Diners who hoped that the Burntwood Tavern would help remedy the fine-dining deficiency dogging Chagrin Falls are likely to be disappointed. On the other hand, residents hungry for yet another cozy neighborhood saloon can declare themselves winners.
When it comes to sheer style, it's tough to top Burntwood. This ruggedly handsome tavern has the lived-in appeal of a place centuries — rather than months — old. Reconstructed from the earth up using salvaged timbers, the dining room is hunting-lodge chic, with rough-hewn floorboards, post-and-beam cathedral ceilings, a copper-top bar, and wrought-iron fixtures. A pair of crackling fireplaces add to the Currier & Ives meets Ralph Lauren vibe. To say that this is an improvement over the shabby (not chic) Chag-Town era is an understatement.
Open only a few short months, the restaurant already is attracting a gaggle of doting locals. The wrap-around bar buzzes with activity, while folks waiting for tables scramble for spots in the small but well-appointed lounge. Thankfully, a newly initiated complimentary valet service largely solves the madcap vehicle shuffle that has plagued the cramped parking lot.
Given the character of its food, though, it's doubtful that Burntwood will attract much of a following beyond the neighborhood. This is not destination-worthy fare, but time-worn comfort food designed less to impress than merely satisfy. Many of the starters are deep fried, and if there is a unique item on the menu, we have yet to discover it.
When fully half the appetizers are fried in fat, it might be a good idea to not serve them in brown paper bags. By the time items such as chicken wings ($8), fish sticks ($8), and calamari ($9) arrive at the table, their craft-paper containers are fully soaked through with grease. Fresh cod elevated the fish sticks, but their outsized heft disqualified them as finger food. The fried zucchini strips ($6) have a fresh, wholesome flavor, and we had few quibbles about the crisp calamari, cut into wide bands and served with marinara.
If you enjoy classic wedge salads ($5), those shatteringly crisp iceberg quarters garnished with bacon, egg and tomato, you should enjoy the version served here. Our complaint? Swapping out the conventional blue cheese dressing for Parmesan peppercorn.
On the whole, Burntwood does a great job in the sandwich department. The kitchen's French dip ($11), made with smoky prime rib, is a meat-lover's treat. The beef is shaved thin and piled into a thick hoagie bun with Swiss and horseradish. The accompanying au jus is pleasantly salty. Burntwood's sliders ($9/3), which ooze American-style cheese, are fun to devour, but they tend to be overcooked. Elsewhere, a thick mantel of cheddar cheese, applewood bacon, and honey mustard do a decent job injecting flavor into an otherwise bland blackened chicken breast ($9).
Entrées are moderately priced in the $14 to $18 range, and given the quality and degree of difficulty, those amounts are largely fair. A dinner portion of the beer-battered fish and chips ($15) includes house-cut fries and a barely spiced jalapeño tartar sauce. Pastas come with salmon ($15) or chicken and ham ($14), both in creamy sauces. At $24, the rack of lamb is the priciest item on the regular menu. Four double chops arrive done to a perfect medium-rare, with a nicely charred and seasoned exterior. A smattering of roasted root veggies garnish the plate. Sadly, a side of sautéed sugar snap peas ($4) had clearly lost its snap.
After more than 20 years in the restaurant business, much of that time working for the Bravo/Brio group, owner Bret Adams knows how to run a tight ship. Service in the dining room is quick-paced and attentive. The bar, however, can be a different story, where on busy nights wine glasses sit empty and food orders get misplaced. Still, given the crowds and long wait times, a seat at the bar is much preferred over no seat at all.
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