Getting back to the table has been no easy task. With COVID-19 still shuttering restaurants — some indefinitely — restaurateurs and chefs have taken different avenues to find their place in Cleveland’s new dining scene. Some have moved forward with fresh concepts, while others revived familiar fare amidst the state’s new restrictions. Here’s a handful of new restaurants to add to your dining-out options.
Proof Bar BQ
In early 2020, Mike Griffin’s long-awaited second venture, Proof Bar BQ, hosted wildly successful, sold-out pop-up events. They were presented in anticipation of the restaurant’s planned March opening in the basement of Crust, Griffin’s popular Tremont pizza joint. But the pandemic threw a significant wrench in those plans.
“We didn’t want to do takeout right away because you get a different version of the food if it has to travel,” Griffin says. Recognizing, however, that Proof’s intimate indoor layout presents a challenge to socially distant dining, Griffin hustled to finish the spot’s spacious back patio, a complement to Crust’s 20-seat patio out front. Complete with a 12-tap bar, the new outdoor space accommodates up to 100 people, and for now, outdoor diners can order from both restaurants’ menus. “We’ve had to get creative,” Griffin says. “If you come, we’ll give you whatever you want.”
2258 Professor Ave., Cleveland, 216-583-0551, proofcleveland.com.
Cafe Social Latinoamericano
Two years ago, Lalo Rodriguez and his parents opened Cafe Social Latinoamericano in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood. When the elder Rodriguezes moved out of state, their 23-year-old son became the coffee shop’s sole owner and relocated the cafe to Tremont. COVID-19 forced Rodriguez to cancel Cafe Social’s grand opening celebration in April, but he slowly eased into business by offering carryout and dine-in service with limited seating.
He’s had to hold off on the festive events he’d planned to host in the space, including salsa nights and open-mic sessions with Latinx artists, but for now, he’s focused on making an impression with Latin American coffee drinks such as cafe de olla — Mexican coffee sweetened with piloncillo sugar — and house-made desserts such as pan de parchita, sweet, miniature loaves flavored with passion fruit and blueberries. “This is supposed to be a place to catch up with friends and family and to explore Latin American culture,” he says. “I just want this place to be full of great energy.”
2275 Professor Ave., Cleveland, 216-280-2423, cafesociallatinoamericano.com.
After 18 years in business in University Circle and a brief closure due to a lease dispute and the loss of her husband, Mae Zeidan was planning to host Falafel Cafe’s grand return in the spot formerly occupied by Simply Greek. But then the pandemic hit. Although renovations of the 25-seat, 1,300-square-foot spot were complete by the time shelter-in-place orders were announced, one key piece of decor had yet to arrive: The establishment’s shiny new signage was stuck inside Cleveland’s Department of Building and Housing, which closed just as Zeidan planned to open.
So she pivoted, instead focusing on pickup orders and then dine-in options, serving from a limited menu that highlights classic Middle Eastern favorites such as kebabs, shawarma and pita sandwiches. “For 18 years, we tried our best to make everybody happy,” Zeidan says. “Now, as I’m seeing old customers from Case Western Reserve University and around the area, along with new people — it’s me who is very happy.”
11454 Uptown Ave., Cleveland, 216-381-1591, falafelcafecleveland.com.
After working at On The Rise Artisan Breads for nearly eight years, Ian Herrington planned to open his own bread bakery in Tremont this summer. But when the pandemic arrived, he bumped up his timeline by temporarily transforming his brick-and-mortar bakery concept into a delivery service. Until he can open this July in The Tappan, a newly constructed, mixed-use complex in Tremont, Herrington teamed up with friend Erika Durham, general manager of the Cleveland Bagel Co., who agreed to let him use the store’s temporarily closed MidTown location for his baking.
Ever since, he’s been selling out of twice-weekly batches of pain de mie, sourdough focaccia, Kalamata olive fougasse and other scratch-baked goodies. “I feel like this is my soft opening, my introduction to the neighborhood and to the whole West Side,” Herrington says. “It’s my way of showing people what I can do.” 216-374-1014, toasttab.com/leavenedcle.
The Rice Shop
Chef Anthony Zappola was just days away from making a huge announcement: His popular University Heights sandwich shop, Lox, Stock, and Brisket, was moving to the Van Aken District, and in its place, he planned to open a sit-down restaurant serving small plates. “We were two days from signing the lease and pulling permits, and then the coronavirus hit, which set us back about two months,” Zappola says.
He kept mum about the news and instead started working behind the scenes to scrap the sit-down concept, instead deciding to resurrect the Rice Shop, the popular fast-casual, Asian-fusion spot he once ran inside Ohio City Galley. Back on the menu are favorites such as the steak fried rice and Kentucky-fried fish rice bowls, arriving in a carryout-friendly format he thinks will be especially appealing to customers still recovering from the pandemic. “I’m really optimistic about it, and I think it’s actually a better fit for the space,” says Zappola.
13892 Cedar Road, University Heights, 216-785-9490, riceshopcleveland.com.