Lakewood citizens will be pleased to learn that the next restaurant to join their ranks will not be another burger bar, pizza joint, taco shop or Asian fusion concept. No, Chow Chow Kitchen, as the name implies, is rooted in the Deep South, specializing in comfort food dishes gleaned from various temperate regions. On the menu are culinary expressions from New Orleans, Nashville and the Low Country – classic Southern dishes adapted for here and now.
“We’re kind of jumping around to a lot of sub-genres of Southern cuisine,” explains chef and owner Joseph Zegarac. “We want to focus on dishes that have been around for a long time.”
A perfect example of that is the “shaved catfish,” a dish made famous by Middendorf's, a Louisiana seafood restaurant around since the 1930s. The fillets are sliced horizontally into very thin flanks, and then battered and fried. The process results in a dish with a higher breading-to-fish ratio.
“That dish became really popular back when people didn’t have a lot of money to feed their big families,” notes Zegarac.
The crispy panko-breaded filets are served with housemade chips, creamy coleslaw and charred-lemon tartar sauce.
Also on the menu is the chef’s take on Nashville-style hot chicken, spicy fried chicken paired classically with white bread and dill pickles. A whole category of Po’ Boys offers varieties filled with everything from hickory-smoked pork with blackened onions to andouille sausage, baked beans and the namesake chow chow relish.
A creative spin on City Chicken nets a South-meets-Far East version with roots in General Tso’s chicken. Nuggets of pork are battered, fried and tossed in a sweet and spicy blackberry glaze, giving the meat a deep purple hue. Further muddying the borders, the pork is served with Cajun-style fried rice.
Along with a host of sides – think mac and cheese, spice-dusted jo-jos, BBQ beans on toast, deviled eggs – Chow Chow flaunts a tantalizing roster of snacks that may be difficult to navigate past. In the popcorn cheddar curds, little cheese nubbins are battered and fried and served with house gravy. Hushpuppies are plumped up with smoked salmon. The dog in the corn dog is swapped out with smoky andouille sausage, and in place of mustard is a “gumbo crema” for dipping.
Zegarac got the keys to the space, formerly Zappitelli's On Madison and Jibaro’s Pit Stop Pizza (14201 Madison Ave.), back in May and has been working to ready it for opening day, which could take place within the next two weeks. At less than 1,000 square feet, the space will focus not on full-service dining, but rather take-out, delivery and catering.
“I think this sort of concept is really going to start picking up around the Cleveland area,” he says. “People like good food, and if they can pick something up within 10 minutes and walk out, I feel they would rather do that sometimes than sit down for two hours inside a building.”
Although you might not have heard Zegarac’s name, he’s been cooking around town for years, mostly in bars because the hours suited his schedule as an artist and musician. Most recently, he was cooking at the Parkview. He chose Lakewood for the home of his first venture because it seemed like a great fit.
“I feel like it’s very diverse – walking around you kind of see a little bit everybody,” he notes. “I thought bringing comfort food to that corner could do really well.”