Can a well-seasoned chef find true happiness in an Ohio City beer garden? Can "pretzel chicken" survive a culinary makeover? And, most important, can customers seeking sausages and fried calamari learn to love braised lamb shanks and sous vide salmon? Drop in at the venerable Great Lakes Brewing Company (2516 Market Avenue, 216-771-4404), and see for yourself.
True, if we had a pint of Dortmunder Gold for every time we've heard that the brewpub's ho-hum menu was getting an upgrade, we'd be in rehab by now. Still, the point is that Great Lakes owners Pat and Dan Conway have long said they yearn to serve food that matches the sophistication of their award-winning beers. Now, with the arrival of Executive Chef Kurt Steeber, they may finally get their wish.
Steeber, a Lakewood native whose culinary pursuits have taken him from San Francisco to New York City (with a brief stop, about three years back, at the former Mosaica in Westlake), couldn't be a better match for the environmentally minded Conways. A proponent of sustainable agriculture, Steeber honed his chops with one of the pioneers of regional American cuisine, Jeremiah Tower, in the S.F. kitchen of Stars before opening his own spot near Pebble Beach, among other ventures.
Today, Steeber's mandate is to elevate Great Lakes' menu while maintaining a tavern frame of mind. And if he can serve up some enlightenment along the way, so much the better. "I'd like our customers to see there can be more to tavern fare than pretzels and artichoke crocks," he says with a straight face.
No doubt, though, Steeber's lunch and dinner menus include some of the most interesting and enticing items in the brewery's history. Take the pork potpie ($9 at lunch), seasoned with Holy Moses Ale, sealed beneath a sweet-potato crust, and baked in a wood-burning oven. Or the open-faced lamb sandwich ($11 at lunch) topped with Maytag blue cheese, Killbuck Valley mushrooms, and balsamic glazed red onion. Or -- and this one we can't wait to try -- the line-caught, Alaskan salmon sous vide ($22 at dinner), seasoned with olive oil, kosher salt, and orange zest; vacuum-packed; then simmered for a mere 10 minutes in 140-degree water for what should be one of the most succulent preps in town.
Steeber also brought the tavern's timeworn "pretzel chicken" into the 21st century by using a light, savory reduction in place of the original mustard-cream sauce. Of course, he's not in the miracle business: The artichoke crock continues to be prominently featured among the apps. "Pat wouldn't let me change that," Steeber shrugs.
Midday merriment . . . It's a sure sign of the season when chef-restaurateurs Parker Bosley (Parker's American Bistro, 2801 Bridge Avenue, 216-771-7130) and Paul Minnillo (The Baricelli Inn, 2203 Cornell Road, 216-791-6500) announce their holiday lunch schedules; for the rest of the year, these upscale salons offer dinner service only. At Baricelli's, the festivities are slated to run weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. November 28 through December 23, with a menu of hearty fare like lobster bisque, lamb shanks, and beef tenderloin burgers. The finely wrought seasonal cuisine at Parker's, built around locally grown or raised foods, will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. December 5 through 30.
And while it's not fancy fare, Budapest Blonde (6901 Rockside Road, Independence, 216-328-8780) just launched lunchtime service too. The intimate martini and wine bar is open from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, with a limited but interesting menu of homey soups and European-style sandwiches. Of course, staffers also will be serving five-ounce, $5 "luncheon"-sized martinis and a variety of wines by the glass. You might find they make a suitable lunch all by themselves.
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