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Photo by Doug Trattner
Burgers and more at Hecks
The Beachwood parking lot adjacent to Hecks was completely full, compelling every diner in our party to maneuver to the distant rear lot in search of refuge. I assumed that the prime spots were gobbled up by the usual mix of diners, shoppers and gym-goers that frequent the shopping center. That is, until I crossed the threshold and saw that every chair, booth and barstool in the 190-seat restaurant was occupied on a Wednesday night.
It’s not every day that a restaurant earns the title “Cleveland’s hottest new restaurant” while simultaneously deserving of the label “Cleveland classic,” but facts are facts. Hecks, which helped kickstart urban renewal in Ohio City when it opened in 1972, could not be more different from the restaurant it replaced in this space. Since Moxie closed in 2019 – and, if we’re honest, for a few years prior to that – Brad Friedlander had been trying to regain traction at this prominent Beachwood property. After Moxie “ran its course,” Friedlander took another swing with Blu, a seafood restaurant that did not survive Covid.
Is fine dining dead? No, but judging by the crowds that have been filling the seats of Hecks since it opened in February, diners are hungry for a casual, familiar and reasonably priced restaurant that serves approachable if predictable fare. Whether or not that affection will last remains to be seen; east-side diners are notoriously fickle, keen to pursue new restaurants with the fervor of Goose fans on summer tour.
Hecks was founded by John Saile, a bon vivant who, in the early-1970s, moved into and restored the handsome brick building in Ohio City now home to the Clifford House B&B. Fadi Daoud purchased the business in 2005, improving not only the brand but the historic property it called home. In 2015, Daoud made his first big move, adding a location one county west in Avon. Last summer, he revealed his plans to open a third shop in the former Blu space, banking not only on the notoriety of the brand, but also its nostalgic allure. For east-side diners of a certain age, the name Hecks conjures memories from 40 years prior, when the restaurant sat shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Cheese Cellar and James Tavern at Eton Square.
Hecks owns the “best burger” category, locking up the honor annually regardless the publication. The half-pound patties, made from grass-fed Ohio beef, feel almost like a throwback in this age of doily-thin smash burgers. The Ohio City ($16) is a hearty pub-style burger topped with sauteed mushrooms and melted mozzarella, tucked into a baby-soft brioche bun and sided by a mountain of fresh-cut fries. There are a dozen different models, including a build-your-own and the vegan “Hipster.”
The rest of Hecks’ menu is a conservative collection of dishes with broad appeal. The time-tested mix of pasta, fish and meat entrees is not bound to put foodies on the edge of their seat, but nor is it likely to elicit much buyer’s remorse. Braised short ribs ($36) arrive appropriately beefy, ropey and tender, perched atop a fluffy pile of cheesy polenta. Early season asparagus and a thick wine-based sauce complete the agreeable ensemble. A gnocchi dish ($25), borrowed from Daoud’s other Avon eatery, Antica, stars house-made potato dumplings in an herby tomato sauce. On top are three crispy-coated eggplant meatballs. We forked over an extra $4 for the creamy burrata topper.
To start or to share, there is an eclectic collection of dishes that range from Spanish shrimp to Polish pierogi. Calamari ($13) are lightly breaded, lightly fried, and drizzled with a lime-green basil aioli. Other than an under-seasoned filling, the chicken pot stickers ($13) arrive neatly wrapped and pan-fried until golden brown. In the Gambas ($15), sauteed shrimp are bathed in a smoky, spicy sauce with grilled bread served on the side for dipping.
If it weren’t for the large 40-seat lounge we might never have eaten. Without reservations, we were staring down an hour or more wait. Fortunately, our small group commandeered a portion of a communal table roomy enough to accommodate us. From that vantage point, we could peer down into the dining room, which has been warmed up considerably since the industrial-chic Moxie days.
Given how busy this two-month-old restaurant is, and how tight the labor market remains, we were pleasantly surprised by how smoothly everything ran. Service wasn’t flawless, but we spied more than enough staffers in the open kitchen, on the dining room floor and behind the bar to keep this place running like a well-oiled machine.
Hecks of Beachwood
3355 Richmond Rd., Beachwood
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