2014 Year in Review (and Look Ahead): The Definitive Restaurant List

There is no arguing that this very moment in time is the most exciting and robust in the history of Cleveland dining. Almost daily, it seems, we’re sharing the news of yet another splashy restaurant opening or the inside scoop on some chef’s forthcoming plans to hang out his or her shingle. Don’t believe us? We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the most noteworthy restaurant openings of the last year – and a little preview of what’s just around the bend.

The Bold and the Beautiful

In terms of size and scope, there is no besting the Hofbrauhaus Cleveland, which opened its doors in early October. The 24,000-square-foot complex in Playhouse Square is an official outpost of the Munich-based original, which dates back to 1589. Grab a seat inside in the 500-seat beer hall, the cozy Hermit Club, or outside on the 1,000-seat beer garden to enjoy classic Bavarian beer, food and fun.

click to enlarge 2014 Year in Review (and Look Ahead): The Definitive Restaurant List
Edsel Little
Almost as ambitious in design and scope is Butcher and the Brewer, a multi-level restaurant and brewery on East Fourth Street. This “Great American Beer Hall” offers communal seating, shared dining and killer, fresh-brewed suds. An onsite butcher, brewer and charcutier elevate this operation far above the typical brewpub experience. A retail butcher shop will open in the coming months.

Located at the new Westin Downtown, Urban Farmer is a high-end, farm-to-table steakhouse with roots in Portland, Oregon, home to the original. As a steakhouse, Urban Farmer succeeds on many levels, offering more than a dozen different options in regards to cut, weight, pedigree, rearing and aging. And the Portlandia-meets-Cleveland interior is undeniably attractive.

When Trentina opened this summer, it became Cleveland’s first tasting menu-only eatery, wherein guests surrendered their appetites to the whims of chef-owner Jonathon Sawyer and his crew. The restaurant has since added a la carte lunch, dinner and brunch menus to the mix, but for our money, the best experience is still built around the 12-course Menu Bianco.

Fans of Cajun and Creole food applauded the arrival of Bourbon Street Barrel Room, a Big Easy-inspired eatery serving soul-satisfying dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish etouffe, barbecue shrimp, and red beans and rice. But architecture and design fans ate up the drop dead-gorgeous surroundings, which appear to have been worm-holed straight from the French Quarter.

Adega, the premier restaurant at The 9, is helmed by Eddie Tancredi, a 30-year-old chef with an already impressive CV. The elegant but casual eatery, which opened this fall in the high-end hotel and residence complex, offers modern Mediterranean cuisine flush with fresh seafood, local ingredients and imported specialty products.

Expansion Plans

When chefs Steve Schimoler and Matt Anderson combine their talents in one location, only good things can happen. And that’s precisely the case over at Crop Kitchen, which recently opened in the former Accent space at Uptown in University Circle. Here, diners will find a more casual version of its gleaming Ohio City sibling, with sandwiches, starters, sushi bar items, and a handful of nightly specials.

Bac Asian Bistro owner Bac Nguyen recently opened Ninja City in University Circle, and already it’s attracting hordes of time-strapped, budget-crunched diners, many of whom are students at nearby universities. This fun and lively Pan-Asian concept is a sort of hybrid that combines the menu traits of a fast-casual eatery with the bar and service of a full-service restaurant.

Oak Barrel Brasserie chef-owner Demetrios Atheneos just unveiled his latest project, Forage Public House, which took the place of the 25-year-old Pacers in Lakewood. Atheneos, the opening chef at Deagan’s, works closely with local producers to ensure that all of his foodstuffs are naturally, humanely raised. The New American menu is built around pasture-raised beef, heritage-breed hogs, free-range chickens and eggs, rabbit and spring lamb. 

When news broke that Happy Dog would be taking over the Euclid Tavern in University Circle, a collective sigh seemed to roll across the landscape. What better fit for the historic club than a music-focused hot dog joint run by industry pros? Now, Eastsiders can relish the relish-topped tubesteaks without driving clear across the Cuyahoga.

December saw the opening of the splashy new Corner Alley bowling facility at Uptown in University Circle. The two-story entertainment venue at the intersection of Euclid Avenue and Ford Drive is similar but not identical to the original downtown in the East Fourth Street neighborhood, which opened in 2006. The contemporary complex boasts 17 lanes, a restaurant and two bars spread across two levels.

Brought to you by the good folks who operate ABC and XYZ Taverns, Waterloo Brew combines beer, bocce and cheesesteak sandwiches. The casual tavern inside the old Slovenian Workmen's Home on Waterloo is the first of many proposed new eateries that will open in coming months in North Collinwood.

