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Thursday, March 7, 2013

First Taste: Swirl Wine Bar

Posted By on Thu, Mar 7, 2013 at 1:57 PM

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"This is one of the first 10 homes built in Solon," Richard Aliamo says of the historic structure that now houses Swirl Wine Bar (33325 Bainbridge Rd., 440-349-6900), which opened at the tail end of 2011.

Aliamo and his partners Frank Bonsignore and Tom Steinbauer purchased and renovated the classic 1860 cottage home, transforming the former chiropractic office into a cozy, charming and stylish spot. A lounge area upfront caters to couples and small groups looking to enjoy a glass a vino by the fireplace. Over at the bar, warm woods, cushy bar stools and a granite-topped bar make "riding the rail" a pain-free experience. In warmer weather, a spacious patio — complete with bocce court — offers guests an alfresco option.

The wine program is the work of Dan Kittelson, wine manager, whose approach clearly is geared towards quality not quantity. "We focus on limited production brands that create a boutique feel," he notes. "Our wine list has an exclusive feel that has a taste bigger than the price tag."

And true to his word, the wine prices do seem to come in a bit south of those found at pricier neighborhood joints. Our server recommended the 2009 Cannonball cabernet sauvignon ($9), a California red with big fruit, exceptional balance and moderate acidity.

Heading up the food program is Catheryn (Cat) Alaimo, the daughter of owner Rich. The young chef is a graduate of the culinary arts program at Robert Morris University in Chicago. Like the wine program, the food menu also follows the less-is-more approach, with creative small plates taking the place of traditional entrees. The spicy house-brined olives ($3.50) arrive with a pleasant spiciness that would pair well with a crisp white. Swirl's "master brine" contains pickled peppers and red pepper flakes that bestow a nice sweet-spicy-tart profile to everything it touches. Other starters and snacks include salads, cheese boards and charcuterie platters.

In the sun-dried tomato and artichoke dip ($8), large sun-dried tomatoes are mixed with creamed artichoke and roasted garlic and then baked, creating a pleasantly crispy top crust. The accompanying house-baked crostini crackers are another touch that goes the extra mile.

Considering the fact that the kitchen is so small that burgers need to be cooked outside, I was rightly nervous to order the Swirl burger ($10). I needn't be, I soon learned, as the char-grilled dry-aged, all-beef burger was prepared to medium perfection. The patty was tucked into a baguette roll and topped with melted Brie cheese and "Swirly sauce," a housemade cherry ketchup. Served with pickles, tomato and crunchy kettle chips, this burger ranks right up there with the best of them.

We also ordered the Carolina Dream pizzette ($12.50), which is built atop fresh Alesi's dough. In place of the usual red sauce, this little pizza boasts a sweet and smoky Carolina-style BBQ aioli as its sauce base. Topped with mozzarella, provolone, grilled chicken and fried tortilla crisps, this pizza is anything but traditional.

While enjoying an after-dinner French-press coffee, we had the pleasure of watching owner Richard and wife Shelley work the room, greeting guests as family. As he checked in with our table, he offered some parting words: "We just want people to feel comfortable and be relaxed because we understand how stressful life is," said Richard.

Well, mission accomplished, Sir.

Don't leave Swirl without checking out the historic framed flag, which contains just 36 stars and dates backs to the mid-1800s. It was discovered in the walls during renovation.

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