Raising the Glass: Wine Bar Rocky River

In 1944, songwriter Frank Loesser penned the oft-heard tune “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” the most popular version of which was performed by Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer. It’s the story of a man trying to convince a reticent young woman to spend the night at his pad because, well, it’s cold outside.

As you sit reading this article, possibly ensconced in a comfy chair by the fire, I’m sure that you may also be contemplating a number of reasons why it’s just too cold to venture out. But as a fellow Clevelander, I know that it is only a matter of time before a combination of excess holiday joviality and cabin fever sets in and, wind and snow notwithstanding, you will warm to the idea of looking at something besides the four familiar walls of your home.

When this mood strikes you, set down this magazine (my editor wishes me to state here that you should pick it up again later), grab your best guy or gal, bundle up, and head to Wine Bar Rocky River.

Located just off of Detroit Road in Rocky River, Wine Bar has the warmth and cool coziness that, along with copious amounts of the fortifying beverage implied in the name, will help chase away winter blues.

Opened in September 2007, Wine Bar is the latest offering from the fine folks who operate Fahrenheit, South Side, Blind Pig and Dive Bar. The group has been successful, and the reason is as simple as following the old maxim: Find a need and fill it. Oh yeah, and serve booze.

Partner John Owen and his comrades have proved their savvy when it comes to identifying what consumers want and then making it available, reasonably priced, suitably hip and close to where we live and work.

Carved out of the old Treats Pizza space, Wine Bar manages to be comfortable and inviting without feeling as if you’re in Grandma’s favorite tearoom. A fireplace and lots of oenophile-friendly décor can be found in the dining room, but it’s the welcoming atmosphere of the bar that begs for patronage.

High ceilings, an oversized glass garage door that opens onto a beautiful patio, giant old wine barrels, a walk-in glass wine room, wooden booths, wine-crate wainscoting in the restrooms and dramatic lighting all serve to reinforce the relaxing feeling. That said, what could be more relaxing than a few glasses (or bottles) chosen from the large but exceptionally affordable wine list and some tasty snacks from chef Jill Vedaa’s menu? (I know you’re hungry, but before we order, a few more words about the vino.)

As a guest, I like what Wine Bar is trying to do for wine and wine consumers. First, the bar features the Enomatic system for storing and pouring wines by the glass. This beverage dispensing system ensures bottles remain at the perfect temperature and, like it or not, pours each glass with exactly the same quantity.

Next, the wine list is arranged so you can feel comfortable ordering something you’re sure to enjoy. To Wine Bar’s credit, they understand that, while we all enjoy the juice, the ordering thereof can be a little intimidating.

In order to reach out to the wine-drinking public, Wine Bar Rocky River offers “Flight School” every Wednesday from 6 to 7 p.m. For $20, guests can enjoy five wines paired with five small plates and walk away feeling a little more informed. Beginning this month, a “First Class Flight School” will feature higher-priced wines and champagnes for $35 per guest.

“I think it’s great that people can learn about wine without having to spend $85 or $100 and rolling the dice every time they order a bottle,” Owen says. I couldn’t agree more.

But wine isn’t the only thing this place has going for it.

A veteran of some of Cleveland’s finest eateries (including Saucy Bistro), Jill Vedaa brings some serious culinary chops to Wine Bar, elevating what could have otherwise been a fairly standard upscale bar menu into something more. Whereas the wing joint on the corner is happily serving food straight out of the box, Vedaa takes the time to put genuine touches into her offerings, such as making the dough for the pizzalike FAT Breads or brining her own pickles for the fulfilling mini-burger sliders ($9.50).

At the time of my visit, Wine Bar was in a menu transition, so some items I enjoyed may be gone, though I’m certain their replacements will be equally enticing.

That said, cheese plates lead off the menu and the choice of either a savory (cured meats and olives) or sweet (fruits and nuts) assortment of accoutrements serve to satisfy the traditional wine-and-cheese crowd with small ($13.50) and large ($17.50) dishes.

Some of my other favorite snacks are the appetizer-portioned, meltingly tender boneless beef short ribs with chimichurri and garlic fried potatoes ($11); delicious, Mediterranean-influenced lamb meatballs ($10.50), complemented well by a goat cheese and red pepper coulis; and avocado and brie bruschetta ($8.50), a surprisingly simple pairing of a smooth, fatty vegetable and a rich cheese that somehow just works.

The aforementioned FAT breads, ranging from $10.50 to $12, offer a number of tempting flavor combinations, though I must confess to favoring the pesto, provolone, andouille sausage and goat cheese variety. The heat from the spicy Cajun sausage seems just right, and the warm, thick crust of the bread probably isn’t such a bad thing to line your stomach with before polishing off a few more glasses of vino.

Salads and sandwiches round out the menu and may all have changed by the time you find yourself wandering in from the cold to this haven of wine, warmth and well-wishing. So I won’t go too far along, beyond to say that I’ve not yet had a disappointing meal with Vedaa at the kitchen’s helm.

And so, baby, even if it’s cold outside — and I’m guessing that this winter will once again be cold — consider swinging by Wine Bar Rocky River. You’ll be glad that you did.

Wine Bar Rocky River, 1313 Linda St., Rocky River, (440) 799-4300, Mon-Sat, 11 a.m. - 2 a.m., Sun 10 a.m. - 2 a.m.; winebarrr.com
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