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Friday, August 14, 2020

Doug Katz to Close Fire, His Flagship Eatery at Shaker Square, After 20 Years

Posted By on Fri, Aug 14, 2020 at 1:07 PM

  • Doug Katz
Fire, chef-owner Douglas Katz’s flagship restaurant at Shaker Square, will not reopen. Katz shared the sad news today that he is permanently closing the 20-year-old bistro.

“Fire is a restaurant that doesn’t fit the pandemic, and it doesn’t fit the world we’re in,” he explains. “The costs in a normal time are so expensive that it’s really all smoke and mirrors when it comes to the bottom line and what you can do. And then something like this happens. Even at 90 percent it doesn’t work.”

From the moment it opened its doors in 2001, Fire was a hit, drawing sophisticated diners from throughout the region and beyond to Shaker Square, which was no easy feat. They came for the industrial chic dining room, professional service, spot-on seasonal American fare and Doug Katz’s unpretentious and generous spirit.

“We had a great 20-year run,” he says. “I want to respect what it was and I don’t want to start something in April where we’re just trying to keep something alive that it can’t be. I’d rather focus on what I can do and what we’re excited to do this year and into the future.”

Katz recently opened Zhug in Cleveland Heights, the fast-casual Chutney B at Van Aken District and Chimi, a ghost kitchen, at his commissary on Lee Road. Katz teased that a new ghost-kitchen concept likely will arrive sometime this fall.

“New concepts, like Zhug and now Chimi, modeled on the ghost kitchens in densely populated cities, are one way we’ll move into the future,” Katz added. “We’re certainly looking forward to better days.”

Peter Rubin, the owner of Shaker Square, said that COVID-19 is forcing him and others to take a fresh look at real estate and restaurant dining.

“The Square is a powerful community asset and we will miss the incredible dining experience Fire provided and the leadership that Doug Katz has shown for many years,” Rubin reports. “We understand the unprecedented challenges we all face today and Shaker Square is working to move forward with new businesses and dining options.”

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Big Mamma's Burritos to Open New Shop in Gordon Square

Posted By on Fri, Aug 14, 2020 at 9:53 AM

  • Big Mamma's FB
Big Mamma's Burritos, a favorite of the Ohio University and Ohio State University student bodies, opened a Cleveland outpost in December in partnership with Whistle & Keg (818 Prospect Ave.). That bar currently is closed for renovations owing to damage sustained during the protests.

Today we learn that Big Mamma's will open a standalone shop in Gordon Square, in the former home of Daily Press (6604 Detroit Ave.). President Jerry DePizzo says the plan is to open the doors in a couple months.

"We love the location, we love the kinetic energy down there," says DePizzo. "Being down in Columbus, it actually reminds me a lot of our Short North District with the art and the culture that exist there. I think we're a great fit for the neighborhood and I think the neighborhood is a great fit for us."

Founded in 2005, the small chain offers a roster of Mexi-Cali options on a variety of bases — burrito, bowl, salad, chips — as well as build-your-own burritos.

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Thursday, August 13, 2020

At UJerk, it’s more American than Jamaican

Posted By on Thu, Aug 13, 2020 at 2:24 PM

  • Doug Trattner / Scene

It slaps you like a double-overhead wave. No, not the bang of the jerk spice, but rather the electric-orange awning splashed with the mischievous name UJerk. That flag, boldly planted in the heart of downtown, pinpoints the home of Cleveland’s newest Caribbean eatery. Like others popping up, this one streamlines the traditional Jamaican restaurant experience into an efficient fast-casual operation. But unlike many of its brothers and sisters, UJerk takes a more conservative approach to the food.

Owners Jon Manning, Jenna Murphy and Jeremiah Perkins describe UJerk as a Jamaican-themed restaurant infused with American-style dining. I’d be inclined to flip that characterization to state that UJerk is an American-style restaurant imbued with a taste of Jamaica. If your sights (and taste buds) are set on bagging one of those ubiquitous Styrofoam containers struggling to bear the weight of slow-braised curry goat or oxtails, you’ll need to recalibrate those receptors.

UJerk, which opened in mid-July, delivers its jerk-flavored fare in the form of salads, sliders, sandwiches, wraps and plates. That “secret recipe” jerk seasoning finds its way onto boneless white meat chicken, boneless dark meat chicken, bone-in dark meat chicken and, you read it here first, falafel. Other “protein” options include tuna salad and shrimp and crab salad.

