Comfort with a Twist

Cleveland: Don’t look for similarities between Verve and Juniper Grille. Although it occupies the same space as the once-popular downtown breakfast and lunch spot, that’s where the resemblance ends.

Brian Okin, formerly of Benvenuti Ristorante Italiano in Broadview Heights, snagged the Carnegie Avenue location soon after Juniper Grille closed its doors. He quickly unveiled his dining concept, which is different not only in hours (it caters to lunch and dinner crowds), but in all-around style.

The once-sage walls are painted in warmer tones of black and orange and the metallic tables are now covered with white tablecloths and linen napkins. The menu is dressed up, too, filled with a variety of upscale comfort foods and a la carte offerings — classic dishes presented in unfamiliar ways both in taste and presentation.

While lunch crowds seem heavy, dinner traffic when we visited was still a little thin. But visitors to PlayhouseSquare (or Progressive Field this spring) looking for a change of pace will find something they like here.

The “city chicken” ($11 lunch, $16 dinner) is one such eye-appealing invention. Golden breaded pork pieces are speared together with wooden skewers and piled atop fresh, chunky applesauce. We also had no idea a corned beef sandwich on rye ($7) could look so classy, with its thick slices of meat neatly stacked and topped with braised cabbage and fried onions.

There were a few misses. The open-face roast beef sandwich ($9) — a couple slices of brioche topped with hanger steak — arrived at our table unpleasantly lukewarm, and the lemon garlic aioli on the beer-battered blue cod ($17) was a bit overpowering. But the disappointments are the exceptions here.

Among the restaurant’s sides, the Verve fries ($3 lunch, $4 dinner) are far and away the best. The fresh-cut spuds are doused in creamy sausage gravy, so grab a fork. They’re worth the mess. 1332 Carnegie Ave., Cleveland, 216-664-5500,
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