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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

$13 at ... Light Bistro in Ohio City

Posted By on Wed, Apr 23, 2008 at 2:00 PM

Among Light chef/co-owner Matt Mathlage's most redeeming qualities is his obvious desire to get you drunk for cheap.
In this weekly feature, C-Notes stretches your dollar at restaurants around the region, because you can only call half a box of Ritz and some Gatorade dinner so many times. This week … Light Bistro 2801 Bridge Avenue, Cleveland, 216.771.7130, For Scene’s full review, click here. What $13 got us: A fine glass of white and split orders of pork belly finger sandwiches, honey ham and cheddar croquettes, and charred pesto flatbread. What else $13 can get you: A variety of wine, beer, and cocktails, as well as crawfish sloppy joes served in a tangy sauce, a lamb burger with mint, thyme and cucumber yogurt, and buttermilk fried chicken livers, with garlic spinach and chili honey. The Verdict: Cheap booze + delicious grub = way worth the trip. ... There are equations in life which are always true -- the Pythagorean Theorem, say, or 2xWhiskey + cell phone = bad, bad things. Add to that list: if it takes you fewer minutes to drive to the Happy Hour than they charge you in dollars for a good bottle of wine, the hour shall be happy indeed. Such was the case at the newly reinstated happy hour at Light Bistro, in Ohio City. Co-owners Eric Dietrich and Matt Mathlage, who doubles as chef, have recently added lunch service, a patio, and specials aplenty since the popular successor to Parker’s opened just a little more than a year ago. And now they’ve reintroduced a 4:30-7:00 happy hour full of food and drink specials, served to you along with the sweet, sweet Barry White voice of Joe the Bartender. Located on Bridge Avenue, just a couple of blocks west of West 25th, Light’s warm, earth-toned walls and the smooth glow of the long polished bar beckon from outside, where flowering trees flank the open door and welcome in a spring breeze. Inside, on a recent afternoon, Joe greeted us and poured some water, and we surveyed the warm surroundings: tiny candles in rustic paper bags on tables inside, a few tables sprinkled around the bar, patrons drifting in and out amiably. Some stopped in for a quick refreshment, while some (like my guest and I) intended to make a meal of the locally-sourced gourmet fare for which Light Bistro is known. First, though, the beverages: Light is taking an innovative approach to beer distribution, which we applaud. For $5, you can get five domestic beers—usually Miller products. Yes, that means dollar beers! For $7.50, you can quaffe five specialty beers which rotate, and currently include Dortmunder Gold, Magic Hat, and Heineken brews. Yes, that means $1.50 beers! If you’re feeling like five beers is four too many, $2 gets you a single serving of one of those specialty beers. Which is awesomely cheap. Specialty cocktails—mainly well offerings—are $3 a pop, and glasses of wine are $5 each. Our favorite bargain, though, is the price for a selected bottle of white and red each night: $10. See? It takes way less time than ten minutes to drive to Ohio City from downtown. Recent offerings included a Stewart Cellars chardonnay and a Campus Oaks syrah. I eschewed the bottle deal (this time) but enjoyed a chilled glass of springy Bordeaux Blanc, still quite reasonable at $5. My guest decided to channel her father and ordered up a Sloe Gin Fizz, which she declared to be both fizzy and gin-y and delicious. Then, the food: We ordered our picks from the bar menu, each of which was reduced to $5 for happy hour. I wouldn’t have minded some bar munchies or bread as we waited for Chef Matt to put the finishing touches on our apps, but this was forgiven by the presence of co-owner Eric. The hands-on co-owner had been doing some planting outside, and now he wandered among his guests. He was happy to chat about the evolution of Light and the Cleveland restaurant scene in general. Our food finally arrived — three dishes split two ways. First up was a serving of four cute pork belly “finger sandwiches,” which were built on crust-off, soft seven-grain bread. Served on a fresh, vibrantly green lettuce leaf, the sandwiches’ pork was full of flavor and the spicy aioli provided the perfect kick. We also tried the charred pesto flatbread, extremely crispy with a slathering of pleasingly vibrant green pesto, a liberal dosage of melted, kicky provolone, and sweet tartness of tomatoes. But the best of the bunch were the honey ham and cheddar croquettes. I have an affinity for almost any food stuff served in delicate, deep-fried spherical format, and these croquettes hightened my appreciation. Four golf ball-sized and -shaped morsels were perfectly full of tender, juicy ham and a smooth cheddar that carried just a touch of bite. The proportion of ham to cheese to binder was masterful; it’s the perfect ham sandwich condensed and reimagined. Drizzled with a touch of crème fraise and topped with a bit of microgreen, these croquettes were delicate and delicious. As we surveyed our empty plates, we discovered only one problem. We were still hungry. In my ongoing exploration of Cleveland-area happy hours, I’ve found that most of the portions are Midwestern-hearty enough that I’m completely full. Not so at Light. The quality and execution of the food was great, but I could have used a touch more of it. Not that I’m complaining… did I mention they have $10 bottles of wine? -- Tori Woods

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