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Market in Rocky River has the grub to match the games

John Owen and Dave Rudiger have a knack for transforming overlooked pieces of property into buzz-worthy neighborhood gems. Three years ago the partners gutted a forgotten pizza parlor and rebuilt it as the chic little eatery Wine Bar Rocky River. More recently, the pair worked their magic on a former municipal impound lot, of all places, turning the old pile of bricks into Market, an upscale sports bar. Located just steps apart from one another, the twin Rocky River establishments are quietly turning Linda St. into a suburban version of West Sixth.

To call Market a sports bar is a tad misleading. Built from the ground up with consummate care, the attractive space could just as easily be home to a hip bistro. A grand entryway leads diners through an airy foyer and into the spacious main dining room. Dramatic chandeliers, stone-clad columns, and plush carpeting give the space a classy feel, while huge warehouse-style windows reflect the building's industrial past.

Separated from the dining room by little more than the carpet's edge, the barroom and its energy set the mood of the entire building. The massive horseshoe-shaped granite bar comfortably seats about three dozen guests. Banks of wafer-thin 60-inch monitors give the bar the look of a casino sports book. Just off the bar is a considerable patio, connected to the interior space via slideaway doors. Configured in sections, the courtyard includes a covered three-season area with heated flooring and an open-sky portion featuring a circular gas-fueled fire pit.

While it looks as if it could be home to a hip bistro, this is by no means a gastropub. Chef Rob Geul, formerly of Parallax and Fahrenheit, presides over a less-than-thrilling menu of eclectic pub fare. Original plans called for a steakhouse-meets-sports-bar, but it's pretty clear that the focus has shifted more toward American comfort food.

Starters — here called "shareables" — include addictive pretzel-crusted fried pickle slices served with house onion dip ($7) and mini pigs in blankets ($9), updated perhaps by the puff pastry belt and grainy mustard dip. Fondue fans will go gaga for the suitably cheesy Buffalo chicken dip ($8.50), a hot crock of molten dairy dotted with chicken and ringed by chips.

The whimsically named Banana Hammocks ($9) — Market's version of stuffed banana peppers — are well executed, with five sausage-stuffed peppers resting in marinara and topped with shavings of aged ricotta. Intended to be an Asian-style noodle dish, the firecracker shrimp ($10) was little more than a bowl of oily and cold spaghetti; the four lukewarm grilled shrimp on top did little to elevate the dish.

The two-sided menu includes sections dubbed Farmers Market, Meat Market, and Fish Market, but it's the good-old sandwich department that delivers the biggest returns. Loaded with juicy and well-marbled house-smoked brisket and crowned with Swiss, slaw, and sauce, the griddled reuben ($11) has made our short list for sandwich of the year. Equally rewarding is the gourmet French dip ($13), which swaps the customary sliced roast beef for tender grilled filet. The downside to grilling meat instead of oven-roasting it, however, is the lack of actual jus; market pairs the sandwich with thick gravy for dunking. Sandwiches — there are a dozen — come with great house-made chips or house-cut fries.

Despite the posh surroundings, there is no need for Market to feature four steaks, especially when one is the bland and cottony top sirloin ($17). That cut is served on a bed of slightly greasy cornbread stuffing and sided by a dollop of smoky steak sauce. In the fish department there is the predictable sesame-seed-dusted seared tuna ($18) and an agreeable sautéed walleye ($17) served with fingerling potato hash.

A quick dip in the deep fryer transforms a pair of Smucker's Uncrustables into white-trash gold, complete with a raspberry drizzle and whipped cream garnish ($6). Beneath a crisp shell, the peanut butter and jelly soften to custardy goodness.

Perhaps the best news of all to pure bar lovers: Market boasts 100 brews — 24 on tap and 76 more by the bottle, quickly making it the craft-beer capital of Rocky River. And you can pair it with the food of your choice any time you want: Market's full menu is available until 2 a.m. every day.

Send feedback to dining@clevescene.com.

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