Big Changes in Store for Press Wine Bar in Tremont

Stroll by Press Wine Bar (2221 Professor Ave., 216-566-9463) in Tremont at certain times of the day and you’ll likely see large crowds enjoying adult beverages and light bites to eat. Come back a little later in the evening, say around dinner time, and those crowds all but vanish. Those current conditions have prompted management to make a drastic change of course for the three-year-old restaurant, says owner John Owen.

“We are busy, but at different times,” he explains. “People are stopping in before going to other restaurants or coming in after, but they weren’t stopping in for dinner. With everybody stepping up their game around town, and everything new opening up, our philosophy is to focus more on being a restaurant than being a wine bar.”

To that end, the restaurant has hired a new chef, will drop the “wine bar” designation, and will introduce an ambitious new menu the Tuesday after Labor Day.

Matthew Spinner, a Cleveland chef who relocated to Chicago to work at high-end restaurants like Next and Sink|Swim, where former Clevelander Matt Danko runs the ship, returned home to accept the position as Press’ new executive chef.

“This is my first go-around as executive chef, which is very exciting for me as a chef,” he says.

Spinner says that for a chef who has always been handcuffed by rigid style guidelines in the kitchen, he’s looking forward to spreading his creative wings.

“What I like to do is take away all those guides and all of those blinders and just stay completely open to all ingredients near and far, to all techniques near and far,” he says. “Whatever works best will go on the plate.”

He adds, “The food that we’re going to be doing is distinctly different from anything that’s in Cleveland right now.”

His menu will feature sections devoted to Flora, Fish, Small Game and Larger Animals. There will be plenty of vegetarian and vegan options sprinkled throughout. His hope is that diners will piece together a multi-course meal of variously sized and priced plates.

“We won’t be doing tasting menus, but the menu is set up so that a diner can build their own from dishes priced from $5 to $25,” he says.

Looking at an early draft of the menu, dished are built around sole, duck, rabbit, venison, lamb and pork. A vegetarian starter pairs summer peaches with elderflower, mint and marigold. In place of the omnipresent grilled octopus presentation, Spinner braises the meat, stuffs it into a sausage casing, rolls it in black sesame seeds and serves it with an orange glaze. Gulf prawns are seared, placed onto Romesco sauce and paired with fried green tomatoes. Lamb gets a Merguez spice treatment before hitting the grill.

New wine and cocktail lists will debut post-Labor Day as well.

“We think the space lends itself to a small bistro restaurant, but we never had the food to match the décor,” Owen says of the attractive 70-seat main dining room and 12-seat private chef’s table. “We’re really excited to have a complete culture change for us.”

In advance of Spinner’s entry, previous Press chef Josh Smith was moved to Market (1137 Linda St., 440-799-4292) in Rocky River, where he already has put into play an updated and improved menu of his own, says Owen.