The guests gabbed, the barbecue beckoned, and the South African wine flowed like -- well, if not water, then at least like moderately priced wine -- at the most recent installment of Budapest Blonde's popular tasting series.
The theatrically designed, plushly appointed, and oh-so-welcoming wine-and-martini bar in Independence (6901 Rockside Road, in the Rockside Corners Shopping Center) will celebrate its second anniversary in September; but while it's still a relative newbie on the upscale suburban-bar scene, it's already developed a devoted following among imbibers from nearby neighborhoods, with a Thursday-night piano bar, monthly "Ladies' Night Out" programs, and a series of Wednesday-night wine- and cocktail-tastings.
This night, the theme was "Wine With Barbecue," featuring reds and whites from South Africa's KWV and Cathedral Cellars wineries, paired with mini pulled-pork sandwiches and pork crostini from nearby Hoggy's Barn and Grille in Valley View (5975 Canal Road); if we had been at a private party in a dear friend's living room, the vibe couldn't have been more cozy.
Chalk that up not only to the gracious old-world appointments -- velvet draperies, painted chandeliers, and overstuffed slipper chairs among them -- but to the personalities of the gregarious owner-operators, Ilona Simon and Leonard DiCosimo, who run the place like an extension of their own home. Back of the bar is the domain of DiCosimo, a professional musician, Baldwin-Wallace music instructor, and prez of the Cleveland Federation of Musicians, while Simon, who previously worked in marketing for Playhouse Square, bounces from one cluster of guests to another like a perfect hostess.
That familiar sense has helped make the spot a particular draw for ladies. "Even women who would never think of hangin' out at a bar have told me they feel comfortable coming here," Simon gushes. And the strict enforcement of the "house rules" doesn't hurt either. "It's no beer, no smoking, and no television," Simon says with a grin. "If you come here, you're going to have to talk to one another!"
Upcoming tasting topics include "Summer-tini" cocktails (June 22), Summer White Wines (July 27), Caribbean Cocktails and ice-cream drinks (August 10), and World-Class Wines (August 24). Cost, including light refreshments, is $25 per person; prepaid reservations are required, at 440-237-0292.
So long, Jimmy D . . . Just as the influx of chain eateries at Legacy Village and Eton-Chagrin spelled tough times for the East Side's independent restaurants, West Side indies are now taking a hit from the new arrivals at Crocker Park. "It's a hotbed of competition out here now, and we have to make some changes if we want to survive," says longtime Westlake restaurateur Jim Chillemi, owner of the landmark James Dominic's (27200 Detroit Road).
As a result, Chillemi is folding up the white tablecloths, putting away the genteel menu of Italian specialties, and rubbing out the handsome faux paintings that added a fillip of fun to the good-looking interior. They'll be replaced by more television sets, lower prices, and a casual menu of pizza, wings, burgers, and big brewskies. A new name is also in the works.
Not that the "BW3 meets Winking Lizard" concept is especially novel, admits 56-year-old Chillemi, but he hopes the move to a menu of value-driven bar noshes will put the spark back in his 16-year-old business.
"I've been in the industry for 40 years, starting when this was my dad's pizza place. I am James Dominic . . . but you just have to keep up with the times."
Chillemi expects to shut down for only about 48 hours in early July and return to action by July 4. Lunch, dinner, and possibly some late-night hours will be on the new menu, and the restaurant's pretty vine-covered porch will undoubtedly continue to appeal to alfresco fans.
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