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Friday, April 9, 2021

Ohio City is Just the Start of Choolaah's Ambitious Expansion Plans, Which Will Include Boardman and Westlake

Posted By on Fri, Apr 9, 2021 at 10:03 AM

Vibrant Indian fare is the name of the game at Choolaah. - COURTESY CHOOLAAH
  • Courtesy Choolaah
  • Vibrant Indian fare is the name of the game at Choolaah.

Last year was a challenging one for all restaurants, Choolaah included. The pandemic delayed the Indian eatery’s planned expansion into Ohio City, which was originally slated for a 2020 opening. Now, not only is Ohio City back on track, but the Cleveland-based company also is revealing ambitious plans for growth.

Choolaah launched its fast-casual Indian BBQ concept six years ago in Orange Village (27100 Chagrin Blvd., 216-350-3136). Since then, the company has gone on to open shops in Pittsburgh, King of Prussia, and Sterling, Virginia. Next up, says CEO Randhir Sethi, is to open multiple stores in the markets in which they already have a presence.

“The goal is to get to 10 stores next year and then the sky’s the limit,” says Sethi. “Plenty of people are doing it. Do we deserve to be one of those companies?”

Likely opening before Ohio City is a new Boardman store. Sites also are planned for Westlake, Canton and possibly Fairlawn. Columbus in on the radar, as are future stores in Greater Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Northern Virginia.

Sethi says that up until 2020, the focus had been so single-mindedly on the quality of the food, that they nearly dropped the ball on the technology side of the business, an aspect that would prove vital once the pandemic arrived.

“The food aspect was so hard,” he explains. “How do you take a fine-dining restaurant and convert it into fast-casual? That was a very ambitious goal. And when we picked our heads up, we missed the tech. We did not have an app, we did not have delivery, and our online ordering was weak. We fixed all of that in the first week because it was already in the works. Without that we wouldn’t have made it.”

Future locations will give diners even more options, he promises. Boardman will be the first Choolaah to feature a “Choolane,” a dedicated pick-up lane for orders placed online or via an app. Even stores that cannot accommodate a drive-through will devote interior space for efficient carry-out. That service will join dine-in and delivery. Locations, including Ohio City, will boast spacious outdoor dining areas.

Sethi says that Choolaah originally was designed as a restaurant where 75- to 85-percent of the business was dine-in. Now, only one out of every two guests elects to stay. To accommodate these operational shifts to carry-out and delivery, the company completely redesigned all of its kitchens.

“We want to be safe and smart, but let’s adopt technology and rebuild our business so that we’re hyper-relevant when we come out of this and we’re going to take off like a rocket,” Sethi adds.

Sit in a room with Sethi and co-CEO Raji Sankar and you’ll likely hear the term “conscious capitalism.” Yes, a primary objective is to provide healthy, flavorful and exciting Indian food, but that seems to come secondary to creating a company culture that values every team member.

“Herb Kelleher said that the business of business is people, and that never was more evident than this last year,” says Sethi. “The purpose of business should be to make people’s lives better, not just shareholder value.”

That philosophy translates to supporting worthy nonprofit causes, providing livable wages, purpose, and paths for advancement to all employees, and promoting joy at every turn.

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Popular Glenville-Based Capo's Steaks to Open Second Location in University Circle This Spring

Posted By on Fri, Apr 9, 2021 at 8:46 AM

Capo's Steaks in Glenville. - GOOGLE MAPS
  • Google Maps
  • Capo's Steaks in Glenville.

For more than five years, Capo's Steaks (10509 St. Clair Ave., 216-721-3219) has been chopping up and dishing out some of the best Philly cheesesteaks in town from its perch in Glenville. In addition to drop-dead delicious all-beef cheesesteaks, the talented crew offers chicken cheesesteaks, Polish Boys, Italian hoagies and fresh-cut fries.

Now, James "Boss of the Cheesesteaks" Muhammad is gearing up to open his second steak shop, this one in University Circle. The shop is located at 11332 Euclid Ave. and is expected to make its debut on May 10.

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Thursday, April 8, 2021

Former Ice Cream Joy Space in Lakewood to Become Lakewood AF, a New Venture from Owners of Fear’s Confections and Dang Good Foods

Posted By on Thu, Apr 8, 2021 at 12:00 PM

The former Ice Cream Joy space in Lakewood will become a new poke and ice cream shop. - GOOGLE MAPS
  • Google Maps
  • The former Ice Cream Joy space in Lakewood will become a new poke and ice cream shop.

