The last 12 months were a banner year for Cleveland restaurant openings – just like the year that preceded it. But it wasn’t all good news for local diners as we had to say goodbye to a sizeable collection of familiar names and faces.
Here are some of the big – and not-so-big – causalities of the 2015 Cleveland restaurant scene. May they rest in peace.
The Grovewood Tavern was ahead of its time when it opened up on a dimly lit residential block in the Collinwood neighborhood. The restaurant was a pioneer in the neighborhood saloon-turned-bistro genre that later spawned copycats – many of which now go by the label gastropub – throughout the region. But increased competition from all sides made that journey to Collinwood longer and longer by the year.
Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine
Twenty years ago Thai food – especially well-made food from the skilled hands of opening chef Paul Wongntamdee – was an exotic luxury. Today, practically every other block has a decent Thai restaurant. A victim of its size and inconsistency, this Cleveland Heights legend departed just a few years too late.
Players on Madison
To make it 30 years in this business is a miracle, proof that you’re doing everything right under very difficult circumstances. What began life as Players Pasta and Pizza under original owners Mark and Julie Sharys, who had the presence of mind to hire a young cook named Michael Symon, evolved into something a bit more contemporary under subsequent (and final) owner Gary Lucarelli. Lucarelli, meanwhile, had the presence of mind to sell his restaurant to longtime chef Anthony Romano, who recently reopened the space as Sarita.
For 34 years, owners Gene and Odie had been dishing up three-dollar breakfasts, cheeseburger deluxes with fries, and grilled liver and onions to an appreciative and loyal crew of downtown regulars. That all ended in 2015, when the longtime owners cashed out and retired. The business was purchased by Randy Carter, the chef-owner of Jack Flaps in Ohio City, who reopened the space as Jack Flaps Luncheonette.
In 2012, the folks behind Angie's Soul Café, Zanzibar Soul Fusion and Stonetown opened this wonderful Cajun and Creole restaurant just off Shaker Square, where dishes like gumbo, jambalaya and etouffee were dished up in an ebullient setting. That all ended the day after Valentine’s Day, when new owner Christopher King purchased the business, shut it down, and reopened the space as the entertainment-heavy Valo.
Blame it on a lack of name recognition or blame it on the $140 Wagyu steaks from Kagoshima, Japan, but the end result is the same: a very short experiment in very high-end dining in a very new neighborhood ended on October 10th of this year. Before it even closed, the Flats space was snatched up by Demetrios Atheneos and Fady Chamoun, partners in Oak Barrel and Forage Public House, who soon opened Bold Food and Drink.
For four and a half years Rockefeller’s fought the good fight. Owner Michael Adams and chef Jill Vedaa consistently put out excellent food in a drop-dead gorgeous room: a French Norman showstopper built in 1931 by millionaire John D. Rockefeller Jr. But a wonderful event space doesn’t always make for an ideal restaurant, a situation exacerbated by its second-level setting in an off-the-beaten-path building.
For a restaurant as difficult to find as Americano – located beyond a gatehouse and inside an exclusive lakefront condo building that frowned upon signage and advertising – this wonderful little bistro managed to make a lot of diners very happy during its seven-plus year run. The owner’s inability to secure a long-term commitment with the condo board led him to the painful decision to close.
Eddie Cerino originally opened this Lakewood spot Eddie's 'n' Eddie's Burgers, Bourbon and Apple Pie, a concept that went over like a lead balloon in the burger-flush neighborhood. He quickly retooled and reopened it as the casual, affordable and family friendly Italian joint Cerino’s – and the response was almost unanimously positive. But then Cerino’s decided to sell his prime spot to Burgers2Beer so he could focus on his new suburban eatery Fast Eddie's at The Shoppes At Parma, aka Parmatown Mall.
In 2013, the three-year-old Turkish restaurant Istanbul Grill shut its doors, which were quickly unshut by Dervish Grill, a well-received Turkish restaurant that seemed to satisfy sizeable pockets of its Tremont neighborhood. Apparently not enough of them as the small, cute spot closed this summer. Tandul, an Indian restaurant, has since opened in that space.
In 2013, this French-focused bistro took over the attractive Victorian house on Larchmere that had been home to Café Limbo and Vine & Bean. In 2015 that attractive Victorian house on Larchmere became the home of Batuqui, a lovely Brazilian-focused restaurant.
This icon of late-nite dinerdom burst into flames in March of this year, leaving a gaping hole in the hearts of Old Cleveland fans. We loved grabbing a seat at the diner, ordering a dozen slaw dogs, and stuffing ourselves to sweet oblivion. Rest in peace, Steve’s.
Originally opened in the fall of 2007 by chef Josh Kabat (who now runs Cleveland Pickle), Reddstone retooled and rebooted in 2011 under the new ownership of a restaurant group that included restaurateur Fabio Salerno. In early 2015, the Battery Park watering hole was picked up by Cork & Cleaver chef-owners Brian Okin and Adam Bostwick, who reopened it as Graffiti Social Kitchen.
In June, Ligali’s closed after 15 months of operation, another in a long line of restaurant tenants at that Lincoln Park space in Tremont. New owner John McDonnell of Tartine Bistro in Rocky River will open a California-Mediterranean themed bistro and gourmet market in that space this year.
StrEat Burger Bistro
Early this year, Izzy Schachner, who also runs the busy food truck StrEat Mobile Bistro, shuttered this popular brick-and-mortar burger bar in Lakewood over lease issues.