April showered social media with Michael Symon sightings and news about the opening of his long-awaited eatery, Mabel’s BBQ on East 4th
Street. While Cleveland ‘cue may be the buzzword on everyone’s lips this spring, there are other food stories with a decidedly international flair cropping up as summer looms in the CLE.
Handcrafted Sausage Returns to Slavic Village on the Wings of Lady Butchers
Anticipating the opening of their first brick and mortar location by fall, Penny Barend and Melissa Khoury, the lady butchers of Saucisson
, are getting hands-on with renovations of a 2,800-square-foot Fleet Avenue space that once headquartered Jaworski's Meats. Established in 2013 in the Cleveland Culinary Launch Kitchen (CCLK
) they crafted a brand and garnered a cult following working the farmer’s market circuit while building relationships with local chefs. As the demand for their handcrafted products grew, so did their need for more prep and storage space, prompting a temporary move to the Katz Club Diner.
Penny Barend and Melissa Khoury of Saucisson
Securing a home base with 2,000 square feet of workspace promises an increase in production, variety, and special events. A chance to move licensure from the Division of Food Safety to the Division of Meat will pave the way for new partnerships as well. “We’re currently providing products to just 15 restaurants because our existing licensing limits our wholesale volume potential,” Khoury explained.
To be sure, the effort from Khoury and Barend is just one of the businesses that started at CCLK and has gone on to enjoy hard-earned success. Brewnuts
, which launched in 2013, is slated to open a storefront in the heart of Gordon Square. Randy's Pickles
sold its first jar of pickles two years ago at the Gordon Square Farmers Market and is now available in more than 100 stores across six states. The list of successful efforts that have come out of CCLK goes on and on: Bearded Buch
, Cleveland Kraut
, Old City Soda
Already committed to the Slavic Village space when conventional lending fell through, Khoury and Barend forged on undeterred, cobbling together the necessary funds to continue their project as planned, which included a $10,000 Citizen’s Bank
grant, a $5,000 grant from Ward 12 councilman Anthony Brancatelli
, and a $40,000 Neighborhood Retail Assistance Program
loan from the city of Cleveland. A Kickstarter campaign
goal of $25,000 was surpassed by more than $6,500, and a private investor provided $280,000 in startup cash.
Aptly timed to coincide with the completion of a $9 million neighborhood restoration project, Saucisson’s 800-square-foot storefront will open along the first certified green street
in Cleveland that is long on history and desperately in need of a great link of sausage. After all, Seven Roses
can't do it all.
"Our preparation methods are very much like those of the immigrant grandmothers who originally lived in Slavic Village," Khoury says, assuring the uptick in production won't come at the cost of quality. "We'll still be hand-mixing our meats and sourcing from family-owned, local farmers."
From Guanajuato to Cleveland: a Road to Success
After closing his Detroit Road location in Westlake, Rogelio Hernandez of the Si Señor Mexican Restaurant
group launched a new 240-seat cantina
on Sperry Road with an April 18 grand opening and a Cinco de Mayo celebration last month. Situated along I-90 less than two miles away from the shuttered space, it's twice the size of the previous location and called for a two-fold staffing increase to match. Forgoing standard tequila brand tchotchkes and neon Corona bottles, the dining room was painstakingly designed with imported artisan wares and is flanked by a wall of margarita machines, a handmade tortilla station, and specialty guacamole bar. A free-standing refrigerated topping bar means more efficient service during Taco Tuesday promotions and chilled fresh condiments conveniently available anytime a customer wants to customize a dish.
Si Señor - A Pastor Tacos
Hernandez, a Mexican native of Santana, Guanajuato immigrated to Atlanta 18 years ago and got his start in the restaurant business as a dishwasher. A partnership with his employer moved him to Columbus and eventually enabled him to open Casa del Rio in 2002 with his brother in Wadsworth. Amassing another six restaurants since, his ventures include Si Señor locations in Seven Hills and at Kamm’s Corners, a partial interest in family-owned operations El Jalapeños
(with his father-in-law) and Fiesta Jalapeños
(with his Dad), and another downtown project at 1220 Huron Road slated to open later this summer.
Hernandez says his new operation downtown will offer traditional favorites based on his 80-year old grandmother's recipes, unlike so much of today's trendy modernized Mexican cuisine.
"You can change everything but rice and beans should be consistent anywhere you go," he insists.
Dino Tsarnas of the Cleveland Grill Goes West
In many ways the Cleveland Grill (2000 – 2009) was like a truffle mushroom – peculiar, sinfully indulgent, and elusive. Chef-owner Dino Tsarnas’ ambitious menu incorporated a mélange of cultural influences executed with a deft hand, attentive presentation and mammoth portions for meals that wooed food critics without alienating locals from the predominantly blue collar West 117 Street neighborhood. Even with positive press and a steadily growing clientele, weathering the wrong side of a recession in a less-than-ideal locale led Tsarnas to close just shy of his tenth year, much to the dismay of fans that loved the romantic if quirky spot.
Ahi Tuna - Dino Tsarna
The driving force behind the Cleveland Grill, however, is no longer a legend of foodie nostalgia. Tsarnas has been quietly toiling away the shadow of his new next door neighbor, Whole Foods Market, which opened last fall.
Michael Petrakis’ Michael’s Family Restaurant
opened in the River Shopping Plaza on Detroit Road four decades before the arrival of the grocery chain, serving classic diner fare interlaced with authentic Greek recipes from his native Crete. Appointing Tsarnas as the featured chef is part of a re-branding effort that includes a menu overhaul and interior renovations to facilitate a full bar and lounge. An ever-so-subtle name change to Michael’s Restaurant & Bar coupled with its unassuming strip mall façade betrays what’s behind closed doors: A hidden gem in the guise of a greasy spoon.
The juxtaposition of gourmet dishes like bouillabaisse and sesame-crusted ahi tuna next to home-style Americana specials for patrons under 10 and over 65 prove that more than ever, Tsarnas can cater to every palate while still flexing his range for those seeking fine dining at a bargain. An expanded menu of Mediterranean favorites and live music are highlights of weekend Greek taverna nights, and a generous breaded slab of Saganaki cheese flambéed tableside is available nightly, delivering date-worthy entertainment for a mere $6.
This story is sponsored in part by ECDI Cleveland, which is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.