Unbeknownst to each other, both Cassandra Fear and Daniel Ang have been angling for the Ice Cream Joy space (15210 Madison Ave.) in Lakewood. In the end, they acquired the space as a partnership.

For 11 years, Fear has operated the gourmet sweets shop Fear’s Confections (15208 Madison Ave., 216-481-0888), the last seven of which have been from the space adjacent to Ice Cream Joy. Daniel Ang is the proprietor of Dang Good Foods (13735 Madison Ave., 216-785-9321), a dang small shop preparing a delicious array of Singapore-style foods.

“Ice Cream Joy has had various owners over the past five years,” says Fear. “When it closed again last winter, we decided to partner to take it over.”

The new venture will be called Lakewood AF – as in Ang and Fear. The shop will combine the talents of both operators into a business focused on poke and ice cream. Ang will be running the poke side of things, presenting a pretty typical offering that lets diners assemble rice (or greens) bowls mixed with seafood, sauces and myriad toppings. Ang says that diners can expect to experience his culinary creativity in the form of unique sauces.

Fear will imbue the business with her uncanny sweet sense, building off a base of quality ice cream to craft delectable confections. That ice cream will be the famous Weber’s Vintage Ice Cream, a custard-like product that is made with “the last pair of Continuous Commercial Ice Cream Machines” in existence. Lakewood AF will be the only place for ice cream lovers to enjoy the product outside of Fairview Park. Fear will gild it with gourmet toppings and sauces.

The 900-square-foot space currently is being remodeled to ready it for a late-spring arrival.

“We’re going for a calm, simple and relaxing atmosphere,” says Fear. “Muted tones that we can decorate with colorful artwork.”

There are no changes planned for either Fear’s Confections or Dang Good Foods, both say.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

With Eugene and Soon-to-Open Farmer's Feast, BottleHouse Brewery Has Food Covered East and West

Posted By on Wed, Apr 7, 2021 at 1:10 PM

The ridiculously delicious Tinman burger, now available at BottleHouse Lakewood. - SHAWN BREWSTER
  • Shawn Brewster
  • The ridiculously delicious Tinman burger, now available at BottleHouse Lakewood.
BottleHouse owner Brian Benchek has now squared away the food service at both the east and west locations of his brewery.

In Lakewood (13368 Madison Ave., 216-926-0025), chef Michael Schoen has taken up residence in the kitchen (216-401-9473), where recently he launched Eugene "Home of the Tinman burger.” That burger, if you will recall, was one of the most popular food items sold at the Ohio City Galley. That ridiculously delicious double cheeseburger is joined by fish fry hoagies, crispy chicken hoagies, fried chicken tenders, vegan diner burgers and various snacks and sides (including the dreamy shoestring onions).

Eugene is now serving, but will expand to six days a week on Tuesday April 13, including late-night service on weekends. Sunday brunch will join the lineup soon.

Out east, the kitchen is being prepared for a new food concept as well. Farmer’s Feast, which will debut on May 1, is a partnership between Rasul Welch and Colin Brown, two community-minded culinary professionals. Welch, who has worked as a chef, photographer and events pro, joins Brown, who runs Gifted Grass farms in Medina, where all pastured animals enjoy “the gift of grass.”

“It’s been important to both of us to build community through delicious food,” Welch says. “One of the big focuses is to provide folks with delicious, reasonably priced options in Cleveland Heights, but also to keep as much of the money they spend as close to home as possible.”

Plans call for a “virtuous cycle” between brewery, farm and food, in which spent grains and lees from the brewing process is fed to the animals, which in turn make their way back to the brewery in the form of meat.

Farmer’s Feast will be a counter-service operation available for dine in and carry-out. Welch describes the fare as “Ohio favorites with a little international flair.” Diners can look forward to patty melts on fresh-baked focaccia, Sloppy Joe with jerk seasoning, char sui on cornbread, and PBJ on Malaysian paratha.

The shop will be open five days a week to start, with brunch and additional days to come later. Welch and Brown also have plans to set up a small retail area that will carry locally produced goods like meats, bakery and dairy.

