This is How It's Done 

Deagan's in Lakewood nails the gastropub vibe

If you want to see what a gastropub is supposed to look, feel, and taste like, pencil in a visit to Deagan's Kitchen & Bar. Open since late September, this fizzy addition to Lakewood should be required eating for any operator bold enough to make the claim that they too are a member of this budding restaurant genre.

There is no shortage of Lakewood joints that nail the "pub" aspect, to be sure; it's the "gastro" part that most have trouble with. It requires more than a great burger — or grilled cheese, or chicken wing — to merit this mark of distinction. Rather than dumb down the food to fit the venue, gastropubs are where ambitious cuisine collides with informality and kick-ass beer.

It's remarkable how many things owner Dan Deagan got right. From the build-out and design to the menu and waitstaff, no opportunity for improvement appears to have been overlooked. Having held every service-industry post from bartender to owner-operator, Deagan has a broad understanding of what it takes to succeed. When he isn't pouring beers or running food, he's making the rounds to solicit candid feedback from customers. When a diner asked him whether the restaurant delivers, we overheard him respond, "Do we deliver? No. Would we deliver? You bet."

Those familiar with the location, which sits adjacent to the First Federal of Lakewood bank downtown, might recall the space's steady progression downhill, from Barnacle Bill's and Crazy Rita's to Cleats. Rather than slap the proverbial lipstick on a pig, Deagan and company began by stripping away the layer upon layer of detritus, right down to the exposed brick and weighty steel beams. Other surfaces were reclad in "upcycled" barn siding. Instead of clogging a landfill, unwanted building materials were reworked into dining room tables. The inventory of mix-and-match chairs was harvested from shuttered restaurants and schools.

Deagan's is a food-lover's pub. Chef Demetrios Atheneos, formerly of Giovanni's, Bella Lucca, and most recently Bodega, has put together a menu that reaches beyond ubiquitous comfort foods. Dozens of creative options fill the categories of bar snacks, small plates, big plates, and sides. And with prices firmly in the $4 to $16 range, diners can make a habit of the place. Just $3 buys a trio of deviled eggs, their whipped yolks enriched by local goat cheese and kicked up with mustard. By swapping buffalo mozzarella for processed cheese, the kitchen elevates fried cheese ($6) to new heights; the crispy-coated discs rest in roasted tomato sauce.

Dishes good enough to boast starring roles as entrées shine as mere small plates. A half-dozen flash-fried chicken livers ($7) are arranged on a pool of buttery soft polenta. Crisp fried shallots and lardons of pork garnish the plate. In the Angels on Horseback ($8), fat sea scallops are belted with bacon, skewered, and cooked in a way that leaves the pig crisp and fish moist and smoky. Provençal in spirit, a deep bowl of steamed mussels ($7) is perfumed with the aroma of fennel and saffron. This isn't dressed-up pub food; it's dressed-down gourmet.

Given the quality, price, and portions, it's hard to see how the restaurant banks any cash. A diner ordering the mac and cheese ($16) — made with dense pasta, sharp Spanish cheese, and tender duck confit — will have leftovers for a month. Juicy pecan-crusted Amish chicken, sliced into slivers ($14), arrives on a dressed baby-green salad that alone could feed a regiment. There are five pieces of beer-battered Lake Erie perch in the fish and chips ($15). Naturally, a mountain of hand-cut fries is included. Burgers ($11), built of quality Ohio beef, weigh in at well over a half-pound — and that's before the addition of pickled onions, aged white cheddar, and applewood bacon.

Deagan's not only got the "gastro" part right; they nailed the "pub" portion too. Craft beer fans have at their disposal 30 killer drafts, with many of those spots reserved for special and seasonal brews. Folks looking for something different can order one of the "beer cocktails," such as the Shandygaff ($4.50), made with Bell's Two Hearted Ale and ginger beer. The classic cocktail trend is given some attention here, as is a workable wine-by-the-glass program.

For whatever reason, Tuesday is taco day in Lakewood, with numerous joints getting in on the discounted south-of-the-border action. You can now add Deagan's to the must-visit list. Here, soft tacos stuffed with beef or chicken cost just $2 apiece, while those bursting with spicy shrimp or ahi tuna come in at a measly $3. East Siders, the parking lot is in back.

Send feedback to dining@clevescene.com.

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