MICHAEL DEMEO HAS TRAVELED A WINDING, flavorful path to La Baracca, a tiny Italian eatery churning out dishes with big-city pizzazz in Truth or Consequences. “I didn’t even know this place existed,” he says of the southern New Mexico town best known for its hot springs.
An East Coast native, Demeo worked in his father’s restaurant and an Italian deli run by family friends before roles in the hospitality industry took him farther afield. Interested in moving out West, Demeo landed a job as executive chef and food and beverage manager at T or C’s Sierra Grande, a Ted Turner Retreat, in July 2019. But the resort’s restaurant closed less than a year later, when the pandemic and its restrictions hit.
Out of work, Demeo took some time off, hung out in Colorado, and considered his next steps before making his way back to southern New Mexico for the warmer winter weather, the friendly community, and the beautiful environment. “It was my way of surviving the pandemic,” he says. When Asian-fusion restaurant Latitude 33 closed in January 2021, Demeo purchased the equipment and launched La Baracca as a carryout-only eatery from the South Pershing Street space. “I see myself as a survivor,” he says. “I just find something that works.”
With a versatile culinary background, Demeo initially tried concepts ranging from sushi to BBQ, but found customers gravitated toward the Italian dishes, such as fresh-made pizzas and pastas, that are now staples. The name La Baracca, which means “shed” in Italian, was inspired by the small space from which Demeo turns out tasty creations.
“I operate alone and without a staff, but I have an extensive menu most of the time,” he says.
Demeo posts regular Facebook updates about his hours and specials, and customers can pick up their orders or have them delivered to the neighboring Pelican Spa and popular Truth or Consequences Brewing Company. “I think I can be one of the most accommodating restaurants in town,” he says. “If it’s not a heavy shift, I’ll lock up the restaurant to make a delivery.”
With an eye for authenticity, Demeo imports international ingredients, like pasta made from Italian wheat, and sources locally farmed produce and meats. “The ladies from the farmers’ market bring me stuff all the time,” he says. “There were two people in town growing eggplant, so I do an eggplant parmesan.”
Demeo orders rapini, a leafy green vegetable with a bitter zing that’s common in Mediterranean cooking, for topping pizza and adding extra zest to his pesto. He incorporates New Mexico green chile into other dishes, including the lobster fra diavolo (“among the devil”), a rich mix of tomatoes, garlic, lemon, butter, herbs, and Pecorino Romano cheese. “I make as many things as I can from scratch,” he says.
Read more: A vintage Lockheed T-33 that once zoomed through the skies is now a landmark at the Truth or Consequences Municipal Airport.