Chef Bruno Oliveira takes Croatian cuisine up a notch in Huntington

Chef Bruno Oliveira sits at the bar at Konoba in Huntington. (Credit: Cyndi Zaweski)

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Chef Bruno Oliveira has carved out a slice of his American dream, with a little Croatian flavoring. Oliveira teamed up with Daniel Pedisich, his one-time boss at wine bar Bin 56, to open Konoba Craft Kitchen & Tasting Lounge in Huntington Village in February. 

The eatery with a focus on Croatian and Mediterranean dishes, located in Hush Bistro’s old digs on Gerard Street, is a half-mile down the street from old Bin 56, but a long way from where Oliveria started.

Born in Brazil to a father who owned restaurants, Oliveria immigrated to the United States when he was 13. He went on to college and culinary arts school before climbing his way up the ranks of the Long Island restaurant scene.

 “I started in the Hamptons as a dishwasher. I worked my way up: salad station, grill station, line cook, sous chef,” said Oliveira, who worked at restaurants including Pier’s in Bridgehampton and Savanna’s in Southampton before landing the gig at Bin 56 about eight years ago.   

Bin 56 was a small spot that included one stove with six burners, two of which needed to be used as a grill. The menu was limited — about 10 tapas-style choices— and Oliveira cooked standard fare like sliders, and later began to experiment with specials. When Pedisich bought the place in 2012, he not only kept Oliveira on board he encouraged him to think bigger.

“When Daniel took over, I had the freedom to do what I wanted,” Oliveira said. “Then I started to learn about his Croatian background and started experimenting.”

Pedisich worked in the front of the restaurant and gave instant feedback on what guests liked. The two were together every day, even coming in on their days off. Soon, the menu size had doubled, and Bin 56 started feeling smaller by the week. Oliveira’s only real assistant was a dishwasher, who helped prep food. 

 “I was making a lot of food there,” Oliveira said. “The food would come out as it was made…we got to the point at Bin where we couldn’t grow anymore. Every year we were maxed out.”

The two men set their sights on a new venture: Konoba, the Croatian term for “tavern.” When Hush Bistro announced it was closing in December, they swooped in. Oliveira was immediately struck bya kitchen that included five ovens, 18 burners and a grill.

“I thought it was great, living the dream,” he said. “I can order a lot more ingredients for specials. At Bin, I would cook the octopus, which is a very popular dish we have, and I could only cook one at a time. At this place, I can cook five sometimes ten at a time.”

It’s a good thing because the octopus remains a popular though sometimes polarizing dish. 

“The octopus is very tender, it’s not rubbery,” Oliveira said. “It has a little char on the outside. Octopus you can either love it or hate it. I have people who have never tried octopus try it and love it.”

The menu includes sharable plates and entrees such as lamb sliders topped with whipped feta and seafood stew. The Fuži, Croatian pasta made with white truffle, is another favorite. 

“The real truffles give it a potent flavor,” Oliveira said. “Most people use fake oil. That’s the good thing about Daniel. He doesn’t cut corners. If I need a $200 bottle of oil, [he gets it].”

And it was Oliveria’s wherewithal and dedication that earned him co-partner status as Konoba.

“I knew Bruno was capable of doing a lot more than he was doing in that tiny kitchen at Bin,” Pedisich said. “The timing worked out that the spacing was available and the rest is history.”

Konoba is located at 46G, Gerard Street in Huntington