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The Lizard Goes Upscale 

The menu needs work, but Lizardville's liquor selection is first-rate

Rumors of a new Rocky River establishment offering a Disney World for beer and whiskey drinkers prompted a visit to Lizardville. Located in the former Donatos, it greets visitors with a number of exterior upgrades that leave only a hint of the former tenant, including a decorative fence offering a welcome escape from the noises of the surrounding strip mall and traffic.

Nor is the interior anything like its older brother, the Winking Lizard. The décor is the ultimate high-end man cave, a serious 21-and-older drinking space with reclaimed planks of wood lining the walls that complement bronze and brownish floors. The layout is split into four distinct sections: an exterior patio bar; a 12-seat interior bar; a 24-seat dining room anchored by an open kitchen; and a beer store.

Lizardville claims to offer the largest selection of whiskey in the state, more than 170 options listed in a War and Peace-sized binder. The beer selection is equally impressive, with more than 600 global offerings lining the walls, displayed with labels offering the vital facts about each, creating a very shopper-friendly environment.

Considering the selection is a virtual who's who of the planet's greatest beers, choosing one was daunting. I settled on Rochefort, the quintessential Belgian ale brewed only once a year, plucked warm from the shelf. How to make it cold? A state-of-the-art super fridge called a "blast chiller." Lizardville has two of these R2D2-looking contraptions, which in a quick five minutes (longer for 22-ounce bottles) will turn a warm beer frosty cold. The service is also available for beers bought to go.

Though not extensive, the Lizardville menu reflects similar attention to detail. It offers a single page of thoughtful, high-end selections ranging from tapas-style starters to flatbreads (not pizza), customized burgers, and gourmet-style sandwiches.

We started off with the Loaded Beer Frites. The fresh-cut frites (a fancy word for French fries) are seasoned nicely, then topped with a dynamite beer cheese dip spread generously over the large portion. Applewood smoked bacon delivers a needed salted pork element, deliciously coupled with scallions.

To do Mini Lake Perch Sandwiches right, you have to bring your A-game. Here in Northeast Ohio, we are famous for having some of the best perch fish fries in the country. Unfortunately, Lizardville falls short of that standard. Three slider-style sandwiches arrived on a tapas plate with disappointingly small pieces of perch that were completely lost in the bun. With no accompanying lettuce, tomato, or cheese, the tiny tasters looked barren and lonely. On the bright side, they were battered nicely and had that classic taste of Lake Erie perch. The sandwiches come with a large pickle spear, some tasty coleslaw, and a side of tartar sauce, but the dish still lacks depth.

The chicken wings were a different story. I expected nothing less than perfection from these wing masters, and they didn't disappoint. Lizardville offers wings two ways — breaded or naked. They are brought to the table on a fancy white serving plate in a decorative mini fryer basket, a whimsical but upscale way to display these flappers.

I chose the naked version, as I like to appreciate the taste of the chicken along with the crunch you get from perfectly fried skin. Sauces are served on the side, and one of them intrigued me instantly — Piri Piri, a South African sauce that explodes with flavor. The garlic, cilantro and ginger fit perfectly with the burn that follows. Hot sauce fans will appreciate the heat and the obscure, yet tasty South African flavors that go with it. I also ordered blue cheese, but didn't need it. This sauce and the wings are both rock stars.

I next ventured into the land of flatbread. This upscale version of its kin, pizza, offers a lighter and more refined option without the carb-induced coma. The Langostino Lobster Flatbread was presented on a cutting board in a portion large enough for two people to share. The crust was crisp and toppings looked great. This came as no surprise, since the proprietors are no strangers to pizza.

What they are strangers to, however, are langostinos, an edible crustacean often referred to as a type of lobster, but in fact closer to a hermit crab. They're difficult to keep moist, particularly under direct oven heat. And these were upstaged by the other stars of the show: sweet corn with a white cheese sauce, asparagus tips, and roasted tomatoes. The rest of the flatbread selections looked more promising, especially the Buffalo Chicken Flatbread that passed by on its way to another table.

To finish, I was torn between choosing one of the fine cigars and enjoying it on the patio, or a dessert. I decided on the latter, as one of the dessert items on the menu had caught my eye even before I ordered the appetizer. I wanted the Vanilla Apple Bourbon Waffle, which turned out to be huge, and very good. The hot Belgian Waffle oozes with the taste of honey, and melts in your mouth. It's topped with a ridiculously good house-infused vanilla apple cinnamon syrup, and finished with vanilla ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream. Having a dessert with both hot and cold components is the absolute best, and the flavors in this one match wonderfully.

Lizardville is a welcome addition to the area, a high-end establishment that stays true to the owners' values and offers a first-class location for beer and whiskey fanatics to sample and savor a variety of drinks. With some fine-tuning to the food menu, this sophisticated lizard could soon be coolest lizard in town.

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