An Italian and Latin-influenced neighborhood bistro called Il Gusto Bistro will open in the Old Fourth Ward one year from now. Currently home to the Lantern House (589 Ralph McGill Boulevard), the property will be renovated, and the owner, George DeMeglio, will move in next door.
Il Gusto will serve dinner, and eventually lunch (paninis!), using fresh, seasonal ingredients. For dinner, pasta entrees will cost less than $15, while protein-based dishes will cost less than $18. No executive chef has been named, but DeMeglio has hired Bruce Logue of BoccaLupo and Jeff Russell of Great Northern Pasta Co. as consultants. He shared his plans below.
You don’t come from the hospitality industry, so how did you decide to open a restaurant?
Five years ago, I was thinking about what I would do next in life. I’ve worked in different industries—tech, construction, and economics—usually for someone else. I was ready to do something for myself. I have plenty of background in food as a foodie but none in the business.
Without the restaurant experience, how will you ensure Il Gusto is a success?
As an operations person, I feel comfortable with that side of things. I identified my weaknesses: I need an executive chef who can manage the kitchen and suppliers, and I need to refine my hospitality skills. Bruce Logue has been guiding me, helping me understand the design side, the kitchen side, and making sure what is put into place will work. Another friend, Jeff Russell, is helping me with pasta equipment and recipes. I’ve been reading a lot of Danny Meyer as inspiration on what to focus on as front of house.
What items do you envision on Il Gusto’s menu?
The dinner menu will be anchored by fresh pasta and the most amazing gluten-free pasta you’ve ever had, along with starches common in Italian cuisine, like faro and cannellini beans. We’ll use those to deliver seasonal ingredients like mushrooms. We’ll have your standard sauces (marinara, Bolognese), and also Northern Italian olive oil-based sauces with garlic, fresh herbs.
Roasted vegetables. I want to be a neighborhood restaurant—a place people will feel comfortable coming on a regular basis not only on their wallet but also on their belt.
For the protein: seafood will primarily be shellfish with fresh fish served as specials. Of course there will be chicken and pork. The beef will be mostly secondary cuts of meat like flank steaks and strip steaks. The greens will be organic. It’s not going to be a health food restaurant, but I want to have a healthy menu.
This sounds pretty Italian. How will the Latin influences be incorporated?
I love the way Latins deliver their proteins.—the chimichurri sauces, the Argentinian barbecue style of cooking. I am looking for a chef who has similar aspirations in that area. What is Italian if not Latin? I consider it different branches on the same tree.
What will the bar scene be like?
We’ll have a strong cocktail program—look at Frontera Grill in Chicago as an example—but my philosophy is ‘keep it simple and execute well.’ We’ll probably just start with a bartender and find someone who can grow into a bar manager. I’ll play a significant role in crafting the drink menu. We’ll have four beers on tap, and some gluten-free beer and cider. The wine menu will be moderate with a focus on carafes.
What’s your plan for the atmosphere? Will the lanterns be sticking around?
As much as I love the Lantern House, it’s going to echo more of the history of the neighborhood. The homes were built in the 1930s, Depression era. The restaurant will have an industrial feel that’s simple, clean, and feels traditional, like it’s been there a long time. We’ll have a handcrafted wooden bar and a little public art piece in the front. I’m working with Art on the [Atlanta] BeltLine since I am in the BeltLine overlay. I believe when you get great materials and treat them well, they shine.