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Square Dealings 

Revamped restaurants turn the spotlight on Playhouse Square.

Although the beautifully restored theaters of Playhouse Square have drawn enthusiastic crowds, the district's dining options haven't earned a commensurate ovation. But that sorry state of affairs is beginning to change, with the new Starbucks attracting traffic to the intersection of Euclid Avenue and East 14th Street. And now the expanded and relocated Hanna Restaurant and Deli (inside the Hanna Building, at 2029 East 14th) is poised to become another player on the district's dining stage.

The latter's new digs are just across the hallway from its previous location. The space, formerly occupied by a bank, had been empty for years when deli owners Fred and Kathy Marina decided to tackle the renovations, with the help of GSI Architects and Sanders Builders. It took five months to whip the place into shape, but the result is a strikingly urbane restaurant, with 16-foot ceilings and loads of interesting architectural detail. Thirty of its 120 seats are on a mezzanine, where diners get an excellent view of the open kitchen and broad East 14th Street through floor-to-ceiling windows. Another 30 seats are available for alfresco dining beneath a colorful sidewalk awning.

The Marinas are still in the process of finishing a small bar on the main level (when it's completed, the restaurant will have a full liquor license), as well as two private dining rooms and a potentially gorgeous art deco restroom on the lower floor. One of the private dining rooms will be snuggled inside an original bank vault; a second vault, in the kitchen, now provides a cleverly utilized niche for a walk-in cooler. The eatery is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday noon to 8 p.m., with a menu of deli sandwiches, salads, soups, and daily specials like cabbage rolls and mango-grilled chicken breast. Evening hours will be extended when the theater season kicks off this fall; Chef John O'Brien says the dinner menu will feature hearty, upscale fare like steaks and prime rib, as well as lighter bar grub and after-theater snacks.

And there's more to look forward to, with Columbus restaurateur M. Cameron Mitchell's steakhouse tentatively scheduled to open in the Hanna Building in fall 2002, and Gary Lucarelli's new restaurant, STAR (Sweetwater's Theater Arts Restaurant), headed for the former Ciao! space this October. Imagine how fine it would be to see this part of downtown all a-bustle, with stylish hipsters popping in and out of bars and restaurants à la the Warehouse District.

Applause, applause . . .

When the Near West Theatre opens its 24th summer youth theater season with Brigadoon this Friday, folks at the Harp (4408 Detroit Avenue) will be waiting in the wings. The restaurant will host two casual affairs in support of the Ohio City community theater, including a July 20 opening-night post-show shindig, where your $15 ticket gets you into the performance at 3606 Bridge Avenue, then buys you munchies, beverages, and entertainment afterward at the Harp. The second event is a pre-matinee brunch, set for Sunday, July 29, from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tickets for this occasion are $15 for adults and $8.95 for kids, and include a hearty Gaelic meal at the Harp followed by admission to the show. Reservations are required for both events; call 216-621-1919, extension 226.

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