Courtesy Martha on the Fly
It’s not easy to make a splash in Tremont, long considered Cleveland’s big league for chefs and restaurants. But if you drive down Professor Avenue on any given morning, you’re likely to see high praise for Martha on the Fly in the form of the loose gathering that forms daily just outside the door. If the past month and a half is any barometer, this “micro-diner” concept is destined for a long, happy existence.
I never managed to make it down to Good Company for any of Martha’s weekend pop-ups, but it’s clear that chef and owner Ryan Beck took full advantage of the experience. Despite the restaurant’s youth, everything from the menu and food to the physical space and systems seem totally dialed in.
Having been to the three previous businesses that called this cubbyhole of a storefront home, I am amazed by the transformation. What had long been little more than a glorified pick-up counter is now a gorgeous café in miniature – a diner diorama, if you will. The shimmering space is tricked out with chrome, mirror, neon and good vibes. The crew even managed to carve out some space for a dine-in counter with a few stools, though most customers are content to grab and go.
Every December, I go back through my notebooks and reviews to round up the Best Things I Ate All Year. The year might only be half over, but I can assure you that Martha’s cornmeal fries ($6) will be on the list. If the heavenly corn-scented aroma doesn’t win you over, the matchless texture assuredly will. A crispy exterior gives way to a creamy center that rivals the most comforting bowl of soft polenta. The fries come with a side of the house Sunshine Sauce – a bright and sunny dipper – but fork over an extra $3 for the indulgent black pepper gravy.
The core of Martha’s menu is devoted to breakfast sandwiches and at the center of most of them is the egg patty. Reminiscent of a Japanese omelet, the thick, square, steamed patties are faintly sweet and custardy. The mildly seasoned eggs get paired with zesty sausage and American cheese in the Doris, thick-cut baloney and caramelized onions in the Shirley, and hickory-smoked bacon and cheese in the Betty. All sandwiches are slicked with Martha's Sunshine Sauce and everything from the buns to the meats are made from scratch in-house. Diners can swap a fried egg for the patty and customize their sandwiches with various cheeses, veggies and sauces.
These are by no means breakfast sliders; the Doris ($11) barely fit in my hands thanks to that fluffy egg patty, poofy bun and sausage disc that hung over the sides like an awning. We also ordered the Fly By ($15) – Martha’s term for the daily special – which included a fat slice of grilled mortadella, also made on premises, along with the rest of the standard fixings.
Another section of the menu belongs to the “potato crispies,” skillet-size hash browns topped with various combinations like lox tartare, cream cheese and celery salad or the vegan mushroom sausage with pepita butter and mole. Ours ($10) was capped with fried cabbage, paprikash gravy and a chubby kielbasa (yep, made right here). The potato nest below is uber crispy, even after soaking up some gravy.
There doesn’t appear to be any missteps or afterthoughts on the small but thoughtful menu. Beck had previously run a social media-propelled pie business, so diners can bank on solid slices, but donut lovers can look forward to bags of piping-hot, just-fried cake donuts ($5).
Tying it all together is the slick, stylized branding and packaging that extends from the sandwich wrappers and boxes to the clothing and swag. As with the food, no detail seems too small or insignificant to have been overlooked.
With origins as a pandemic-era pop-up, you’d expect Martha to utilize an online pre-order and payment system – and it does – but only to a point, says Beck.
“When we first opened, we were taking all the preorders we could get,” he says. “But that turned out to be detrimental to our in-house service. We want to be able to serve walk-ups in the neighborhood, so we actually cut down our pre-order allotment by half.”
At present, Martha is open Thursday through Sunday, but Beck envisions adding another day at some point in the future. He also hopes to roll out new menu items, experiment with breakfast-for-dinner service and open his doors and kitchen to other would-be business owners, just like Brett Sawyer did for him at Good Company.
Martha on the Fly
2173 Professor Ave., Cleveland