If the walls of White Oaks could talk, they’d could tell some cinematic tales of Cleveland’s history. The onetime speak-easy, which opened in 1928 during Prohibition, is outfitted with a night watchman’s quarters, a double-mirrored door and other features of a former underground establishment — all of which add to its mystique. “There were passwords and all of the stuff that goes along with the illegality of serving booze back in the day,” says proprietor Mike Small whose father, Anthony, bought the restaurant in 1971 from Byron Spooner, son of the original owner Mike Spooner.
Over the years White Oaks established itself as a fine-dining destination, known for its creekside location and continental cuisine. “People say a restaurant does most of its business [within] a five-mile radius, but we are certainly a destination place,” Small says, referring to the restaurant’s location in a residential area on Cahoon Road in Westlake. “You have to know you’re coming here. To me, that’s a tribute to us.”
On the restaurant’s ambiance: My dad had the vision of expanding the restaurant east toward the creek, and that’s what he did. About 10 years after he bought it, we added on 150 feet. The entire east wall is glass and overlooks a ravine. Some people have referred to it as a tree house. Every day at 5 p.m., we have all kinds of patrons looking at ducks, deer and fox down there.
On keeping the menu the same: Some people would say it’s old-school. To me, that’s a good thing. Joe Crea, the [former] food critic for the The Plain Dealer, said nothing ever changes here. He acted like that was a bad thing. We do a beef Wellington, which barely anybody serves anymore. It’s a medium-rare tenderloin wrapped in puff pastry, topped with mushrooms and a bordelaise sauce. People come from everywhere for it.
On striving for quality: We have a freezer, but for the most part we only use it for ice cream. You could make demi-glace with beef stock, water and cornstarch, but there’s no way it’s going to taste like ours. We start with 100 pounds of veal bones and add tomatoes, mirepoix [a combination of onions, celery and bell peppers] and reduce it down overnight, then deglaze it with red wine. I think to myself, We could make it so much easier and cheaper, but it’s one of our main sauces.
When You Go: White Oaks / 777 Cahoon Road, Westlake, 440-835-3090, white-oaks.com
Read More: Click here to read the full list of 18 Classic Cleveland Restaurants.