For more than a year, Ross Valenti, owner of the popular Italian restaurant D'Agnese's, was in search of the perfect location for his next concept. After five years in Broadview Heights, and more before that in Seven Hills, D'Agnese's was rolling right along with its elegant, traditional approach to fine Mediterranean food. But Valenti, a self-described "beer guy," was itching to open up a bar.
"I was always toying with the idea of doing something more casual, more of a wine bar," he explains. "I like the idea of having a more informal space."
After scouring various neighborhoods for more than a year, Valenti ultimately found what he was looking for right under his nose: the space immediately next door to D'Agnese's.
"It was one of those things that just dawns on you," he says. "The space next door was and always had been empty."
Valenti and his team managed to transform a characterless shopping center shell into the kind of place a person wouldn't mind hanging out in for a while. Cantine Bar & Bottle is sleek, industrial and well designed, with bold pops of color, chunky wooden communal tables and a custom-built backbar.
There's just something comforting about dining among bottles, and here there are yards and yards of them. The far end of the room is reserved for beer, both illuminated in chilly coolers and standing at the ready on tall shelves. The right-hand side of the room is dedicated to the grape, with some 30 feet of wine by the bottle. All told, Valenti estimates his holdings at 500 wine varieties and 250 beer labels.
Like a true "bottle shop," Cantine's liquid assets are offered up at retail prices. If you plan on enjoying that beer or bottle in-house, there will be a corkage fee added to the tab. The rates are $10 per bottle of wine, $1.50 per can or bottle of beer, and $3 for large format beers, or "bombers." White wines and 22-ounce beers can go from room temp to ready temp in record time thanks to the sub-arctic chiller.
A large handwritten chalkboard is a great sign that wines by the glass change frequently — I mean, there are 500 varieties right over there. But those same varieties appear word for word on the printed menu too, proof that they barely budge. Valenti confirmed that there can and should be more movement on the by-the-glass list. As it stands it's a fine selection of 15 or so reds and whites.
There are eight beers on tap — ranging from the very drinkable Fat Head's Trail Head pale ale to the very sticky Unearthly Imperial IPA from Southern Tier — plus scads more by the can, bottle and bomber. Cantine has a commendable stash of Belgian-style brews, including more than a few from The Bruery in California.
Originally, Valenti's plans for food went no farther than basic "wine bar" offerings like olives, meat and cheese boards, maybe a nice bruschetta. But he was able to steal enough kitchen real estate from next door to cobble together a small, cramped but more than serviceable hot line. Before you know it, they had a respectable menu of snacks and starters, sharable platters, even some small-plate entrees. While the dishes definitely are borne of the same core ingredients as those next door, efforts were made to stay off each other's toes.
"We try not to share any menu items with next door," Valenti says. "We don't want to be redundant."
If you order the "moules frites" ($10), you'll get a wide, shallow bowl of mussels in a flavorful tomato broth dotted with zesty chorizo. You'll also receive a side of super-crispy fries that are tossed in garlic and herbs. What you won't get is bread — grilled or otherwise — to dunk into that rich mussel broth. My suggestion is to tack on an order of the wonderful housemade focaccia ($4), which arrives warm, fat and crispy and sided by fruity olive oil.
That same focaccia gets topped with tomato sauce, sausage and mozzarella and arrives in the form of a thick-crust pizza ($7). Spice-dusted calamari ($10) — both rings and tentacles — are topped with blue cheese and have a taste akin to Buffalo chicken wings, making them a love-them, leave-them affair.
We would have preferred a better sear on our "seared scallops" ($13), three on-the-pale-side specimens served with sautéed greens, and our grilled and sliced hanger steak ($14) was on the chewy side despite being cooked a perfect medium-rare. But given the bar's modest ambitions, and its split personality as a retail wine and beer shop, we'll chalk up those gaffes to growing pains.
Cantine Bar & Bottle Shop
1100 West Royalton Rd., Broadview Hts., 440-877-9399, cantinebottleshop.com.
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