After 25 years of effort, chef-owner Parker Bosley says he believes his restaurant, now called Parker's New American Bistro, has reached the pinnacle of his culinary dreams.
Despite years of experience in the food world, his heart has not ventured far from his childhood family farm in Trumbull County. A self-described sustainable-food advocate, Bosley is quick to launch into a lecture about the increased nutritive value of foods delivered fresh from the farm and onto the table without storage and shipping delays. Over the years, he has developed an impressive list of suppliers from Ohio farms. And that search is ongoing. Every Saturday morning is spent browsing seasonal products at the North Union Farmers Market at Shaker Square. Bosley is often accompanied not only by his chefs, but also the servers from the restaurant. In his words: "If you work here, you have to believe; you have to be a disciple."
Parker's underwent a name change and a dramatic facelift last January. The new layout seats 60 and includes a large room upstairs for private parties. When it reopened Feb. 1, the previously formal dining room had been replaced by a relaxed, somewhat trendy motif.
Exposed brick walls, hardwood floors and mocha trim provide an earthy, rustic feel, while the jet-black ceiling, spattered with track lighting, hanging red halogen lamps and shimmering ascot valances, creates a distinctly modern contrast. The narrow main dining room forms an intimate setting, with small tables set along one wall and a long banquette anchoring a row of two- and four-seaters on the opposite wall. An expansive window covers the rear wall and affords a view of the sidewalk and streetlights, enhancing the café atmosphere.
A smaller dining area in the rear of the restaurant boasts a warm and cozy atmosphere. The bar section is relaxed and inviting as patrons enter the establishment. The bar itself seats 12 and is starkly contemporary with clean lines of medium oak and a black granite top that reflects the beams from low-set halogens. The decor is softened by nostalgic prints of Cleveland architectural scenes emblazoned on ceramic tiles.
Bosley, despite his role as owner, is ever-present in the kitchen. "I still cook," he says. "My customers deserve to have my involvement." Bosley's business partner, Jeff Jaskiel, manages the front of the house to enable Bosley to attend to food preparation. Dishes are prepared simply with subtle herbal flavors and delicate sauces. You won't find your food precariously stacked in towers or drizzled with unidentifiable colored sauces like a painting at MOMA. Entrees are plated in a no-frills manner, with clear sectors for meat, starch and veggies, reminiscent of dinner at the family table.
However, dinner at home rarely tasted this good. Fresh local ingredients pay off in great flavor. Slow cooking in olive oil with a dusting of thyme and bay leaves extracts the full savory quality of the roasted beets ($6). Presentation is elegant in its simplicity: irregularly cut beet chunks atop a pool of cream and walnut sauce with a touch of glazed orange zest. Tomato soup ($6) was packed full of flavor, garnished with a float of basil custard. The consistency was a bit thin and watery, but overall still a very good soup.
The bulbous aromatic flavor of leeks permeates the sauté of scallop and shrimp with creamed potatoes ($9). The delicate strands of bright green were tender and succulent in cream sauce and served as a perfect complement to the shellfish. Note that the name reads "sauté of scallop" and you should take that literally; we were disappointed that our appetizer comprised only a lone scallop and two shrimp. So much for sharing.
Baguettes are made every morning in the restaurant following the authentic French method. Each is hand-rolled and baked directly on a stone slab. The crust on ours was crisp with just the right amount of bite and sported a perfect color and slash marks. The interior was uniform, which is evidence of a good rise and proper technique in rolling.
Salads are delightfully light, with an emphasis on the flavor of the produce and not on the dressing or added ingredients. The tomato salad ($6) presented a variety of sliced and quartered heirloom tomatoes and halved grape tomatoes arranged atop two slices of fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and a wonderful sweet balsamic vinegar. The baked goat cheese on mixed greens ($6) was coated with a sweet thyme vinaigrette that offset the slight bitterness of the baby greens.
All of our entrees were served with accompaniments of organic vegetables and an assortment of potatoes (new red, white and fingerling). Accents such as green beans, a carefully positioned baby carrot or creamed corn with lima beans were also added. Each vegetable on the plate was cooked perfectly, with just the right amount of crispness and preservation of color.
The sauté of veal sweetbreads ($26) was the best we've ever eaten. Each piece had a slightly crispy outside giving way to a sweet, moist interior and glistened with a light port wine sauce. Success is likely in the preparation; the sweetbreads are first soaked in milk, then boiled with thyme and bay leaf and pressed to make them dense. Finally, the sweetbreads are sliced and sautéed in olive oil and butter.
The hanger steak ($24) was thinly sliced and layered with chopped shallots, which added a perfect touch to the dish. Onions, bacon and apples in brandy sauce merge to cause a complex flavor sensation in the all-natural beef liver ($20), tender and thin-sliced morsels that absorbed flavors into every bite. We were told that diners call ahead to ensure that liver is on the menu and make a special visit just for this dish. We agree that it's worth the trip.
The only disappointment in the entree department was the halibut ($26), offered as a special. Although the mushroom sauce was wonderful, the fish had an oily, pungent aroma and did not meet expectations of freshness.
Parker's wine list is small but offers a reasonable selection, mostly of French or California vintages. Bottles range from $18 for a Hubinger Piesporter Michelsberg Riesling to the 1998 Meursault, Bouchard Pere and Fils ($69). Twelve wines are available by the glass ($5 to $8.75) and 10 varieties by the half bottle ($17 to $27).
Our server suggested a 1999 Ancien Pinot Noir (Carneros, $54) to accompany our meal. Upon initial tasting, the vintage had a very bitter taste, which did not improve when allowed to breathe. We thought we had the misfortune of encountering a bad bottle, but were told that Ancien is very heavy for a pinot with lots of tannins. Admirably, our server made another suggestion and simply removed the bottle without charge. We thoroughly enjoyed its replacement, a medium-bodied and fruity 2001 Melville Pinot Noir (Santa Ynez, $44).
Parker's offers warm clafoutis ($7) as a regular dessert item. Clafoutis is a classic French dessert that combines custard with fruit and is finished in the oven. Ours was assembled with fresh pears and served with fantastic lavender ice cream, which in our opinion was the highlight of the dish. We sampled the blood orange and Concord grape sorbet ($3.50); both tasted like fruit plucked from the tree or vine and were quite refreshing.
Our servers were uniformly knowledgeable, friendly and competent. Despite a low-key approach, our needs throughout the evening were anticipated and delivered. Clearly, this is a professional crew.
Wonderful things are also happening outside of the dining room. Cooking classes are offered on a sporadic basis, centering on either a theme food or an entire dinner-party menu. Classes are taught in a demo kitchen and the 20 attendees are treated to a sample of all food prepared.
Bosley plans to introduce a bar menu offering "fast food" with a healthy gourmet twist. Envision a hamburger made from grass-fed beef and served on a fresh-baked bun made at the restaurant. Other potential items include a bean and lamb-shoulder stew and slow-roasted pulled pork.
Dinner at Parker's proves that one does not need to choose between food that tastes good and food that is good for you you can have both! With its ever-changing menu, this is a restaurant you can return to often and without ever growing bored.
Parker's New American Bistro, 2801 Bridge Ave., Cleveland, (216) 771-7130. Hours: Mon-Thu 5 - 10 p.m., Fri and Sat 5 - 11 p.m.