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First Time's a Charm 

restaurateur John Kouvas' culinary talent is a winner at Avalon Lakes Country Club

First-time restaurateur John Kouvas must have charm to spare. Just look at the lineup of culinary talent he has pulled together for his new dining room, Opus 21 (One American Way, 330-856-2121) in -- of all places -- Warren, Ohio, on the golf course of the Avalon Lakes Country Club. First off, there's Doug Katz, Moxie's former top gun, who has been consulting with Kouvas on menu design and focus. In the role of exec chef, we have the talented Regan Reik, formerly head dude at the Century at the Ritz-Carlton. Reik's supporting cast includes sous chef Seth Kaspy, formerly big guy of the now-defunct House of Brews, along with sous chef Shawn Cline and exec sous-chef Karin Popovic. Katz calls the menu Regional American (lots of roasted meats and seafood) with a few Mediterranean accents (pasta) and says dinner entrée prices will hover around $20. Opus 21 will serve dinner only, until the end of July; then, lunch hours will be added. Katz said he intends to stick around until his September wedding, after which he will head out for an extended vacation to Turkey, Greece, and other exotic locales. When he returns, he'll be putting together a spot of his own on Shaker Square.

Heckuva work ethic . . . Things are looking up for burger lovers. Heck's Café (2927 Bridge Avenue, 216-861-5464), which closed earlier this month after owner Steve Slifko found himself unable to find a reliable kitchen team, should be reopening any day now that Slifko and GM Lee Popp have rounded up a few good workers. Popp says the temporary closing reflects a profound frustration over the lack of motivated employees in the area job market. "They were dirty, they were on drugs, or they wanted $15 an hour," Popp says. "And rather than jeopardize our quality and our reputation, we decided to close." The GM sees a connection between all this and the low numbers of young people taking summer jobs this year. "The work ethic," he says, "is practically nil." As for Slifko's long-term plans, the weary restaurateur still intends to sell the business and find a quiet spot to retire.

A change of plans . . . Rita Grabowski, former co-owner (with husband Gary) of Miracle's (2391 West 11th Street) in Tremont, says she really meant it when she announced in May that the restaurant would close for remodeling but would reopen in the fall. "Things change," she said last week in response to the news that chef Donna Chriszt would be taking over the Miracle's lease to open her new OZ bar and bistro. "It was a joint decision between our investor, who owns the building, and us, to give up the space," Grabowski says. "It was a chance for him to make a better return on his investment, and it seemed like a reasonable thing to do." The new bistro will be Chriszt's third venture, coming on the heels of the dear-departed Jeso and J Café; if all goes according to plan, look for a late August opening. Chriszt says the decor will be warmer and the atmosphere more casual than at her former spots. But one thing that isn't likely to change is Chriszt's repertoire of utterly luscious dishes. Expect to see old favorites on the menu, along with new creations and a selection of sandwiches, all in the $9 to $24 range. OZ will be open for weekday lunches and dinner Monday through Saturday. Meantime, Grabowski, a member of the Poetry Center in CSU's English Department, has a chapbook coming out in January, and Gary is reportedly working on his memoirs. And what about those of us pining for Miracle's signature potato pancakes? Grabowski holds out hope. "I really can't see Cleveland going without them very long," she says.

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