In March of this year, Marc and Gretchen Garofoli converted the old Murphy's Tavern in Chesterland into Oak and Embers Tavern, a comfortable restaurant specializing in barbecue, bourbon and beer. The couple quickly gained a following for barbecue offerings like baby back ribs, beef brisket and pork shoulder. And then, just three months in, the kitchen burnt down.
The good news is that they have found a great new home, which reopened earlier this month, says Marc.
“The room is great, the building is great and the landlord is fantastic — night and day from where we came from,” he says about the new digs (8003 Mayfield Rd., 440-729-4030), which took the place of Spectators Sports Grille. “I don’t know why we didn’t do this a long time ago.”
Half a mile west of the old eatery, the new Oak and Embers boasts a significantly better kitchen, larger dining room, and a dedicated bar area. Seating jumped from about 100 at the old place to 170 at the new.
Already, notes Marc, business has picked up right where it left off. One of the main reasons for that, he says, is that they took extraordinary measures to keep the old restaurant operating in the meantime, which kept the diners happy and the employees paid. Because only the kitchen (as opposed to the bar and dining room) was damaged in the fire, the owners rented a mobile kitchen from Maryland at the cost of $10,000 per month in which to cook. Other temporary improvements amounted to nearly $100,000.
“We had insurance,” he explains. “We could have easily gone to Barbados and sat on the beach drinking umbrellas drinks. But that’s not how we operate. We have built up such a great reputation in the area, and people around here we have really gone to bat for us. We wanted to keep the momentum going.”
And they have, he says. Customers are devouring about 200 slabs of baby brick ribs per week. Dry-rubbed overnight and then slow-cooked for eight hours in a custom-built Nolen smoker, the ribs are far and away the top seller. Also delicious is the beef brisket, smoked wings, buttermilk fried chicken, and the chicken tacos, which are filled with smoked and pulled thigh meat.
“We have a silly little slogan around here: ‘We do it for the people,’” says Marc. “I know that sounds dumb, but that’s the truth.”
Ohio City-based fans of Piccadilly Artisan Yogurt who visited the shop yesterday were greeted by the following sign: "We apologize for this inconvenience but this location will be closed until further notice. Please visit our Coventry & University Circle locations. Thank you, Adrian & Cosmin."
While Adrian Bota had hoped the sign would only be temporary, the likelihood of that location reopening is slim, he admitted.
“We’re most likely going to shut it down,” he says. “This summer was not great and I don’t really want to put it through another winter because we pumped a lot of money into it last winter. If that was our fifth location, no biggie. But to do that now doesn’t make financial sense.”
Piccadilly Artisan Yogurt opened in Ohio City last November between Crop Bistro and Bonbon Bakery. It was, at the time, the Bota’s second location, with Coventry being the first. They have since opened a storefront in University Circle that makes ice cream to order using liquid nitrogen.
Originally, adds Bota, the Ohio City shop didn’t even have a sign to draw in traffic. “We thought there was enough activity down there that it wouldn’t matter, but traffic never materialized like we wanted.”
The good news is that Coventry is “holding strong” and University Circle is too. That shop on Euclid Avenue also stands to see a bump in foot traffic when Happy Dog at the Euclid Tavern and Crop Kitchen open this week and Cleveland Institute of Art consolidates its campus across the street.
“Next year by August the new CIA building will be done right across the street from us, bringing another 850 to 900 students and faculty to the area,” Bota explains.
Piccadilly also just landed its first big wholesale client, with pints of its ice cream, yogurt and vegan options now available at the Giant Eagle Market District in Strongsville. Whole Foods in University Heights is up next. Plans also are still in the works to open a shop next door to the Giant Eagle Market District Express at the new Clifton and 117th development.
“We’re still very optimistic as Cleveland continues to grow,” he adds. “I’d even love to open a small shop downtown with just a couple ice cream machines and some to-go products.”
Earlier this year, we announced that Jesse Mason and Helen Qin had signed a lease to move into the old home of Ohio City Ice Cream and, before that, Dari Delite, which had operated as a seasonal ice cream shop for the past 60 years.
We also relayed the ice cream-preneurs’ plans to open their doors in April. Well, that didn’t happen. But Mason’s Creamery (4401 Bridge Ave., 216-245-8942, masonscreamery.com) did finally host their soft opening last week, just a “few” months beyond their intended opening date. Apart from the weather, it went off without a hitch, says Mason.
