Civilizations as ancient and disparate as the Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Babylonians all have their own slight variations on an alleged proverb: In wine there is truth.
Pliny the Elder is credited with authoring the most commonly known Latin version of the phrase, in vino veritas. But wine also can twist the tongue and selectively fog the memory, and apparently ol' Pliny never bothered to ask a bartender about that.
Because if he had, his belief may have been swayed by the modern-day likes of the young lady slinging cocktails at the South Side's Truth Lounge -- so named as a nod to Pliny's oenophilic "wisdom" -- who didn't hesitate to rattle off the best and most common whopper she's eavesdropped whilst in the line of duty, often expressed by looped patrons, male and female alike:
"I'm not married."
OK then. Perhaps that should be amended to: In wine, there is wishful thinking. And possibly alimony. Or something. Still waiting for Pliny's take on beer goggles (cervisia oculus vitra?).
Anyway, at the Truth Lounge, this much is true: It offers some pretty good food and drink in a classy but casual setting.
Opened last May, Truth inhabits an 1870s-era building that most recently was the decades-long home to the legendary Cafe Allegro. Aesthetically, it's a respectful successor to a place that was as responsible as any for propelling the South Side's revival and resurgence from the late 1980s to the present day.
A handsome bar area with broad windows gives a panorama of the colorful neon signs of and goings-on at Jack's, Club Cafe and Bloom's Cigars, as well as the 98-year-old Market House. Live music and DJs are regularly featured.
Chef Scott DeLuca's menu offers entrees such as a bloody-mary-marinated New York strip steak with a gruyere potato terrine, snipped green beans and a garlic puree ($28), a stuffed Virginia quail with fennel sausage, broccoli rabe and Tuscan white beans ($24) or a blackened Florida grouper with a sauteed vegetable succotash, rice pilaf and a roasted garlic Beurre fondue ($26).
But this is Munch -- we're still getting used to having names. No need to push it with the expense account. We went for the small plates.
Although not strictly Greek in its cuisine, Truth is owned by Greek-Americans. So we started with the Flaming Saganaki ($11), said to have been created in 1968 at Chicago's Parthenon restaurant.
The Greeks invented drama (literally), and the Saganaki -- Kefalograviera cheese in a small cast-iron skillet, flambeed golden-brown in front of us with fresh lemon juice squeezed atop it -- provided a dramatic and tasty start to the evening.
We split a bowl of the wild mushroom risotto ($10) with a black truffle "essence" and shaved Pecorino-Romano. This had a lot of nice flavors, although the grains weren't quite as al dente as we might've liked.
Several varieties of gourmet sliders served on sweet Hawaiian rolls are available -- for instance crab cake with Roma tomatoes, organic lettuces and a whole grain mustard remoulade ($16); or beef short rib with braised vegetables ($14).
Lousy sliders at a dive or chain might run you six or eight bucks, so we had no problem springing for Truth's duck confit version ($12). With a Roquefort aioli and sauteed wild mushrooms, these were delicious. The rich meat taste and the tangy cheese complemented each other nicely.
Finally, the seared tenderloin flatbread ($18) with arugula, Chevre, mushrooms and asparagus and topped with fresh pea shoots was outstanding. The made-from-scratch base was perfectly crispy. The meat, mixed with the sharp cheese flavor and the bitter vegetables, gave a truly terrific medley of flavors.
The bar offers a nice array of premium spirits -- notably bourbons and scotches -- and a good wine list. The cocktail menu (which I refuse to ever call a "program" -- looking at you, Bill Toland) is perfectly acceptable, if unadventurous in this age of craft drinks. Likewise for the beer selection. There's just too much good hooch out there these days to play it safe.
While recent headlines regarding the South Side Flats have been less than flattering, the Truth Lounge is among a number of pleasant grown-up respites from the nearby Carson Street chaos.
Truth Lounge is at 51 S. 12th St., South Side; 412-381-9600 or www.truthlounge.com.