is named after John Willey, the first mayor of Cleveland, who reputedly demolished a portion of the first bridge to Ohio City to keep a steady stream of business pouring into the Flats. In those bygone days, the area actually was nicknamed "Willeyville" because of the mayor's practice of protecting it.
The new restaurant, which opened at W. 10th and Front streets in the Flats, is a bridge to the city's past and future. With elegant, creative fare served in a lovely setting, Willeyville reminds one why he or she came to the Flats in the first place. It aims to raise the bar on the city's food scene without breaking bank accounts along the way.
"The concept has always been old-school cocktails and everything from scratch," says Christopher DiLisi, a restaurant veteran who has worked at the Baricelli Inn and Flour and waited two years to open Willeyville with his wife, Kristi. "I don't want to be a special occasion place; I want to be a place you go all the time. It's just more fun. Fine dining's not dead -- this is fine dining. It's just changed."
Willeyville, which seats 86 inside and 32 on its corner patio, is a beautiful space with concrete floors, large windows and a lofty ceiling. Homey touches like wood tables crafted from reclaimed lumber by A Piece of Cleveland
and comfy benches upholstered in faux leather add warmth. The walls are painted an attractive shade of orange and the open kitchen thrusts into the dining room like a theatrical stage.
A few menu standouts include the "duck mic muffin" (duck sausage and an over-easy egg in a homemade muffin); the adobo shrimp in house-made tortillas (made of whole grain corn soaked in lime); and the Ohio-raised, grass-fed hangar steak.
DiLisi already has been doing 110 covers per lunch, he reports -- and that's despite the challenging parking situation. Options currently include a dozen free spaces, a paid lot or the Aloft Hotel garage. DiLisi hopes to work out more options down the road.
He is confident about Flats East, which will celebrate the opening of Lago restaurant next week. "This will always be a restaurant-bar, not just a bar that serves food. The Flats used to be party central, but now the developers are focused on getting a great mix."
As for the name, he's second-guessing it. "In retrospect, after paying for the sign, I wish it didn't have so many letters," DiLisi quips. "Maybe it should have been 'W.'"
Source: Christopher DiLisi
Writer: Lee Chilcote