The Finest

Flour serves reminder that fine dining isn't dead

I had no intention of revisiting Flour on a professional level – we were just regular folks having dinner. But that all changed by the second or third course – it was the porchetta, I'm pretty sure – when it was clear that pleasure had morphed into business. And by the time we stumbled out of there three hours and five courses later, I was convinced that Flour had progressed from being a very good restaurant to one of the best in Cleveland.

The importance of chemistry in the kitchen cannot be overstated. We're not referring to the foams and powders of molecular gastronomy, but rather the harmony that exists between the key culinary players. For proof just look at the evolution of this Moreland Hills restaurant, which opened two years ago this month. Despite working together for five years at Baricelli Inn, chef-owner Paul Minnillo and opening chef Chris DiLisi just didn't click after transitioning to Flour.

The opposite can be said of Minnillo and Matt Mytro, who signed on as chef last year. Ironically, before accepting the position at Flour, the two had never even met. But now just try prying them apart. In addition to genuinely enjoying each other's company, the two have remarkably complementary skill sets. For his part, Minnillo brings decades of fine dining experience to the mix, while Mytro – a tireless tinkerer – brings a modernist's point of view to the food. Together they rework Italian classics into dishes that look familiar but taste entirely fresh.

Dates tend to be sticky, sweet and one-dimensional. But when packed with chorizo ($12), wrapped in pancetta, and nestled into a smoky roasted red pepper sauce, they become a roller coaster ride of tastes and textures. The plump and seductive nuggets are presented in a cast iron skillet to remind you that despite the contemporary setting this is supposed to be rustic food.

On their own, the intensely flavored duck and mascarpone meatballs ($11) would be the best thing going at half a dozen other Italian restaurants. But here they are encased in prosciutto and crisped up, giving them an infinitely more appealing texture. The pork wrapper also keeps them from drying out while adding richness to the tomato sauce base.

Flour's Neapolitan-style pies—baked off in a wood-fired kiln—are as blissfully crisp, chewy and blistered as ever. The Bianca ($13) is a white pizza with ricotta, cauliflower and a crop dusting of fennel pollen, which is like a magical fairy dust for food. We sprung for the arugula add-on for another $2.

Flour is pushing out its best pastas and risottos since opening day – intense, hearty and wholly gratifying. Dense and twisty strozzapreti noodles ($13/half) are tossed with caper butter and good anchovies, while fleshy ribbons of tagliatelle are doused in meaty Bolognese ($11/half). If there is a ravioli special, get it.

Mytro's porchetta ($25) alone is enough to put Flour into rotation. His version of this popular Italian classic combines everything we love about pork into a single plate. Working one's way in from the perimeter you get crackling-crisp pork skin, succulent pork belly, and, in the center, meaty but moist pork loin. My version was seated into a cushion of soft polenta and crowned with a Brussels sprout leaf salad, but exact preparations change.

Chicken cacciatore, braised short ribs and even grilled ribeye all sound prosaic and familiar, but when they exit this kitchen and land on your table, they spoil you for other versions.

Since Mytro joined the team, Flour has launched both lunch and brunch service, a feat that was impossible before his arrival. The Sunday brunch menu is crammed with creative takes on breakfast-friendly items like eggs Benedict, French toast, biscuits and gravy—none of which are run-of-the-mill.

Flour's eggs Bennie ($13) swaps drab, dry Canadian bacon with lush, thick-cut mortadella, which is topped with perfect poached eggs and sunny hollandaise. Thick slices of eggy French toast are filled with Nutella and peanut butter ($7). Biscuits with chicken liver gravy ($6) sounded amazing, but the biscuit was dense and the sauce proved, well, too livery.

When he closed Baricelli Inn after 25 years, Minnillo was fond of saying that fine dining was dead. Well, the linens might have been stripped from the tables, but Flour unquestionably is fine dining.