Times change and smart restaurateurs change with them. Hyde Park Group owners Joe Saccone and Richard Hauck know that as well as anyone. Their newest creation, Jekyll’s Kitchen, is a casual, price-conscious modern American grill with a breathtaking Chagrin River view and mostly good food and drink.
Saccone and Hauck were no strangers to the picturesque locale prior to Jekyll’s 2009 debut. Their River Street foothold goes back to 2000 with the opening of Blake’s Seafood Grill, a handsome, semiformal place with a menu focused on wood-grilled fish and steaks and prices that favored free spenders.
Fast-forward a decade and it’s a different kettle of fish. Finding fresh, top-quality seafood became a greater challenge, and the recession put the brakes on a lot of special-occasion dining, according to Saccone.
“After looking at this location and what it had to offer, we felt the Blake’s concept had pretty much run its course,” he says.
What followed was a thorough re-imagining. Out with the formal Western Reserve look with its black shutters and white linens; in with a modern vibe featuring warmer colors, hip lighting and spacious outdoor dining. Equipped with cushy sofas, a massive stone fireplace and heaters, the patio and cabana bar is a three-season destination and a clear signal that Jekyll’s is as much about fun as it is about food.
Indoors or out, Jekyll’s is a lively, welcoming place that provides a comfy backdrop to a large menu designed by Saccone, corporate executive chef Michael Lamarca and executive chef Kevin Foley. Although “casual” and “quality” are at the heart of the concept, Foley says, you’ll still find dishes reminiscent of Blake’s, such as steaks and seafood fired over a fragrant blend of sugar maple, ash, hickory and mesquite.
What is different are the casual additions: burgers, pastas and wood-fired pizzas, all designed to accommodate grazers and those watching their wallets.
Ribs, roast chicken, salads and some Asian-accented starters such as crispy ginger calamari and spicy rare tuna round out the edible options and seem to ensure there’s a dish, and a price, for everyone. A Monday through Friday happy hour even offers $4 appetizers and $2 domestic beers.
And though it’s still not hard to rack up a $100 tab for two with the a la carte sides, sauces and the mostly New World wine list, portions are ample, and you’re likely to depart dinner with the makings of tomorrow’s lunch.
Our own explorations started off with a classic gin martini with a garnish of blue-cheese-stuffed olives ($10). One warning when it comes to Jekyll’s cocktails: If you’re not a fan of sugary fare, pass on the $8.75 specialty drinks. They were heartily endorsed by our server but delivered an overwhelmingly sweet punch.
The martini, however, was a killer companion to the warm, crunchy thick-cut potato chips served with a tangy buttermilk and blue cheese sauce and garnished with candied pecans, a balsamic glaze, truffle oil and a hint of sage ($6.90).
We also loved Jekyll’s flash-fried baby shrimp ($8.50). Sweet and delicately seasoned with salt, pepper and a hint of chili, they invigorated the accompanying soba noodle salad, leaving little need for the side of sweet chili dipping sauce.
The thin-crust pizza grilled over a wood fire, meanwhile, delivered a subtle, smoky essence and evoked happy memories of campfires and cookouts. Although we debated topping it with lobster, chicken and a combo of sausage and banana peppers, we settled on mellow tomato sauce, melty mozzarella, a dusting of grated Parmesan cheese and Italian pepperoni ($9.50).
Pair a pie with a colorful stacked salad of roasted red and yellow beet slices and tangy goat cheese on a bed of tender field greens finished in a lemon oil dressing ($5.90), and you have the makings of a light yet rousing meal.
Heartier appetites shouldn’t miss the double-cut pork chop ($16.90), which offers tender juiciness and flavor thanks to a 24-hour bath in an aromatic brine. It’s topped with a jammy bourbon-apple chutney, and accompaniments include tender-crisp green beans and mashed potatoes.
Of course, it’s nearly impossible to enter a Hyde Park restaurant and not drool over the thought of steak. One visit found us satisfying that craving by ordering a well-marbled, 12-ounce ribeye ($24). Grilled to a rosy medium-rare, it was suitably tender if not especially well seasoned. Fortunately, a buttery a la carte sauce of red wine, shallots and black pepper ($2) added zest without overwhelming the natural flavor.
We were less impressed with a few other items, including the grilled Chilean sea bass ($25). The flavor was bland and the texture was oddly stringy. Meanwhile, an entree of braised short ribs ($15.90) had real promise but arrived lukewarm in a congealing pool of salty bordelaise alongside a greasy, fried risotto cake.
Although staffers are uniformly pleasant, enthusiastic, and know their menus, their good intentions are at times undermined by spotty execution. During one Saturday night visit, our server seemed like a model of efficiency while taking our drink orders but then vanished before our starters arrived. As a result, a promised bread basket never showed up, empty appetizer plates were still on the table when our main dishes arrived, and snagging water refills required us to flag down a staffer from another section, twice.
To her credit, our server apologized when she reappeared and offered complimentary desserts. A tall, cylindrical red velvet cake ($6) proved dull, seeming to lack both the flavor and deep mahogany coloring of the traditional cocoa-enhanced recipe. But an ample banana split ($6) with lengths of bruleed banana, scoops of rich vanilla bean ice cream and modest flounces of whipped cream, buttery orange-caramel sauce and house-made pineapple and strawberry toppings, sent spoons flying as my companion and I tried to beat each other to the last bite.
17 River St., Chagrin Falls, 440-893-0797. Mon-Thu 5-9:30 p.m., Fri 5-10:30 p.m., Sat 4-10:30 p.m. Closed Sun. jekyllskitchen.com
food & drink
12:00 AM EST
March 19, 2010