Back in June we broke the news that Ligali’s Bistro in Tremont was closing after 15 months and that veteran restaurant operator John McDonnell had purchased the property. McDonnell’s culinary CV stretches back to the wonderful Fulton Bar and Grill in Ohio City, now the site of Momocho. Since then McDonnell has operated Tartine Bistro
in Rocky River, which was voted Cleveland Scene’s Best New Restaurant when it opened in 2008.
Since purchasing the property, McDonnell has been hard at work fixing many of the issues that have plagued a long line of previous operators, including Ligali’s, Porcelli’s, Bistro on Lincoln Park and Sage Bistro. All were stymied by a layout that included a cramped, ill-arranged barroom and Siberia-like dining room in an adjacent building.
Merchant Street Provisions and Eatery, as the project is now being called, will feature a 50-seat bistro on one side and a gourmet foods market in the adjoining space. That market will be the first portion of the operation to open, says executive chef Heather Campbell, adding that it could be open within a month.
“It’s coming together as a really interesting space,” says Campbell, who once ran Dish Global Deli in Ohio City, now the current home of Orale Mexican Kitchen. “People who have been popping by are excited that this space in particular, the market space, is going to be utilized.”
The market will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., most likely, and will stock all matter of fine foods, including grab-and-go prepared foods like soups, salads and sandwiches, many of them vegetarian and vegan-friendly. The shop will stock staples like beer, wine, pasta sauces, olive oil and some produce, plus charcuterie and cheese.
Next door, the bistro space is being completely gutted and rebuilt. A rear wall separating the dining room and a portion of the kitchen was removed, increasing the footprint. The bar, once facing that back wall, is being repositioned to the right-hand side of the room.
“You should not have your back to this great view,” Campbell says of the park view just outside the expansive front windows.
The new layout will offer seating for about 50 guests at the bar, on new banquettes and in a pair of roomy booths. The original centrally located front door will be enlarged and brought back into service, providing better flow and energy than with the side door that was long in use.
When it opens in early summer, the bistro will focus on what McDonnell calls Cal-Med food – shorthand for California-Mediterranean themed fare. Diners can look forward to dishes inspired by those found in Barcelona, the South of France, and Northern Italy, he says.
As soon as a couple weeks, pre-opening pop-up wine dinners might begin taking place in the market space.