North Olmsted will never be mistaken for the South Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The West Side bedroom community does not possess a world-class assemblage of offbeat shops, galleries and restaurants. And nowhere within its borders will one stumble into a boozy nightlife scene like that of Pittsburgh's East Carson Street, a sobriety-crushing strip of bars, pubs, taverns and saloons.
But the two neighborhoods — separated by both distance and sports-team allegiances — now share the common bond of great beer.
For more than 15 years, Fat Head's Saloon has been one of the South Side's most beloved watering holes. Adored for its matchless craft-beer selection, belly-busting fare and comfortable digs, the local hotspot is pretty much packed from open to close. So when local brewer Matt Cole was looking for a concept around which to build his new brewpub, he naturally gravitated to one of his favorite beer bars. Cole imported the popular Fat Head's brand, tacked on a bona fide brewery and set out to duplicate the success of the South Side original. Judging by the crowds that have descended upon the two-month-old eatery, it looks as though the plan is working.
In addition to the brewhouse, which even the original lacks, the Cleveland version boasts considerably more space. Cole and his partners transformed the old Danny Boy Farm Market into a sprawling homage to suds, grub and fun. The 13,000-square-foot restaurant sports a 35-seat bar, 200-seat dining room, and roomy game area featuring a vintage bowling machine, bristle dart boards and pool tables. A wrap-around patio extends the pub's capacity considerably on seasonable days and nights.
Chef-partner Derek Wilson, formerly of Great Lakes Brewing, knew he was duty-bound to serve the signature Headwiches, the four-fisted sandwiches that helped make the brand famous. But he set his sights well outside the inside of a bun. Wilson added a pizza oven and a real pit smoker to his kitchen wish list, promising five-star pie and genuine Southern barbecue.
Unfortunately, reality got in the way. The barbecue pit proved too small to live up to Wilson's lofty ambitions, and instead of a tantalizing roster of finger-licking barbecue items, only wings and pulled pork now see the inside of a smoker. Both of those items, by the way, are great. Meaty chicken wings ($12.95/dozen) are dry-rubbed, slow-smoked, char-grilled and finished with any number of sauces. Better yet is the Beauty & the Beasty ($9.95), a spicy stack of smoky pulled pork, creamy coleslaw, pickles and onions on a soft bun.
While serviceable in a pinch, the pies served at Fat Head's likely will not earn raves from true pizza aficionados. We found the crust of our buffalo chicken pizza ($12.95) to be dry and tough, and the cheese and toppings oily.
But from what we observed, most diners are content to sidestep the pizza in favor of one of the Headwiches. Built on large round buns imported from a Pittsburgh bakery, these comically outsized sandwiches arrive garnished with olive "eyes" and a steak-knife "nose." The Full Cleveland ($10.95) is an ungainly arrangement of kielbasa, bratwurst, sauerkraut, cheese, 1,000 Island and Stadium Mustard. Similarly endowed, the cheese steak ($9.95) features quality sliced beef, sweet and hot peppers, cheese and mayo. All sandwiches come with the house's killer thick-cut potato chips. Put away a few of these sandwich platters and you won't just end up with a fat head, but also a fat belly, ass and thighs.
In addition to nearly three-dozen sandwiches and burgers, the menu sets aside room for a handful of salads and some bar munchies. Bypass the bland and pasty fried pierogies ($7.95) in favor of the surprisingly good spinach, artichoke and chicken dip ($9.95). Neither runny nor greasy like most, the dense mixture is served with a basket of deep-fried pita chips for scooping.
If relatively new arrivals like Melt, Tremont Tap House and Buckeye Beer Engine confirm anything, it's that our collective taste in beer has vastly improved. Diners today are choosing restaurants as much for their beer lists as they are the food. Fat Head's, I'm glad to say, has become another stop on the good-beer circuit.
"We're trying to create the ultimate beer nirvana," says brewer Matt Cole. That means that in addition to a dozen stellar house beers, the restaurant also stocks two dozen top-quality "guest" varieties. For help attaining that "beer nirvana," consider ordering the Fat Head's beer sampler ($10). Served in a clever wooden rack, the sampler offers five-ounce pours of eight different brews. A numbering system makes identification a snap, even after polishing off Cole's potent Head Hunter IPA.