Underground Gourmet: Chef Sousa creates a buzz with makeshift meals
Kevin Sousa speaks to guests from the kitchen area at his under-construction restaurant in Garfield, Salt of the Earth, during an "underground" dinner.
The finishing touches are put on the asparagus salad at the "underground" dinner by chef Kevin Sousa.
Chef Kevin Sousa describes his next course to his guests.
A softshell crab sandwich is one of the courses at the "underground" dinner by chef Kevin Sousa.
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Hot-shot chefs are a rare commodity in Pittsburgh. So when one leaves a high-profile job to start his or her own restaurant, as Kevin Sousa did when he parted ways with the Red Room Cafe last fall, people notice and also start anticipating.
How so? When the McKees Rocks native put out the word on his blog that he was holding a pre-construction "underground dinner" to get a buzz going for Salt of the Earth, the new eatery he's planning in Garfield, the foodie community came out in droves.
Never mind the March 1 meal was served family-style under makeshift lighting. Or that the various courses, which included skate with brown butter and capers and braised veal cheeks with rosemary grits, came on plastic plates set atop paper-covered folding banquet tables.
"It completely sold out," said Sousa. "We were hoping people were into it, and they were."
So good was the response, via e-mail, that the 34-year-old chef, whose resume includes stints as executive chef at Kaya in the Strip District, Soba in Shadyside and the Bigelow Grille, sold out four more dinners -- two vegetarian, the others more omnivorous in nature, all between five and seven courses -- at the Penn Avenue building. At the latest on May 10, for instance, diners enjoyed softshell crab sandwiches along with flank steak, sunchoke vichyssoise and asparagus salad; at an outdoor barbecue planned for June 14, he'll serve a 125-pound whole hog roasted on a spit, along with other "summery" cookout food.
Because the raw space, which went under construction this week, isn't technically a restaurant, Sousa can't charge for the meals. Instead, he asks for a donation to cover the cost of ingredients. The food, though, is indicative of the creative but decidedly unpretentious American cuisine he'll serve when Salt of the Earth opens in mid-October.
"It's going to be great food but at a lower price point," said Sousa. "The kind of place where my friends and I would actually go to eat."
First Published May 21, 2009 12:00 am