Merchant Street Provisions Gets Lay of the Land in Tremont

On the corner of Lincoln Park in Tremont, Merchant Street Provisions & Eatery (2391 W. 11th Street, 216-415-5865) is the new kid on the block. The casual market and sandwich shop has been open for just six weeks, but already there have been some big changes as restaurateur John McDonnell gets a feel for the surrounding neighborhood.

Launched with a different chef-partner, Merchant Street is now in the hands of Robbie Ackerman, formerly of Toast, who has stepped up to the plate to design the current menu. This casual corner storefront offers made-to-order sandwiches including a Cuban Press, Chicken Salad, and Veggie, all priced at either $7.50 or $8.50.

"In about two weeks we'll have a whole new menu that's much larger with more made-to-order seasonal items," Ackerman explains. "People haven't really been receptive to the grab-and-go food we've done." Those items included quinoa bowls, black bean and corn salad, and pasta salads.

Flying under the radar for the brief time they've been open has allowed McDonnell to get a feel for how best to utilize the space. "I've always been in restaurants, so the market concept is new to me. It's been a learning curve. I loved the building, but always hated how they broke it up; it was very disconnected. We tried to figure out the space," he says of the building that previously housed Ligali's, Porcelli's, Bistro on Lincoln Park and Sage Bistro, to name a few.

Initially, the idea for the bright and airy storefront was to stock shelves lining the north wall with bagged grains and spices from Urban Herbs, fine olive oils, sauces and pastas. "We're going to keep some of this stuff, but definitely focus more on cheeses, charcuterie, sandwiches, salads and our wines," McDonnell notes.

The cheese and sliced meat selections have been a hit, most of which is procured from the Catanese Brothers and Mondo Italiano. Ackerman and McDonnell both gush over the quality of the produce the shop receives on Saturdays from Patrick McCafferty, who sources to a select few area fine restaurants. The produce not used in the kitchen is sold out of open coolers, but by the time I arrive midweek only a handful of heirloom tomatoes, zucchini and yellow squash remain.

"There's no invoice, it's just whatever he feels like bringing," says Ackerman. "I come in Monday to a big surprise." It's that type of improvisation that has kept Market Street on its toes, being able to adapt to the changing needs of customers. "We've had an opportunity to tweak things and nail down a solid menu."

Beers and wine pours ($5, $7, $9) can be enjoyed in the Provisions section of the space, out on the patio overlooking the park, or in an adjacent sunroom that serves as the wine showroom and sitting area. "We want to beef this up, too," McDonnell says, gesturing at the sparse shelves filled with reds.

Though they're focusing more on charcuterie boards and wine pairings during the late afternoon, they'll still tie all of the products sold in the store with the menu of the market and eatery. Merchant Street Provisions is open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

In the adjacent space, a fresh coat of paint is being rolled onto the wall where a long bar and 50-seat dining room will welcome guests to Market Street Eatery. "We're putting two sexy booths in the back like we had at Fulton Grill," McDonnell says, adding that he hopes for the space to be ready in two months. The restaurant will be full service and serve a Cal-Mediterranean menu.

"People are finally starting to get us," he says.