For nearly a decade, Ramesh Sharma and his partner have run the popular Lakewood Indian restaurant India Garden. A few months back, they opened Namaste, a new Indian restaurant, just blocks down the road. Being South Indian, however, this restaurant’s fare is characterized by a predominance of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.

For almost seven years, Sweet Melissa has been a popular neighborhood destination in Rocky River. This year, the owners hopped the river and opened an east-side version in University Heights, near the campus of John Carroll University. Like a true American bistro, the menu is a melting pot of flavors and textures, cultures and cuisines.

Here, There and In Between

Many mourned the passing of Raintree, a decades-old dining institution in Chagrin Falls. But easing that grief is Grove Hill, an attractive American bistro that manages to satisfy a wide swath of the family friendly community. After 20 years in the restaurant biz — starting as a line cook at the Caxton Café alongside Michael Symon – chef-owner Tim Bando has a pretty solid grasp of what works and what doesn't.

Located in Bainbridge, in the former Western Reserve Bread shop, Crumb & Spigot is small, sparkling and cute as a button. Run by longtime catering chef Karen Gorman, the upscale neighborhood tavern, which has been pleasing Far-East Siders since summer, dishes up simple, approachable, from-scratch food that people can recognize and get behind.

Grind Burger, which opened this fall in a portion of the old Catalano’s grocery store in Highland Heights, aims for patty perfection by grinding burgers fresh daily onsite. The half-pound patties are charred on a flat-top to the diner’s desired temperature, tucked into soft Davis Bakery buns, and topped with all sorts of gourmet garnishes.

It has only taken Jesse Mason and Helen Qin two years to go from small-batch ice cream enthusiasts to brick-and-mortar shopkeepers. That is a testament to their spirit and product, both of which are bottomless wells of glee. After a lengthy build-out process, the dairy duo finally opened the doors to Mason’s Creamery in the former home of Ohio City Ice Cream and Dari Delite.

Susan Walters, the pioneering restaurant owner behind such concepts as Keka and SubStance, converted the old Battery Park Wine Bar in Detroit Shoreway into CHA Spirits & Pizza Kitchen. The freshly modified interior features a repositioned bar, open kitchen and lake-shore views. The pizza also happens to be some of the best in the neighborhood.

University Circle gained a sweet little spot called Coquette Patisserie in early 2014. Part retail bake shop, part upscale lounge, all kinds of wonderful, this French-tinged dessert bistro attracts guests thanks to a nice offering of sweet and savory snacks, fine wines, and great craft drafts. 

When it comes to barbecue, Cleveland will never be an Austin, Kansas City or Memphis. But Oak and Embers Tavern, which opened (and then reopened down the road) in Chesterland, is turning out delicious platters of hickory smoked beef brisket, pork shoulder, baby back ribs and half chickens.

It didn’t take long for an operator to snatch up the old Porcelli's Bistro space on Lincoln Park in Tremont after it closed. Soon after, Ligali's Bistro opened its doors, serving affordable, approachable French, Asian, and Mediterranean cuisine.

Cleveland Vegan recently opened its doors in the former Wings Hobby Shop spot in Lakewood. In addition to being home to a catering company of the same name, the space is home to a small café, bakery and retail storefront. The menu is constantly in flux, but will always be 100-percent vegan, including offering the city’s first all-vegan Sunday brunch.

Ethnic Heaven

One of the most talked about openings of all kinds this year belonged to a genre-busting Indian concept poised for growth. While technically a premium fast-casual restaurant, Choolaah Indian BBQ cooks to order in tandoor ovens using traditional recipes. The result is affordable Indian food that stays true to its roots, bursting with complex, fragrant and delicious spice characteristics.

Han Chinese Kabob & Grill doesn't look at all like other Chinese restaurants in its Asiatown neighborhood. It's bright, modern and attractive – geared to a younger, student-rich clientele. Also different here is the menu, culled from Northern regions like Beijing as opposed to Southern and Central mainstays like Cantonese, Hunan and Szechuan.

In summer, downtown welcomed a new Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Thang Café, which happens to ladle up some of the city’s finest pho. The menu also offers the usual lineup of Vietnamese appetizers, noodle soups, vermicelli dishes and rice plates.

The only thing better than a warm, griddle-fried pupusa is a whole basketful of them. That’s why we were so pleased when Pupuseria Katarina opened up in Old Brooklyn. The bulk of the concise menu is devoted to pupusas, inch-thick corn pancakes stuffed with various fillings and fried on a griddle.

