For the local restaurant scene to maintain a pleasant sense of equilibrium, notable losses must be countered by equally notable gains. That was the case in 2010, when entries in both categories seemed to be held in check. While Cleveland diners lamented the passing of One Walnut and Baricelli Inn — institutions with some 35 years of combined history — we were made whole by the buzzworthy openings of Dante and Chinato. The former earned the "Best New Restaurant" nod from this mag, while the latter garnered a mention in Esquire's annual roundup of "Best New Restaurants in America." Greenhouse Tavern's Jonathon Sawyer, meanwhile, earned a spot in Food & Wine's 2010 class of "Best New Chefs."
When it comes to sheer enthusiasm, it was tough to top the gourmet food truck Dim and Den Sum. Thanks to enthusiastic staffers, fun and funky food, and mastery of social media, this movable feast enjoyed a meteoric rise since emerging on the local food scene. The same can be said of Melt Bar & Grilled in Lakewood, which continues to capture the attention of the national media — not to mention East Siders, thanks to a splashy new Cedar Road outpost.
Two other notable openings — Menu 6 and Zinc Bistro — failed to gain immediate traction and are undergoing modifications in hopes of securing long-term futures.
Fine Goes Fine-Casual
The major theme in dining these days continues to be the shift from "fine" to "fine-casual." Hyde Park Restaurant Group shuttered the decade-old Metropolitan Café to make way for Metro Bar + Kitchen, its more laid-back alter ego. Chef Shawn Monday voted for fine-casual with his feet by walking away from Downtown 140 after seven years to open the decidedly hipper One Red Door in Hudson. Just down the road, Hospitality Restaurants transformed the once-stuffy Inn at Turner's Mill into the oh-so-chic Rosewood Grill.
In a setting that evokes Currier & Ives meets Ralph Lauren, Burntwood Tavern gives Chagrin Falls folks an informal new roost in which to sip and snack. Meantime, Marlin Kaplan traded in buttoned-up One Walnut for the loose-fitting Roseangel. Taking the place of destination-worthy Baricelli Inn is the neighborhood-pleasing Washington Place Bistro.
And while she isn't ditching fine dining, chef Karen Small has chillaxed a bit with her new gourmet market, Market at the Fig.
Pubs, Gastropubs & Wine Bars
Booze-themed eateries continue to launch, thanks to the unrelenting popularity of classic cocktails, craft beer, and fine wines by the glass. Offering a tasty example of what a gastropub is supposed to taste like, Deagan's Kitchen and Bar in Lakewood sets the standard for the category. Across town in Cleveland Heights, the newly opened Fracas hopes to generate the same positive attention for its gastro-fare.
Classic cocktails partner up with retro steakhouse in a sleek lounge setting over at Ohio City's new Dragonfly Lounge. Oversized martinis brimming with booze and chocolate continue to generate smiles at downtown's Chocolate Bar. John Owen opened the splashy sports bar Market just down the block from his Wine Bar Rocky River.
And speaking of wine bars, additions include the Clifton Martini & Wine Bar, which so far is beating the hex of a cursed location, and Battery Park Wine Bar, a contemporary saloon in the former Eveready powerhouse.
Also in the plus column, the folks behind Market Avenue Wine Bar branched out to the Theater District, where they opened Corks PlayhouseSquare. Over in the Gateway District, the old Boneyard space stepped up its game when it reopened as City Tap.
As always, much of the region's restaurant scene played out in ethnic enclaves. Until this past year, Clevelanders had to make do with just one Turkish eatery, Anatolia Café. But 2010 introduced us to Tremont's Istanbul Turkish Grill and Avon's Dervish Mediterranean Grill. Similar in style, the Middle East Grille opened in Shaker Heights.
Asian gains include Bac Nguyen's popular Tremont eatery Bac, Ohio City's new Thai restaurant Banana Blossom, and new suburban outposts of small local chains Wasabi Japanese Steakhouse (which counts new locations in Akron, Beachwood, and Elyria) and Pacific East (Cleveland Heights and Solon). Indian food fans have been raving about University Circle's new Indian Flame, while Detroit-Shoreway denizens have been beating feet to Indian Delight.
Taking root on a Little Italy corner was Mia Bella, an Italian eatery, naturally. Denajua, everybody's favorite Frenchified crêpe-crafter, revived the Oui Oui Café in University Circle. And a member of the Angie's Soul Café restaurant family, Zanzibar Soul Fusion brought soul food specialties to Shaker Square.
Right on 'Cue
The steady uptick in barbecue-themed restaurants, catering companies, and cable TV shows continues, as evidenced by three CLE entries in 2010. Fat Casual BBQ in Macedonia is single-handedly increasing traffic along Rt. 8, while East Siders are busy feeding their barbecue jones at Hiroshi's Pub. Also in Beachwood is the too-new-to-know barbecue bazaar, The Pit.
Thank You, Come Again
In addition to One Walnut and Baricelli Inn, we said goodbye to Henry's at the Barn, Verve, Vue, Bar Symon, Darna Moroccan, Sportsman, and Somer's Diner.
Ohio City stands to reap big rewards in 2011 thanks in no small part to Steve Schimoler, Sam McNulty, and Chris Hodgson, who will be opening Crop Bistro, Market Garden Brewery, and a bricks-and-mortar version of Dim and Den Sum, respectively. Over on Public Square, Brandt Evans will open Pura Vida, while in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, the ABC folks will double up with XYZ.
Michael Symon will honor Strongsville with a B Spot, Chris DiLisi and Paul Minnillo will grace Moreland Hills with Flour. Jeff Jarrett is opening Strongsville's Palate, and Fabio Mota will resurrect Club Isabella.
Add to that Palookaville Chili, Sweet Moses soda fountain, Rockefeller's in the Heights, and one, two, or three new Jon Sawyer restaurants, and 2011 is looking mighty tasty.
Send feedback to [email protected].