If you couldn't tell that Cleveland was a meat-and-potatoes town by looking at our collective waistline, you certainly could by looking at our restaurants. In just a few square blocks downtown, diners can pig out on steak at XO, Hyde Park, Morton's and Brasa. We just lost John Q's after decades of fine service, but don't worry: Two more steakhouses are taking its place with the coming of JQ's and Red, an offshoot of the Beachwood hotspot.
And then there's The Cleveland Chop, which wasted no time filling in for the recently shuttered Cleveland Chophouse. But with the tagline "More than a steakhouse," it's clear that the restaurant's new owners are thinking more broadly than their predecessors.
The Chop—and the Chophouse before it—benefits from its prime location in the heart of the Warehouse District. Enjoying one of the premiere downtown spaces, the restaurant will attract a steady stream of workers, visitors and expense-account travelers. What it likely won't attract are foodies. While the menu is exceedingly broad and varied, not much of it is particularly compelling or well executed. Finding the precious few choice plates on the menu took more than a little digging on our part.
First the good news: Meals here start with a mini cast iron skillet of cornbread, still warm from the oven, topped with a dollop of melting whipped butter. A bountiful and fresh Caesar salad ($5) had thick shavings of good cheese and a creamy dressing redolent of garlic. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the crab cake appetizer ($13), which arrived nicely browned and loaded with sweet crab. Chop's pizzas, too, are a good bet. A stone oven turns out thin, crispy and charred-around-the-edges crusts. Ours ($12) was topped with fresh mozzarella, roasted garlic, caramelized mushrooms and rosemary.
If "sliders" are diminutive hamburgers, then the Chop has it all wrong. Neither small nor burgers, the Twin Sliders ($8) are in fact regular-size buns filled with squishy-soft braised short ribs. They aren't very good, yet they're better than the "steak cigars" ($10). Akin to festival food, these deep-fried tubes are filled with grey sliced steak and nacho-style cheese. The dense, dry wrapper is nearly impenetrable.
The two steaks we tried at Chop both were cooked properly but lacked the satisfying depth of quality beef. At $31 for a USDA Choice New York strip steak, and $27 for a petite (six-ounce) filet, the steaks are not considerably cheaper than better versions served up and down the block. But when you consider side dishes and service, Chop comes out behind. Large portions of mashed potatoes arrive so firm and dry that you swear they were scooped and plated hours before service. Roasted Brussels sprouts look perfect—dark, charred and still bright green in the middle. Unfortunately, they also were raw in the middle on two occasions.
My wife's Berkshire pork chop ($23) would have been the star of the show one night—if only it didn't sit for five minutes under the heat lamp waiting for my steak. I mentioned this to our server and she said, "Oh, you saw that?" and deducted $15 from our tab. Sure, you can score a good burger here, but where can't you these days?
When we were seated in the dining room, our waitress never returned to check on us after dropping our mains. When we were seated in the bar, our bartender couldn't tell us without "phoning a friend" what kind of steaks his steakhouse employer sells. The frosty and fun "chill rail" is still in the barroom, but the brewhouse tanks are long gone, sold off and replaced by a private dining room. Those two tap handles in the bar that read "Cleveland Chop"? They dispense a beer brewed in California.
Much of the problem here stems from that "more than a steakhouse" moniker. In truth, it's way more. Multiple menus, each with multiple categories, ensure multiple disappointments. The unfortunately named "Shells & Scales" section concentrates on seafood, while the "Neighborhood Favorites" leans Italian. A separate bar menu has everything from tacos to tenders, while the brunch menu sells 30 completely unique breakfast items. There are a dozen sides!
The Cleveland Chop is in too prime a spot to waste on middling food and service. Ditch half the menu, improve the other half and spend a little time on staff training. It's not like diners don't have other choices when it comes to steak—and "more than steak."
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