An undeniable sense of déjà vu washes over me as I enter Grove Hill in Chagrin Falls. It's been 20-plus years since I've stepped foot inside the building, and many of the interior treatments have changed, yet I still can't help but anticipate a meal of outdated chestnuts like pepper steak, Boston scrod and Dublin Lawyer —each paired with the obligatory limp asparagus and dry rice pilaf.
Pity the man who inherits a longstanding neighborhood institution like Raintree, which existed in this spot for more than 40 years. But from the looks of things, change is not a four-letter word in Chagrin. Since opening in mid-July, Grove Hill likely has welcomed more folks through its front doors than Raintree had in years.
Chef Tim Bando waited until he was 50 years old to open his first restaurant, and that maturity, experience and wisdom will doubtless serve him well for years to come. Like Bando, Grove Hill is more of a cushy sedan than balls-out roadster, built for long-haul comfort as opposed to a hair-raising speed. The setting, food and drink aim to satisfy a wide swath of the community, which has been starved for a quality establishment that splits the difference between dive and destination.
By stripping away much of the tea-parlor vibe, knocking down an interior wall and painting the dark-wood paneling a more neutral tone, designers have succeeded in bringing the dated space into the 21st Century. What does remain — gleaming brass doors, stained glass accents, red-leather armchairs — preserves just enough of the jolly English pub vibe without clubbing you over the head with it.
Along with the refreshed scenery is a modernized menu where the guiding principles appear to be variety, quality and value. After 20 years in the biz — starting as a line cook at the Caxton Café alongside Michael Symon — Bando has a pretty solid grasp of what works and what doesn't. Like Symon, the chef's dishes are stripped down to a few essential components, none of them superfluous or gratuitous. A starter of warm grilled halloumi cheese atop ripe watermelon ($8), for example, achieves success with few moving parts. There's the sweet and salty, warm and cold, gooey and crunchy. A shower of fresh mint manages to make the watermelon taste even sweeter.
The grub at Grove Hill can be as humble as a heaping platter of smoked and sliced sausage ($10) with mustard, pickled veggies and crusty bread, or as celebratory as a shimmering seafood tower ($75). Somehow, neither feels out of place. While 75 bucks might sound steep, this rig is loaded with a dozen oysters, fat knuckles of king crab, four weighty shrimp, deep scoops of wild salmon tartar and scallop sashimi, and a few raw clams for good measure. All of the above can be ordered a la carte as well.
Though completely new, dishes like steamed artichoke ($10) with lemon aioli and veal sweetbreads Milanese ($10) would have sounded right at home in an old-school joint like Raintree. And that's precisely why Grove Hill works; it's a place where old-timers and new-timers can break bread in perfect harmony. I mean, who can't get behind a fiercely seared, 2-inch thick, bone-in, heritage breed pork chop for $22? Nobody, that's who.
Beautiful pieces of fish — be they halibut ($25), wild king salmon ($25) or striped bass ($26) — are seared skin-on and paired, not with hot starches and limp veggies, but with light, bright and refreshing sides. In the case of the former, it's a cool, crunchy giardiniera. In the case of the latter, think couscous salad with charred peaches and basil.
A half dozen pastas ranging from a Gruyere-streaked mac and cheese to a faintly spicy linguini with lemon, garlic and sweet lump crab meat are robustly portioned and judiciously priced ($15-$18).
Ask a young chef to craft a kid's menu and you'll likely be in the market for a new chef. Bando, a father of four, knows all too well that if you're setting down stakes in Chagrin Falls, you best be family friendly. His made-from-scratch dishes all are $6 a pop.
One of the best features at Grove Hill is the barroom, a lively space with its own orbit. There's a lengthy bar, raised area for dining and some deep drink rails perfect for grabbing a quick bite on a busy night. The cocktails are just right and the wine list is "tres New York," with refreshing gruners, Sancerres and verdelhos joining plenty of bubbles and prime reds.
Grove Hill is new, wildly busy on weekends and susceptible to the same issues as other young establishments. A friendly but frantic staffer dropped the bread and spreads without so much as an explanation. Our server was of little help discussing oysters (adding that she has yet to take the "oyster class"). A chopped salad is anything but. One of our fish entrees was a shade overcooked.
But like the infamous annual Pumpkin Roll that takes place on that other Grove Hill, I'm predicting that this one will become a long lasting tradition.
Grove hill: 25 Pleasant Dr., Chagrin Falls, 440-247-4800, grovehillchagrin.com.
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