma tomatoes and amarone sauce for $16.
Entrees include Stuffed Virginia Quail with fennel sausage, broccoli rabe and Tuscan white beans for $24 or Blackened Florida Grouper with vegetable succotash, Holy Trinity rice pilaf, roasted garlic beurre fondue and fresh-squeezed lemon for $26. Braised Beef Short Rib with whipped Yukon gold potatoes, grilled asparagus and short rib reduction is the priciest entree, at $32.
The restaurant offers live music on Thursdays from local singer-musicians like Peter Hewlett and Betsy Lawrence.
“We just want everyone to relax and have fun,” Kamaras says. And find their own brand of truth.
Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.
Gnocchi with Short Rib Ragout
Truth Lounge executive chef Scott DeLuca featured short ribs on the menu in sliders and a braised entrée. He thought, why not combine some of the beef with other ingredients to make a satisfying Italian appetizer? The result became Gnocchi With Short Rib Ragout, a tasty dish that combines three kinds of tomatoes with homemade gnocchi and the short rib meat. It balances the meat sweetened by braising with carrots, the earthy potato gnocchi and the multilayered tomato ragout in a hearty comfort-food dish.
Though DeLuca makes all the ingredients from scratch, he says home cooks can save some time with prepared short ribs, gnocchi and marinara sauce. True to Italian culture, Truth Lounge sells the dish as an appetizer. Italians believe serving pasta as the first course cushions the stomach for more acidic dishes to come, such as salad.
“This is one of the best sellers,” DeLuca says. “One guy said when he comes back next week, he wants an entree portion.”
2 tablespoons olive oil
10-11 gnocchi, boiled and drained, either from scratch or prepared (from-scratch recipe at right) and boiled
1 tablespoon minced shallots
2 tablespoons Roma tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons oven-roasted tomatoes
3 tablespoons white wine
3 tablespoons marinara sauce, plus more ifneeded
1 tablespoon fresh minced parsley, plus more for garnish
½ cup shredded braised short rib meat
Freshly ground black pepper
Crushed red pepper
Parmesan cheese, for garnish
Grilled bread, for serving
Heat the olive oil in a nonstick pan. Once the oil has heated, place the boiled gnocchi into the pan, and saute until golden brown (see photo 1). Remove from the oil. Remove most of the oil from the pan and saute the shallots, Roma tomatoes and the oven-roasted tomatoes for 1 to 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the white wine (photo 2), and cook to get the flavor of the wine into the tomatoes. To this mixture, add the marinara sauce (photo 3), the minced parsley and the shredded short rib meat. Cook about 2 minutes (photo 4).
Add a pinch of salt and pepper, as well as a pinch of crushed red pepper. Add the gnocchi (photo 5), toss and add more marinara sauce if the liquid is too thin. Serve in a bowl garnished with grated parmesan cheese, fresh parsley and a slice of grilled bread (photo 6).
Makes 1 serving.
6 medium-size Idaho potatoes, boiled for 1 hour in their skins
3 cups flour, plus more for rolling dough
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
Vegetable oil if needed
Let the potatoes cool, then remove the skins. Put the potatoes through a ricer or a food mill and into a metal bowl.
Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil and a large bowl of water with ice to the side of the stove.
Make a well in the center of the processed potatoes and to this, add the flour, salt and eggs.
With your hands, knead the ingredients together. If the mixture becomes sticky, add more flour. Once the dough begins to cohere, take 1½-ounce portions of the dough and place it on a floured cutting board. Roll the dough back and forth into a long rope of dough. Once all the dough is rolled into rope shapes, cut into 1-inch sections for the gnocchi.
Place the gnocchi in the boiling water. The gnocchi are cooked when they float. Remove them with a slotted spoon or perforated ladle and place immediately into the ice bath to stop the cooking process.
If holding the gnocchi for a day or two, coat the gnocchi with vegetable oil and refrigerate until read to use. Use within four days.