"It was a tough year for me," admits Eddie Cerino, who in addition to losing his older brother Dominic had to make the difficult decision to shutter and rebrand his Lakewood restaurant. That restaurant was Eddie 'N Eddie Burgers, Bourbon and Apple Pie, which lasted less than a year in a high-profile spot before succumbing to market pressure.
"I saw the writing on the wall," he explains. "We had some really loyal customers, but it became a burger war out there with all the other restaurants and I didn't want to be a part of it."
What he did want to remain a part of was the Lakewood community he came to love. And he also adores his prominent corner spot at Warren and Detroit. So rather than pack up his knives and leave town, Cerino decided to ditch the trendy in favor of the timeless. Following a brief closure, Eddie 'N Eddie reopened as Eddie Cerino's Casual Italian, a sibling, of sorts, to his popular Seven Hills restaurant Pizzeria Cerino.
Fortunately, Cerino had the presence of mind when building out the Lakewood space to make it flexible enough to accommodate change. "When we were going out there, we were debating back and forth about which concept to put in there," he says. "We designed the kitchen so that it would be an easy transition."
Those beefy bakery ovens behind the hostess stand that used to turn out apple pies and burger buns now release a steady stream of fresh-baked foccacia and bubbling-hot pizzas. Cerino threw some table cloths over the handsome, locally manufactured wooden tables and swapped out the chairs. All that was left to do was tweak the décor, hang a new sign, and do a complete 180-degree shift on the menu.
If you've had the pleasure of dining at Pizzeria Cerino, you'll know that it's the perfect marriage of neighborhood Italian meets chef-driven bistro. Cerino, a Culinary Institute of America grad, doesn't so much update the classics as he does execute them in a way that modern diners have come to demand from their restaurants.
Like its Seven Hills counterpart, the level of service in Lakewood is consistent with much pricier places. Guests are warmly greeted upon arrival and given their choice of seating options. That fresh-baked foccacia lands at the table just seconds after you do, accompanied by seasoned olive oil. Questions are answered, dishes explained, orders taken—with all due speed.
The menus at both restaurants are largely identical, differing only by the sizes of pizzas available (only 10-inchers here) and the presence of two burgers (souvenirs for the faithful). Most starters, salads and pastas can be ordered in half or full sizes, another welcome import from Seven Hills.
Not only is the fried calamari available in two sizes, it comes three different ways. We prefer the Junior's ($11/$20), which includes crispy fried onions and hot peppers. Instead of a dipping sauce, the kitchen drizzles the squid with a zesty aioli. Cerino flies through bags of steamed mussels in Seven Hills, and I'm sure he'll do the same here. It's a classic preparation with white wine, garlic, butter, parsley and plenty of great bread.
At 10 inches, the pizzas make a great shared starter or personal entrée. The Margherita ($11) features a sturdy, middle-of-the-road crust topped with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella and a garnish of summery basil oil.
Pastas, either fresh Ohio City Pasta or good-quality dried Italian, are expertly cooked, even in the case of the angel hair, a notoriously limp noodle. A buttery, garlicky nest of that slender pasta sits beneath a clutch of fat, equally garlicky shrimp in the piccata ($16). Massive portions and rock-bottom prices are on full display with the chicken ($12) and veal parmesan ($16). The latter—a foot long—is battered and fried, topped with prosciutto and melted cheese, and paired with a heaping mound of spaghetti in marinara.
A blend of veal, beef and pork add a depth of flavor to the meaty and robust Bolognese sauce that covers the firm rigatoni ($8/$11). A chiffonade of fresh basil provides the summery top notes. Come winter, there likely will be few more popular dishes in Lakewood than Cerino's baked pastas, bubbling casseroles filled with cheese-filled ravioli ($9/$13) or sausage-studded ziti ($9/$13).
In a challenging industry such as this one, there aren't too many "no-brainers." But Cerino's decision to flee the saturated burger market in favor of good, old-fashioned family style Italian might be as close as one can get.