“It went great, even though on Friday there was a torrential downpour and then on Saturday there was hailstorm for like half an hour, it was good,” he says.
The pair flew through tubs and tubs of ice cream as scores of their diehard fans came out to support them, inspect the new digs, and eat delicious ice cream.
Following a full week of “working out the kinks,” Mason and Qin have opened the ice cream shop up for real, with weekday hours of 2 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday hours of 2 to 10 p.m., and Sunday hours of 2 to 6 p.m. The shop is closed on Mondays.
At the newly refurbished shop, guests will find delicious ice cream in flavors like sea salt caramel, Cleveland Whiskey and Mexican chocolate. What you won’t find is the new sign.
“Like everything, it’s taking more time than we want it to,” says Mason, adding that they are enrolled in a city-supported signage program.
Moving out of the Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen and into their own retail and production space will allow Mason’s Creamery to expand its wholesale business. Already Mason’s ice cream can be found at The 9, Jack Flaps, Jukebox and Streat Burger, but more restaurant clients are in the works, says Mason.
For now, the couple is just thrilled and relieved to begin the next chapter of their business lives.
“We’re glad that were here and open now,” says Mason.
Cleveland native James D. Major took top honors in a ballpark-themed “Chopped” competition titled “Big Hitters” that aired last night on the Food Network.
Major, currently executive chef at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, was one of four executive chefs from American and National League ballparks. He competed against chefs from the St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers.
Major, a graduate of St. Joseph, has worked at the Harp, Johnny’s and was owner of Major’s Club Isabella before taking a job with Delaware North, the food service provider for the Cleveland Indians. While here, he served as Club Chef and Executive Chef before being promoted to Corporate Chef for Delaware North. To travel less and spend more time with his family, he took the Executive Chef post in Cincy.
“We taped the episode last year,” the chef explained from Cincinnati. “We had to cook an appetizer, entrée and dessert using food in a basket. There was always a few normal ingredients and a few curveballs, no pun intended.”
His winning dishes included spicy Italian sausage with sunflower seed pesto, pan-seared flank steak with pretzel popover, blue cheese horseradish sauce and port wine reduction, and popcorn ice cream, blueberry churros and hotdog bun tiramisu.
His take for his efforts: $10,000.
“It was a lot of fun,” he says of the experience.
Will Steve Schimoler succeed where Scott Kim was unable to do so? We’ll find out soon enough when Crop Kitchen (11460 Euclid Ave.) opens in the former Accent space at Uptown in University Circle. The casual spinoff of the uber-popular Crop Bistro in Ohio City will open next week following a few days of closed-door dining.
The expansive half-moon eatery has a decidedly more informal look and feel following a quick and somewhat superficial makeover. Most surfaces have been wrapped in bead board, chalkboard and hand-painted murals. The only remaining traces of Accent’s signature décor elements are the lettered cut-outs on the ceiling, but by removing the backlighting, even those fade into the background.
“We put the space through a pretty good Cropification,” says chef-owner Schimoler.
Other design tweaks include ripping out the maze of booths in the main dining room and replacing them with roomy 10-foot pine communal tables that can accommodate a dozen people each.
“I envision students gathered around these tables with their laptops out,” adds the chef.
By altering the layout and seating, Schimoler has reduced the occupancy of the restaurant from nearly 200 down to just 160. That does not include the generous front patio.
The core menu at Crop Kitchen is built around the lunch menu at Crop Bistro, with salads, sandwiches and “big plates” taking up the most real estate. Those items are supplemented by snacks and starters, sushi bar items, and a handful of nightly specials. Those omnipresent chalkboards will tick off the draft beer and wine selections, sushi and fish offerings, nightly features, and desserts.
Since setting up shop two years back in the Ohio City Firehouse building, Rising Star Coffee has quickly become the bean of choice at numerous coffee shops, restaurants and cafes. Owner Kim Jenkins puts quality above all else, buying only the top one percent of beans, roasting them on-site, and brewing coffee one cup at a time using the proper equipment and techniques.
Beginning as soon as this Friday, fans of the brewed perfection can get their fix in Little Italy. The new shop is located at the corner of Murray Hill and Edghill roads, in the former home of Theresa's Italian Restaurant, which closed in 1996 after 50 years in business. After more than eight months of construction, Jenkins and his team have transformed a neglected eyesore into a bright and pleasant neighborhood café.
