Hot Licks

There's more than meets the ear at Brothers Lounge

If you've ever tried juggling a cold beer, a basket of hot nachos, and a smartphone for snapping pics — all while grooving to the beats of your favorite live band — you know how valuable a table can be. A table and chairs? Now that's priceless.

While music fans are willing to put up with just about anything — sticky floors, condemned bathrooms, the stench of patchouli — to catch a great act, it doesn't mean we like it. That's why seeing a show at Brothers Lounge is a breath of fresh air. Not only was no expense spared in the top-notch stage and sound system, but equal attention was cast toward the room. Make that "rooms."

When owners Rodger Riggs and Christian Riemenschneider spent close to $1 million rehabbing the classic Cleveland club, they didn't stop at the music hall. The 11,000-square-foot complex, which dates back to 1911, now boasts a trio of diverse venues under one roof. In addition to the roomy concert hall, there also is a casual pub and a slick wine bar where you'll find frequent live entertainment.

In the pub, Amish oak flooring and a hulking mahogany bar dominate, adding warmth and casual elegance. In the spacious wine bar, acres of handsome wood are paired with plush leather seating to create an "adult-friendly" space with a polished feel. Like an enlarged version of the pub room, the music hall features enough oak and mahogany to re-panel Mr. Burns' office.

Despite the very different vibes, each zone gets the same grub. Originally, separate menus were planned for each space, built around items best suited for the scene. That tack was long ago discarded, and given the lack of a consistent hand at the kitchen's helm, that was probably a sage move. Since opening day in 2008, Brothers has seen chefs come and go, including sushi savant Kimo Javier, who passed away last summer.

The latest attempts to steady the menu include the hiring of Culinary Institute of America grad Mike Nadolski as executive chef and Christian Schultz as sous chef. Their menu's gastropub-style leanings are a natural fit for the lounge, with new riffs joining some of the original numbers and replacing others. Gone are the addictive battered and fried popcorn shrimp — edged out, perhaps, by pulled-pork tacos. The tender pulled pork hits all the right notes, but the tacos turned out to be a one-hit wonder. Despite the promise of jalapeño slaw, they arrived utterly naked. We had to beg a bottle of Tabasco off our server for some zip.

What happens when you combine cornbread, collards, and cheddar cheese in a single bite? You end up with stuffed cornbread, a southern Sunday supper on a stick. Like a corn dog but large and round, the deep-fried spheres would be a million times better with less collards and more cornbread, which appears as just a slim outer layer.

As in the case of the starters, the mains could use a little more orchestration. The Cheddar Mac & Cheese gets a huge flavor push thanks to the addition of smoky pulled pork. But the noodles are squishy and the slivered apples even squishier. A simple, crunchy bread-crumb topping would have made a world of difference.

The kitchen nailed the temperature on a grilled hanger steak, but it seems they forgot to season the meat. And of the two accompanying sides, the house-made ketchup was over-the-top sweet and the onion aioli was too thick to use as a sauce. No complaint, though, with the whisper-thin and blisteringly crisp pommes frites.

We've always had good luck with Brothers' meaty grilled pork chops, usually available in some seasonal guise or another. Also winners are the sandwiches, with items like beer-braised brats and sausage and peppers serving as perfect mates for both cold beer and hot licks. All sandwiches come with a side of Brothers' killer house chips.

For a place built for music fans, Brothers manages to leave plenty of room for food fans too.

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About The Author

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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