At Jojo’s Bar in Chagrin Falls, Italian Trattoria Meets Classic American Chophouse

click to enlarge Jojo's is playing the greatest hits - Photo by Nicole Steffen
Photo by Nicole Steffen
Jojo's is playing the greatest hits

“Now this is a bread basket,” a tablemate declared.

In the age of dwindling amenities, Jojo’s Bar welcomes guests with a linen napkin-lined silver bowl overflowing with a cornucopia of fresh-baked treats. Tucked within are poofy seeded rolls, slices of artisan bread and shards of thin, crispy lavash. On the side are ramekins filled with soft salt-capped butter.

“That’s how you kick off a meal,” another guest replied.

The amount of restaurant tinkering that has occurred in downtown Chagrin Falls over the past few years has been nearly impossible to keep up with. At the intersection of West and River streets alone, diners followed along as Jekyll’s Kitchen gave way to 17 River Grille and Gamekeeper's Tavern transitioned to Bull and Bird, before being completely reimagined as Jojo’s Bar. Those transformations are proof that Rick Doody will not rest until he achieves his desired level of success, even if at great personal expense.

With Jojo’s Bar, Chagrin Falls finally gets the restaurant it deserves and Doody can take that well-earned vacation. Diners lucky enough to secure a reservation – or to snag a coveted walk-in-only table in the bar – are treated to an impeccably remodeled interior, attentive but unhurried service, and food that greatly exceeds expectations.

For his latest opus, Doody appears to have plucked all the best nuggets from his portfolio of restaurants, which includes 17 River Grille, Cedar Creek Grille and Bar Italia. Those pearls are polished for a more critical audience and presented with New York swagger in a drama-filled space. Rather than go one route or the other, the serial restaurateur opted to marry the timeless appeal of an elevated Italian trattoria with the flair of a classic American chophouse.

Ask your waiter to recommend an appetizer and he or she likely will nudge you in the direction of the Aqua Pazza ($19), plump prawns poached and served in a chunky, garlicy sauce that happens to go great with all that bread. Order the stuffed peppers ($15) and your server will take the time to remove the stem ends, spoon the zesty pipes onto plates and divvy up the cheese-showered marinara. At Jojo’s, salads like the delicately dressed bibb ($11) are served on cold plates and softball-size wagyu meatballs ($16) on warm plates. That spoon-tender meatball arrives in a sunny marinara sauce and is capped with fresh ricotta.

Thanks to the menu’s dual personality, diners can go the luxe pasta route or down the prime steak path. In the noodle department, there is the beloved rigatoni in spicy vodka cream sauce, beachy spaghetti with clams and a beefy bucatini Bolognese ($23), which flirts with perfection. In terms of chophouse fare, the menu offers enough cuts and sizes to appeal to all tastes and appetites. Selections range from a 22-ounce bone-in ribeye down to a petite 6-ounce filet. The prime strip ($57) arrives blissfully blasted on the outside and to-the-degree medium-rare within. Steaks come with crispy onion straws, but sides and sauces like luscious au gratin potatoes ($12), silky creamed spinach ($12) and peppery horseradish sauce ($6) are extra. In terms of fish, the kitchen prepares a meaty and sweet bronzino ($28) that is served butterflied and boneless and drizzled with a lemon butter and caper sauce.

The most remarkable feature about Jojo’s Bar might be its affordability. This is a casual eatery disguised as a fine-dining, white-tablecloth restaurant. Apart from the steak tariffs, which are astronomical everywhere, prices are in line with every restaurant on the block. Even the drinks list, a bastion of lawless profit margins, is populated with well-priced gems. Classic cocktails like martinis, mules and negronis hover in the $11-$12 range. We enjoyed our 34-dollar bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo so much, we ordered a second.

Once again, Doody has partnered with designer (and wife) Wendy Berry to create a cohesive interior dripping with good taste. Throughout the richly appointed space are artistic – and apt, given the territory – equine elements. The snug saloon of Bull & Bird, and Gamekeeper’s before that, has been expanded out and down into what had been an all-seasons patio to create a lively and spacious barroom with plenty of new seating. A façade of glass offers views into and out of Chagrin Falls buzziest new bistro.

When the weather breaks, some of the pressure on the dining room should be eased with the opening of the patio. The beloved neighborhood hangout has been reshaped into a multi-level space with its own alfresco kitchen, bar and menu. Good luck snagging one of those seats on a glorious summer evening.

Jojo’s Bar
87 West St., Chagrin Falls
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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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