In typical plug-and-play style, diners select their preferred meat, delivery vehicle and side. One of the most popular menu items – and for good reason – is the Snack Pack ($10), a trio of sliders that allows diners to mix and match their fillings. Items like boneless jerk chicken, tuna salad and vegan falafel land on spongy, eggy slider buns with lettuce and tomato or cucumber slices. That falafel proved to be a surprise hit owing to its airy, herby interior and crisp exterior, which is finished with sweet chili glaze. The “spicy tuna salad” is not too far removed from deli-style, save for a few errant flakes of red pepper.

As for the main attractions, the jerk-spiced items do have a complex, captivating flavor profile, but they lack the trademark punch of scotch bonnet peppers. That, of course, is by design as the owners are seeking to attract a broader clientele than just frequent island hoppers. The dish that most closely resembles the real deal steel-drum grilled classic is the jerk chicken plate ($8/$10), a mess of skin-on, bone-in dark meat that possesses the characteristic earthy, savory appeal. This chicken also lacks the sweet chili glaze that seems to land on many of the other menu choices. A few dashes of the “Hot Jamaican” sauce even manages to approximate near-faithful heat levels.

Other sauces include a dark, thick and smoky-sweet BBQ, a funky-with-a-kick Irie, a peaty, woodsy Reggae Root and the Sweet Chili.

A cool, crisp and summery baby shrimp and imitation crab salad gets a textural boost from thin-sliced onions, carrots and bell peppers. It all gets bundled up in a large flour tortilla and sliced on the bias. Falafel, tuna salad and chopped boneless jerk chicken also can be ordered as a wrap. Every item except the aforementioned chicken plate costs $10 and includes a side. Again, UJerk does things differently, sidestepping the customary steamed cabbage, rice and peas or plantains for a simple salad, lightly breaded french fries or coleslaw.

On weekends, UJerk trots out the Rasta Pasta ($14), an Alfredo-esque pasta topped with jerk chicken.

While delivery service is not yet an option, diners can call ahead to order and pay and request curbside pickup. For those who do amble into the downtown shop, he or she likely will be greeted with the equivalent of a warm, Caribbean hug. These staffers appear to take island hospitality seriously, bellowing hearty hellos and heartfelt thanks. The shop is colorful, festive and organized.  “Influencers” literally are encouraged to snap a selfie in front of the faux living wall of greenery on their way out.

The goal, says partner Perkins, is to offer a side dish of escapism along with that tasty jerk chicken.

“When you come in here, you’re going to feel like you’re on a beach, that you’re away for a little bit,” he says.

If plans play out as expected, don’t be surprised to spot future UJerk shops in Columbus and elsewhere.

UJerk Caribbean Eatery
850 Euclid Ave., Cleveland

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Bar Cento and Bier Markt to Reopen with Greatly Expanded Outdoor Seating on Wednesday, Aug. 19

Posted By on Thu, Aug 13, 2020 at 1:14 PM

  • Bar Cento/Bier Market
Ohio City is set to gain two more dining and drinking options next week when Bar Cento and Bier Markt (1948 W. 25th St., 216-274-1010) reopen for dine-in and outdoor service. When they do, they will join sister establishments Market Garden Brewery and Nano Brew, which reopened last month.

Like Market Garden across the street, Bar Cento and Bier Markt now have a greatly expanded outdoor seating area thanks to newly installed "parklets," which convert 155 feet of on-street parking spaces to an AstroTurf-covered oasis. The move nets 88 socially distanced seats at picnic tables.

Inside, guests will notice a completely renovated interior. (Given the nature of the underground club, Speakeasy will remain closed for now, says owner Sam McNulty.)

Going forward, the restaurants will be open every day except Monday and Tuesday, when they will be closed for deep cleaning. 

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Show Runners from LGBT Bar All Axs Find a New Home at Willoughby Brewing Co.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 13, 2020 at 9:44 AM


All AXS, the popular LGBT bar in downtown Willoughby, closed in early February. At the time, a spacious new home in Mentor-on-the-Lake was floated as the next chapter for the club, but those plans have yet to materialize.

In the meantime, Billy Welker and Dennis Baker have found a new — albeit temporary — home for their entertainers and fans: Willoughby Brewing Co. (4057 Erie St., 440-975-0202). The pair will act as show directors for the brewery, booking the talent and producing the events that will grace the stage.

