For our trip to Cleveland, I wanted to have one “fancier” meal and immediately set my eyes on Lola, the restaurant by famed chef and Cleveland native, Michael Symon. Imagine my immense disappointment when, a week in advance, I tried to make a reservation only to find out that the earliest spot available was at 9:45 PM. Sadly, my days of eating that late ended after my semester abroad in Spain, when eating dinner near to midnight was de rigueur. Although I had read Lola was an extremely popular spot, I didn’t think it was so popular that all normal dinner eating times would be taken seven days ahead on a random Saturday night during the winter. Thankfully, I discovered The Greenhouse Tavern only a few doors down from Lola on the very stylish and pedestrian friendly East Fourth Street.
The Greenhouse Tavern is a “French and seasonally inspired gastropub” according to its website and is Ohio’s first “green” restaurant as certified by the Green Restaurant Association. In 2009 it was named one of the Top 10 New Restaurants by Bon Appetit magazine and in 2010, chef and owner Jonathon Sawyer was named one of Food and Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs.
Adhering to its “green” principles, the restaurant is located in a historic building in which much of the original look and structure was left intact when remodeling; the metal warehouse windows that are in front of the wine storage area date from the original building; bike rims from a local bike co-op make up the restaurant’s unique light fixtures and are LED powered with eco-fabric shades. And most importantly, farm to table is a major philosophy at the Greenhouse Tavern. The downstairs is slightly on the cramped side so you will be in a sense “on top of” your dining neighbors, but that shouldn’t detract from having an enjoyable meal. Lighting was definitely on the dimmer side and a diner next to us even took out a purse size flashflight which immediately illuminated our dining area, but I’ve been to restaurants with less lighting.
Service was extremely prompt and courteous during our meal there. Within moments of sitting down, glasses of water were brought to our table along with a basket of bread and pork rillettes, a rustic pate made from meat that’s been poached in its own fat, then shredded and stored in some of its fat. Our water glasses were constantly refilled throughout our meal without our having to ask, which is always a good thing.
The menu is divided into four sections starting with firsts that are like tapas in terms of size, seconds which are appetizers, thirds which are entrees, and halfs which are sides. D and I each got our own first. I recommended he try the Sloppy JO-NUT, which is a savory donut stuffed with coffee and cola braised beef and topped with barbecue sauce for $6. It seemed to be an extremely popular choice based on reviews I had read of the restaurant, and it indeed met with both our approval. For my first, I went with the French Breakfast Radishes that were cooked in butter, lemon zest and sea salt for $5. I debated between them and the Tokyo Turnips but the waitress recommended the radishes between the two. Although I don’t think I had ever eaten radishes before, I wanted to “branch” and try something new. They were delicious and I am definitely on the hunt for recipes containing radishes now.
For his entree, D debated between the Strip Steak Frites and the Grass Fed Beef Burger but ended up going with the latter. The burger, $15, was topped with tomatoes and racelette cheese and came with fries almost as good as the ones we had in Belgium. There were sprigs of rosemary on the fries which only added to their delicious taste. For my entree I went with the Pork n’ Pumpkin Pasta for $18 that had crispy sage, Ohio pork, kabocha squash and pecorino. It was a bit on the creamy side so I ate judiciously, but boy was it good. The squash was a bit obscured by the sage and pecorino in regards to taste, but still a wonderful combination all around.
For dessert we split the Buttered Popcorn Pot de Creme with caramel and sea salt for $7. Once you broke through the thick layer of caramel, it tasted as if you were eating a sugary popcorn. Although some may find a popcorn dessert odd, it was beyond ambrosial.
The restaurant does offer a four course tasting menu for $44 with vegetarian and vegan options available. We didn’t partake but it did seem like a good deal.
All in all we had a fabulous meal at The Greenhouse Tavern, one that was greatly heightened by the distinct menu offerings and eco-friendly ambience.