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Pizzeria DiLauro Proves There’s Always Room for More Great Pie in Northeast Ohio

Posted By on Wed, Apr 7, 2021 at 7:54 AM

  • Photo by Doug Trattner
  • The Sicilian pie

I don’t live anywhere near Bainbridge, so the inside of my car is a hot mess right now. That statement might not make a whole lot of sense until you, too, pick up a few pies from Pizzeria DiLauro, which opened mid-February in that sleepy little Geauga County township. The thought of letting those slices languish in their cardboard crypts for 25 minutes was inconceivable, so I did what any reasonable pizza lover would do: I arrived home a few slices shy of a pie.

If stepping inside Pizzeria DiLauro doesn’t immediately improve one’s mood, it might be time for a vacation. Occupying a prime corner spot in a strip mall, the attractive pizza parlor sports a savvy blend of retro-chic and modern functionality. From the Coca-Cola sponsored black-felt letterboard menu to the classic arcade games, this place feels nostalgic in all the right ways.

Standing at the counter, customers enjoy unobstructed views of the entire pizza-making process, from fabrication to oven-bake to slicing and boxing. Guests also can observe the never-ending flow of foot traffic from those who are ordering, picking up or just poking their heads through the convenient pick-up window to say hi.

You’d think that given the recent proliferation of “pandemic pizza places” it might be a challenging time to break into the slice game, especially in a tight-knit community like Bainbridge. But owners Adam and Tiffany DiLauro have been cultivating a following for three years thanks to a mobile pizza truck of the same name. While that wood-fired oven on wheels focused on Neapolitan-style pies, the immobile pizzeria moved away from those in favor of Sicilian and New York-style pizzas, both of which travel much better.

Those bicycle tire-size New York pies manage to combine the best elements of both the East Coast and Neapolitan products. The bottom crust is sturdy, crisp and foldable, but the cornicione – or outer crust – is pleasantly soft, airy and chewy, even sporting some spots of char. In addition to 18-inch pies, DiLauro offers more “personal” 12-inch versions. Both are available as build-your-own (starting at $12 and $20) or as pre-designed specialty pies. White pizzas tend to be overly rich, cheesy, oily, garlicky and, well, bland, but not here. These are deliciously savory and balanced. And the optional “dollops” of tomato sauce ($1, $3) mean never having to choose between white and red.

DiLauro’s chubby Sicilian style pizza is satisfying in ways that a svelte NY slice can never be. The 12-inch x 16-inch rectangular-cut pan pizza (starting at $20) is capped with ripe, fresh tomato sauce, aged mozzarella and the toppings of one’s choosing. The slightly thick pepperoni slices curl up around the perimeter and fill with tide pools of glorious fat. DiLauro is quick to differentiate his textbook Sicilian pies from the style du jour, Detroit, and the increasingly popular Grandma, both of which feature completely different doughs, proofs and bakes.

In addition to the pizzas, the menu includes fully customizable salads, wings and a mini charcuterie board starring sliced prosciutto, salami, olives, fontinella, assorted pickles and crostini. DiLauro prepares its mouth-watering meatball sandwiches ($11) not in plush hoagies but soft Italian bread, and by slicing the meatballs and layering them with provolone, red sauce and fresh basil, they have made them infinitely easier to eat. The house Italian sandwich ($12) marries flavorful deli meats like prosciutto and salami with the punch of arugula and marinated peppers.

DiLauro does a nice job rounding out the offerings with a few clutch sweet endings. The crunchy-creamy housemade cannoli ($4) is dotted on one end with crushed pistachio and the other with chocolate chips. That agreeable dessert joins gelato, a gelato sundae with candied pecans and an affogato (espresso topped gelato).

When the DiLauros finally arrange the post-Covid dining room, they’ll acquire two dozen seats for grab-and-go customers. But the big change will take place in a couple months. That’s when the pizza parlor will expand into the adjacent space (currently home to Tiffany’s spa), which will feature a full bar and dining room that seats another 24.

“I finish up April 15th over there and I’m pretty sure they’re going to be on the other side of the wall with a sledgehammer waiting,” jokes Tiffany.

Adam says that the response from the community since he and his wife opened the doors has been nothing short of gratifying. In six short weeks, the shop has shot to the top of speed-dial lists throughout the neighborhood – and that ringing phone is music to Adam’s ears.