"We'll be running the entertainment over there until we find our own place," says Baker. "We're bringing back shows, entertainment, all that great stuff. It's all coming back, it's just going to be slow at first because we have to follow every social rule that there is right now."

The first show will take place at 8:30 p.m. on September 4. Going forward, the shows and other entertainment will take place Wednesday through Sunday.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Pupuseria y Antojitos Guanaquitas Offers El Salvadoran Food Fans a Delicious New Option

Posted By on Wed, Aug 12, 2020 at 11:29 AM


Pupusa fans have a delicious new option in town thanks to Pupuseria y Antojitos Guanaquitas (2998 W. 25th St., 216-862-1082). The brightly colored El Salvadoran eatery opened quietly a few months ago but has slowly built a following of devoted customers thanks not only to those pupusas, but also well-crafted tacos, tortas, burritos and combination plates.

Priced at just $2.50 a pop, the pupusas exit the griddle golden brown, crisp and corny, their fillings hot and melted. Options include plain cheese, cheese with jalapenos, cheese and beans and the classic revueltas, or combination. Like all pupusas, these are served with curtido, a vivid cabbage and carrot slaw, and salsa roja, a thin, mild tomato sauce.

  • Douglas Trattner
A combination plate of tacos ($10) contains four grilled beef tacos with all the trimmings, including robustly spiced salsa rojo and refreshing salsa verde. Other combination plates contain a mix of tacos, tortas and mini burritos. A handful of larger plates, such as the carne asada, whole fried fish and fried chicken, are also on the menu.

Tucked away in a small display is a modest selection of pastries and baked goods like El Salvadoran quesadillas ($2). These sweet and buttery bread rounds are more like cheesy cornbread than the griddled cheese-filled flour tortillas of the same name.

Pupuseria y Antojitos Guanaquitas is open every day but Wednesday.
  • Douglas Trattner

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Brim Brewery in Willoughby to Close this Weekend. Hola Tacos and Barroco Arepa Bar to Open in Space in Early Fall

Posted By on Tue, Aug 11, 2020 at 3:23 PM

  • Douglas Trattner
Last month, Juan Vergara shared his plans to shutter the Barroco Arepa Bar on Larchmere Blvd. and replace it with a second location of Hola Tacos, the "L.A.-style Mexican taco stand" that he opened late last year in Lakewood. What began as a fun little side project, according to Vergara, had grown into a wildly successful concept bound for expansion.

At the time, Vergara said that he and his family were close to announcing a new east-side location for Barroco, but that the deal had not yet been inked. As of today, it has been. Barroco will be moving into the gleaming two-story, white-brick building in Willoughby that for the last three years has been home to Brim Kitchen and Brewery. Brim’s last day of service will be Sunday, August 16.

But that’s not the entire story, says Vergara. Barroco will be joined in the nearly 10,000-square-foot building by Hola Tacos. As conceived by Vergara, Hola Tacos will occupy the main floor while Barroco will live on the second level, a smaller space with indoor and outdoor seating as well as its own bar. Each space will have its own design, menu and food. (The building has an elevator.)

“What I’ve noticed with locations that are this spacious, they usually just wind up not using some parts of the restaurant when it’s not busy,” Vergara explains. “In my head, we’ll provide diners with two options and two restaurants, and they will be treated as such.”

Vergara says that Hola Tacos’ quicker service and more accessible pricing makes it a better fit for the roomy main level. But what tipped the balance even more was the attached brewery, which makes an apt companion for the taqueria.

Diners can look forward to a late-summer or early-fall opening of both eateries, but Hola Tacos likely will ignite the wood-fired grills even earlier for carry-out, drive-in or, possibly, drive-thru service. The brewing component will follow once the team secures a capable brewmaster to head up that endeavor.

“The sweet thing about this location is that it’s pretty turn-key,” Vergara notes. “We won’t need to do any major changes except decorating our spaces.”

Vergara says that much his company’s growth, which has been robust by all objective accounts, is the result of an ever-expanding team of experienced and talented family members.

“Our family has grown and as more family with various skill sets become involved in day-to-day operations – and even ownership – we are in search of more opportunities for growth,” he adds.

The Larchmere location (12718 Larchmere Blvd.) of Hola Tacos is scheduled to open as soon as next week, joining its Lakewood (12102 Madison Ave., 216-801-4666) sibling and, soon, Willoughby.

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