“When we first came in here, the place was really rundown,” Jenkins says from behind his new coffee bar. “I was worried that we’d be able to do something elegant in here. But I think it turned out beautiful. This space fits our theme of rehabilitating older buildings, like we did at the firehouse in Ohio City.”
When Theresa's closed, management pretty much left everything as is. Jenkins and his crew managed to salvage a good deal of the inventory. Dining room tabletops were repurposed into new tables. A beefy old Boos butcher block provides additional counter space. And an upright piano doubles as a display for some retail product.
The two shops might differ in look and feel, but Little Italy will employ the very same equipment and same intense barista training. “Quality is nonnegotiable with us,” says Jenkins. “We will always strive to serve the best beverages that we can. In that way, the shops will be similar.”
Unique to the Little Italy shop is a lengthy wrap-around bar where customers can sit and enjoy counter service. Behind the wood-slab counter, roving baristas — much like bartenders — will prepare your pour-over, aeropress or vacuum-pot coffee right in front of you for a more interactive (and comfortable) experience.
Rising Star not only sells its full line of beans — whole or ground — but also high-end brewing equipment for home use. “All of the equipment we use here, we also sell here,” explains GM Robert Stockham. “Not only that, but we’ll teach you how to use it. That’s an advantage of buying from us.”
The roasting operation will remain in the Ohio City shop until a dedicated off-site location is secured, which will free up much-needed seating space in that shop while allowing for the expansion of the wholesale coffee business.
Given the makeup of the neighborhood, which is flush with students and medical professionals, this shop will remain open later in the day than its west-side sibling, until at least 8 p.m.
“We just think Ohio City and Little Italy are hot neighborhoods, and we’re excited to become a part of this community,” add Jenkins.
Look for Rising Star to open this Friday at the soonest or early next week at the latest.
Years in the making, the Spotted Owl bar made its official debut last night to a limited group of guests. The bar opens to the public today, but with a slightly limited menu. By Wednesday, says owner Will Hollingsworth, “the training wheels will be off.”
Located in a lower-level space in the Tremont Place Lofts, formerly known as the Union Gospel Press building, the interior features architectural accents that date back to 1850. The narrow, meandering room is at once rough-hewn and sophisticated. Hollingsworth described his design aesthetic as "brawny colonial," with damask and toile accents softening craggy brick walls and denim-blue concrete floors.
Guests are given a wide berth here, with roomy tables and seating areas holding well below the permitted occupancy. Most of the horizontal surfaces — the bar, tables, high-tops — are built from hefty old-growth tulip poplar boards salvaged from a decommissioned barn. Other tables are constructed from the doors of an old walk-in cooler that date back to a time when the building was a monastery. Three stunning stained glass windows behind the bar serve as a dramatic focal point.
Guests at each of the three seatings on Monday night were limited in choice to just a handful of cocktails, which changed as the night progressed. Hollingsworth explained that the tactic allowed his bartenders to really focus on a few cocktails at a time. Today, guests will be able to order any of the dozen cocktails on the menu, but not any off-menu calls. By Wednesday, all limitations should be eliminated.
“It’s worth it to me to make sure that my staff has got it together,” Hollingsworth says.
The cocktail menu offers five manhattans, six cocktails, and one "bartender’s choice." Names like You Guys are Indians, Right? and The Kingsbury Run offer up unique and compelling blends built with rye, bourbon, rum and scotch. Prices are more than reasonable, ranging from $9 to $12. A carafe of Philadelphia Fish House Punch, made with Jamaican rum and brandy, fetches $27 and serves four. There also are five draft beers ($5-$6) and red, white and sparkling wine by the glass and bottle.
Other than a few snacks, the Spotted Owl does not serve food. “The Spotted Owl is in a neighborhood full of restaurants,” Hollingsworth says. “What I want is to complement the neighborhood restaurants, to have classic bar snacks available but not a heavy food concept.”
Those snacks are small jars of pickles, olives and trail mix that Hollingsworth sells for $3 a pop — or doesn’t. “If I sell one and give away two I break even,” he notes. “I think offering a little bowl of something is a nice way to make somebody feel special without clogging up the bar by buying them drinks.”
Come to the Spotted Owl and it’s hard not to feel special. While delays are part and parcel of this business, Hollingsworth endured many. But rather than rush his project across the finish line before it was perfect, he patiently and methodically pursued his vision. The result is a cocktail lounge unlike any in the city. Go see — and taste — for yourself.