Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hidden in Plain Sight

Tony's Southside is out in the open. There's even a big sign. But you're not likely to find it unless you know what to look for. The exterior of this tiny Tremont restaurant and bar, located at 2193 Professor Ave., gives no hint of what's on the other side of the door. The place has no website, and doesn't have an active Facebook page. Owners Anthony Tuleta and his wife, Eleny, intentionally keep a very low profile. People hear about it, like I did, from someone who's been there. And yet, it has a cult following.

On a Friday or Saturday night, the only two days of the week the restaurant welcomes guests, you can't be sure to get a table without reservations, and there are precious few of those available as the restaurant seats just 25 to 30 people. But be forewarned — when you call to make one (216-771-0515), you'll likely have to leave a voicemail message and wait patiently for a call back to find out if they can accommodate you. It's all part of its off-the-beaten-path, speakeasy, hideaway allure. And one other low-tech aspect of what they do — no credit cards are accepted, so come prepared to pay with cash.

The back story for this spot is as charming as the interior, all polished wood and soft lighting like a library in a posh, old mansion. The Tuleta's grew up in the neighborhood and his parents operated a a classic red and white checkered tablecloth pizza and spaghetti joint out of this location in the 80's. They passed on, and Tony's was closed for a number of years. But in 2009, the couple decided to revive the family business, doing an extensive remodel and rethinking of its concept.

It's still Italian food with a nod to Eleny's Greek heritage but more upscale. Tony Tuleta does all the cooking, making long simmering sauces and letting the dough, used for the diminutive personal pizzas, rise and rest for three days. One of his sisters will likely be your server, and his wife tends the bar, mixing up craft cocktails with as much care as a grandma at her stove.

They restaurant keeps late hours, until 1 a.m., and will stay open even later if you phone to say you're coming. There's no special knock or password to get in, but this hidden local gem still has the romance of a secret.

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