Many restaurants are known for a select number of signature dishes, but Bob Nemo of Nemo Grille aspires well beyond that. "Everyone asks me what my best dishes are, but I don't really have an answer," says the chef. "My goal is to offer a great menu where no matter what catches your eye, it comes out beautiful and perfect every time."
Nemo has had 13 years to perfect that mission, since opening his beloved Avon restaurant in the historic Alten House back in 2001. Food aside, the 1850 building itself is worth a look. It has served many purposes over the years, starting as a private residence and operating more recently as an antique store. The Alten House sat empty for several years before Nemo took over the space.
He and a relative did the majority of renovations themselves, with Nemo serving as the general contractor. "We were scraping every corner to make it happen," he says. Nemo drew on construction experience from jobs he'd worked growing up and referenced a lot of how-to's. "I was stupid!" he says. "I took a big leap."
The original menu offered an Italian influence, drawing on Nemo's experience from eight years in the kitchen of the now-closed Portofino's in Strongsville. "I began cooking when I was 18," he explains. "I learned a ton from the chefs that came and went there. In the end, I was running the whole kitchen. So it made sense to open my own place and see a greater cut of the profits."
Nemo worked in his kitchen every day at first. However, he quickly learned that owning his own restaurant would mean transitioning into a management role. "I have to bring out the best in my staff and make sure they do things the way I want them done," he says. These days Nemo relies on head chef Jen Reed, who he has known for years and describes as very talented. His sous chef is Sebastian Linton, who Nemo says is young and a "crazy-hard worker."
The menu is a collaborative effort, described as "Globally Influenced American Cuisine." "Our menu is anything we want; there are no limits," Nemo says. Popular dishes include Maple Leaf duck breast with caramelized onion mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and black mission fig-marsala sauce; and sea bass with truffle cheese pasta, asparagus and marcona almond brown butter sauce. There's also a robust offering of steaks, served with whipped potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
Nemo says Nemo Grille attracts fans from all over the place. "It's an upscale, white tablecloth place," says Nemo. "We have a bar menu that's a little more casual, so we welcome all kinds of people. We see some customers two or three times a week."
Nemo signed a long-term lease when he took over the Alten House and plans to stick around. He'd like to open an outdoor seating area soon, although he confesses to saying that every year. He'd also like to open an additional restaurant nearby.
"I'd like to be a better marketer too," Nemo says. "I'm not that good at self-promotion."
But with a beautiful location, talented staff, delicious food and a devoted following, Nemo might get away with letting his restaurant speak for itself.
Nemo Grille, 36976 Detroit Rd., 440-934-0061, nemogrille.com
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