Perfect Pairings: Friendly Rivalries

Bac's banh mi vs Paladar's cubano

Ethnic favorites that are true to their roots

[ Bac ]

[ Paladar ]

The bahn mi is a classic Vietnamese sandwich with a French influence. "The word actually means 'bread,' but it also refers to the sandwich," says Bac Nguyen, owner of Bac Asian American Bistro & Bar (      ). "The classic style has some kind of pâté and a collection of different meats." Those meats usually include ham. The sandwich is a natural fit for Bac's authentic pan-Asian menu, but that's not the only place you'll find it. "It seems every gastropub has some version of it now," Nguyen says.

Brought to the states by Cuban immigrants, the cubano sandwich was originally a working-class favorite. "The basic components are Cuban bread, which is similar to a baguette, and some mustard," says Robert Cabrales, executive chef at Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar (      ). "Roasted and pulled pork is a major component, and you need to have cheese. After that, there is room for interpretation." Originally, Paladar had the cubano on just the lunch menu, but it was so popular, it stayed for dinner and happy hour.

What makes it true to the traditional preparation?

What makes it new?

What will it remind me of?

Jammy Buggars vs Deagan's Kitchen & Bar

Inventive bar food, great beer, another winner

[ Jammy Buggars ]

[ Deagan's ]

Jim Sprenger opened Jammy Buggars (      ) (British slang for "lucky guy") with the intention of creating a restaurant that was "just like being at your mother's house but with better beer." He has certainly done that, but the fact that our readers voted the Lakewood spot as this year's Best New Restaurant also speaks to the quality. "Instead of being just another bar on the corner with pub food, we decided to put a trained chef in the kitchen and take things up a notch," Sprenger says.

A gastropub with a solid reputation for its offerings of craft beer, Deagan's Kitchen & Bar (      ) — which was last year's Best New Restaurant — has a wide-ranging menu with an array of lunch and dinner specials that change daily. "We focus on buying local whenever possible," says owner Daniel Deagan. "We use a lot of stuff from The Chef's Garden in Huron, so the chef changes the menu seasonally." The place even has a good selection of vegan offerings.

What's your favorite dish on the menu?

What's one dish here you'll find nowhere else?

What's your most unusual twist on a bar food staple?

Pura Vida's cauliflower toast vs Fire's asparagus salad

The stuff we hated as kids, reinvented

[ Pura Vida ]

[ Fire ]

Executive chef Scott Coffman says he spent two years perfecting the cauliflower toast on Pura Vida's menu. "We steam the cauliflower and turn it into a paste and fold in some flour to bind it," he says. "We put fresh ginger, coriander, lime and pine nuts to help it. We spread that on the bread and fry it in sesame oil and add scallion pesto. The result is crispy bread with a sweet and spicy sauce to go with it."

The asparagus salad at Fire Food and Drink is served with house-made pancetta, local greens and an egg-and-caper oil dressing. "[The pancetta] cures for a time and is sliced very thin and roasted and gets crispy," says owner and chef Doug Katz. "For this preparation, we'll blanch it and lay two crispy, sliced pieces next to the asparagus, which will be local when we can get it."

Why didn't we like it as kids?

As a chef, how did you overcome that?

What was the original inspiration?

ABC the Tavern vs XYZ the Tavern

Two places, same ownership, opposite ends of the alphabet

[ ABC the Tavern ]

[ XYZ the Tavern ]

After buying Ohio City's ABC the Tavern in 2009, owners Randy Kelly and Linda Syrek set out to brighten up the joint. "The place was clean, it was just dark," Kelly says. It's since become a hipster hangout with an inventive menu that tackles tofu and deep-fried hotdogs alike. A long list of craft beers appeals to the discriminating drinker, but the place stocks plenty of the cheap stuff, too.

"If ABC is the corner beer joint, XYZ is the neighborhood tavern," Kelly says of the Detroit Shoreway establishment he and Linda Syrek opened a little more than a year ago. With a full kitchen that produces a diverse menu that stretches from pizza to pierogi, XYZ offers a wider food selection than its sister establishment in Ohio City. It has quite a few more beers on draft, too.

How's the beer selection?

What's your favorite dish on the menu?

What's one dish here you'll find nowhere else?

SoHo Pop-ups vs Brick & Mortar Pop-ups

One-night-only dining experiences to savor

[ SoHo ]

[ Brick & Mortar ]

Nolan Konkoski, chef and owner of SoHo Kitchen & Bar, staged his first pop-up restaurant at Momocho last August to build buzz for his then-yet-to-open restaurant. "It gave us great exposure, since we were tied to an established restaurant that was popular in the city," he says. Konkoski has since invited Cincinnati chef Ryan Santos to do the same at SoHo. Another pop-up with Santos is in the works.

Jonathon Sawyer hosted his first pop-up at Greenhouse Tavern in October 2010. "As chefs, we have coworkers and friends who we want to keep touching base with, and we do charity events, and a lot of times you plan a dinner around that to expose people to other people's foods," he says. Next up, Sawyer's Noodlecat is hosting a Pig to Plate event with New Zealand native
Jason Roberts on May 2.

What makes your pop-up concept different?

What's the secret to a successful pop-up restaurant?

How do you decide on which chefs to invite?

(      ) Denotes Silver Spoon 2012 Award winner

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