Willeyville, which opened its doors last week, is an homage to Cleveland's first mayor John Willey, who dubbed the area Willeyville. The contemporary bistro on the east banks of the Flats marks the return of chef Chris DiLisi, who was opening chef at Flour in Moreland Hills and longtime chef at Baricelli Inn before that.
"We had a long time to think of a name," explains the chef, who says it's pronounced like smiley-ville. "We had five other names, each worse than the last. So we looked up some Cleveland history and loved the connection to Mayor Willey."
With a name chosen, it was time to select a location. "Originally Tremont was our first choice, but when the East Bank Project was brought to our attention, it really got us excited."
DiLisi says he wanted the space to "look, wear and feel like your favorite pair of old jeans." For the Cleveland native, that translated into warm tones of bronze and wood. An exposed brick backbar provides a focal point for those perched at the 12-seat bar. Lakewood High alums might recognize the "Ranger Purple" bar top since it's constructed with pieces of the school's former bleachers.
Cool concrete floors balance out the reclaimed wood butcher-block tables. Mason jars are outfitted with warm incandescent bulbs and grouped into chandeliers, bringing down to scale the high-ceilinged industrial space. Local art adorns the walls, and an L-shaped open kitchen is the focal point of the 70-plus-seat dining room. A 70-seat patio is perfectly positioned for people watching when people begin to populate the area.
When it comes to the food, the philosophy of Willeyvile is emblazoned right on the restaurant's sign: "Handcrafted Consumables." "We are scratch made as far as we can take it," says the chef. "We are naturally leavening all our breads, breaking down entire pigs, making our own masa for tortillas and curing and smoking all of our meats and cheeses." Tools and gadgets like an immersion circulator, pasta extruder and ice-cream maker will aid the process.
Both the lunch and dinner menus are compact yet comprehensive. The lunch pastrami and smoked cheddar on rye ($9) and the smoked chicken wings ($6) with house-made hot sauce and smoked blue cheese are break-out stars. "We really want to be conscious of price point and speed for lunch without jeopardizing quality," says DiLisi. "Our goal is 10-minute ticket times."
The dinner menu features a ricotta tasting ($9) and something called a Duck McMuffin ($13), an English muffin topped with duck sausage, over-easy egg and sweet and spicy maple bourbon sauce. Another future fave is the adobe shrimp in masa tortillas ($12.50), paired with Mexican chorizo, guacamole, cilantro and crema.
To wash it all down, Willeyville is laser focused on old-school, hand-crafted cocktails.
Willeyville is open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. Sundays will be reserved for Brown's home games with a special tailgate menu and promotion.
With Ken Stewart's East Bank already open and Lago opening right around the corner, DiLisi is pumped about the synergy. "It is important that we all support each other."
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