“I opened this as my playground,” says DiLauro. “I never even thought about making money, I just want to make pizza.”

Pizzeria DiLauro
17800 Chillicothe Rd., Bainbridge

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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Great Lakes Brewpub Reopens Again

Posted By on Tue, Apr 6, 2021 at 12:54 PM

Great Lakes is finally ready to welcome you, for real this time - EMANUEL WALLACE
  • Emanuel Wallace
  • Great Lakes is finally ready to welcome you, for real this time
Chances are pretty good you haven't yet enjoyed the major renovations and menu revamps Great Lakes debuted after temporarily closing during the winter of 2019-2020.

That's obviously because when the reborn space debuted, Covid quickly closed the doors again. But after some fits and starts, summer reopenings and winter reclosings, Great Lakes is officially open with limited hours as of today for the brewpub and sometime soon the full operation and menu will be available to Clevelanders. For now, you can enjoy some GLBC in person during the following days and times:

Thursday: 4PM - 10PM (bar close tbd)
Friday - Saturday: 12PM - 10PM (bar close tbd)
Sunday: 12PM - 6PM (bar close at 6PM)

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Monday, April 5, 2021

Coming Soon: Acqua di Luca, a Seafood-Focused Italian Eatery from the Owners of Luca and Luca West

Posted By on Mon, Apr 5, 2021 at 1:48 PM

Artist's rendering of Acqua di Luca, opening soon in downtown Cleveland. - LOLA SEMA
  • Lola Sema
  • Artist's rendering of Acqua di Luca, opening soon in downtown Cleveland.
When the doors open to Acqua di Luca, the latest restaurant from Lola and Luca Sema, diners will experience an interior that bears almost no resemblance to its predecessor, XO Prime Steaks. For six months, construction crews have been busy stripping away decades of interior accretions, shoring up defective structures, and clearing the way for the finish work to begin.

“We didn’t know it was going to be so much work, but we had no choice,” says Lola.

Crews stripped the 7,000-square-foot space down to the exposed-brick shell, replaced a majority of the floor joists, removed elevation changes from room to room, installed new HVAC and made the sprawling basement level suitable for prep and storage. Once the space finally revealed itself to the Semas, design plans changed to match.

“We didn’t know it was brick,” Lola explains. “Originally we were going to do an Italian farmhouse in the city feel. But when this was all discovered, we said let’s keep it industrial. These are things you can’t buy anymore.”

In addition to the exposed brick walls, wraparound windows and lofty 20-foot ceilings, there are a pair of sturdy 100-year-old wooden support columns that had been whitewashed. The newly stabilized floor of the 137-year-old building will be covered in fresh hardwood.

In terms of more practical changes, the Semas decided to relocate the main entrance from the prominent corner at W. 6th and St. Clair to the eastern end of the restaurant. The move, says Lola, frees up prime real estate in the main barroom that gets lost to the host stand and come-and-go traffic. It also results in a larger valet zone.

Inside, the bar will be transferred to the other side of the room, providing those seated there with more appealing views. A large open kitchen is being built in the rear of the dining room. And new accordion-style nano windows will fold out of view to unite the interior with the wraparound sidewalk patio.

When Acqua di Luca opens in mid-May, it will be a seafood-focused Italian eatery. A daily selection of fresh oysters, specialty pizzas and desserts will
round out the menu.

“It will be Italian-style seafood with sauces and pastas,” notes Lola. “This wouldn’t be the place to get lobster tails and butter.”

As for any similarities between this and Luca Italian Cuisine, which the couple opened in 2013 on the Superior Viaduct, Lola says, “Completely different restaurants, completely different identities.”

The Semas also operate Luca West, which they opened in 2017 in Westlake.

Despite the fact that the opportunity presented itself in the middle of the pandemic, Lola says that she and Luca knew it was the right thing to do.

“I love this spot,” she says. “There’s no place I’d rather be. W. 6th is the heart of the city. This will be the first time that people can actually walk to our restaurant. At both places, everybody has to drive there.”
  • Douglas Trattner
  • Acqua di Luca.
  • Douglas Trattner
  • Acqua di Luca.
  • Douglas Trattner
  • Acqua di Luca.

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