Brown Sugar Thai Cuisine opened two restaurants almost simultaneously in Rocky River and Lakewood. Both restaurants are attractive and comfortable, with the Lakewood locale edging out River in terms of size and comfort. Both serve a predictable but delicious assortment of Thai classics, with a few interesting originals tossed in for good measure.

In late fall, Hanabi Japanese Restaurant opened in the former Nova Bar & Grill space, bringing sushi to W. Sixth Street in the Warehouse District. Diners can expect a lengthy menu of familiar Japanese and Pan-Asian dishes that include sushi, sashimi, rolls and specialty rolls. Starters range from miso soup and edamame to gyoza, veggie tempura and chicken yakitori.

But Wait, There’s More!

Spoiled much, Cleveland? Given that impressive roster of fresh restos, you’d be safe to assume that the chamber is empty, that there couldn’t possibly be any noteworthy newcomers around the bend. But the giddy truth is, there is more – much more – to come.

When Michael Symon announces not just a new restaurant, but a new restaurant concept, diners rightfully perk up their ears. When Mabel’s BBQ opens on East Fourth Street in spring, it will introduce “Cleveland-style barbecue.” Meals will start with smoked peanuts, pimento cheese dip, fried pork rinds, and crispy pig ears and tails. Mains are built around oak- and applewood-smoked brisket, pork roll, pork and beef ribs, pulled pork, chicken and kielbasa. It all gets washed down with cold beer and moonshine.

When Banter opens in Detroit Shoreway, it should easily develop into one of the most unique food and drink concepts to hit Cleveland in some time. One part neighborhood bottle shop, one part casual bistro, and all kinds of awesome, this near-west business is being guided by some of the brightest minds in the local food and drink scene. In addition to retail beer and wine, Banter will serve all of its holdings on premises, along with a menu of sausages and Quebec-style poutines.

Enduring construction delays is par for the course in this business, but Cory Hess has suffered more than most. His transformation of the old City Grill in Detroit Shoreway to Arcadian Food & Drink has stretched to the 20-month mark – and he hasn’t yet crossed the finish line. But when he does, diners will enjoy a glass-fronted, multi-level eatery with casual tavern below and dining room above. Shareable plates of raw and cooked seafood, pizzas and sandwiches are the planned bill of fare.

When it opens sometime this year, Plum Café and Kitchen will serve as an alternative in both size and locale to the big and buzzy joints on W. 25th Street. This 50-seat farm-to-table operation on Lorain Avenue will begin the day with barista-prepared coffee and pastries. At lunch, guests will order off a menu of fresh soups, salads and sandwiches. At night, the space will be a down-to-earth neighborhood bistro serving local, seasonal and economical fare.

Bakersfield Tacos, Tequila, Whiskey was launched in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in 2012. Sometime this spring, Ohio City will welcome number six. The name is a tribute to the country music genre that originated in Bakersfield, California in the ‘50s and ‘60s. That music is served up alongside Mexican street foods like tacos, tortas and tostadas, with corn tortillas made onsite.

Paladar founder Andy Himmel will introduce his next concept, Bomba Tacos & Rum, this spring in Rocky River. The premium fast-casual eatery will distill down many of the best dishes and practices of Paladar and package them up in an attractive new concept with broader appeal. Diners can look forward to taco varieties like Blackened Fish, Slow Braised Duck and Lamb Barbacoa, plus fresh-made guacamole and a few mains borrowed from Paladar.

And day now, Tommy Karakostas, owner of the popular Lakewood eatery Greek Village Grille, will open Santorini in the former BRGR 9 spot in the Warehouse District. At lunch, Santorini will offer quick, affordable pita sandwiches. Dinner will feature a more ambitious menu comprised of Greek-style “meze,” or small plates, as well as shared platters and both traditional and contemporary Greek entrees. Late-night and even 24-hour dining might be added to the weekend mix.

Hansa Import House has been an Ohio City fixture for about 40 years, but it likely will attract a whole new fan base when its gleaming new brewery and restaurant open. Two years of construction soon will give way to a Laško-sanctioned brewery, beer garden, restaurant and rooftop patio. And good news for longtime fans, the retail shop selling specialty European foods is going nowhere.

Melissa Cole, owner of the seven-year-old Detroit-Shoreway hotspot Luxe Kitchen and Lounge, will take possession of the shuttered Chloe's Kitchen Diner, which is located a few doors down from the gallery at Waterloo Arts in North Collinwood. While very early in the process, Cole envisions a “fun, true farm-to-table” eatery that will rely on local farmer's markets as well as an on-site kitchen garden to drive a chalkboard-driven menu of specials.
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Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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