After a few years of stagnation, there's a buzz again on West 25th thanks to renovations to the West Side Market, the finishing touches being placed on the new mixed-use Intro building and Sam McNulty's Bright Side and Bird of Paradise, which is filling the former Bier Market/Bar Cento/Speakeasy and set to open any day.
Now, add Karen Small's newest restaurant concept to the mix.
Today, the James Beard-nominated chef announced Pearl Street Wine Market & Cafe, which comes through a partnership with Jill Davis, owner of Toast Wine Bar in Gordon Square. Inspired by West 25th's former name, Pearl Street, and a market that preceded the West Side Market, the cafe centers around a selection of natural wine (a trend of low-intervention winemaking) and, Small's specialty, farm-to-table shareables and entrees.
“We looked at the history of the area for inspiration,” says Davis in a press release. “Ohio City has always been a market area and a gathering place. We like the idea of telling that story in our own way."
The Flying Fig shuttering after nearly 24 years was a huge loss for Cleveland's dining scene, but fans of Small's work were excited to find out she was simply revamping the Market District space across from Great Lakes Brewing Co. When Small opened the Flying Fig in 1998, farm-to-table wasn't the buzz word it is today. The chef would drive to far-flung farms and markets across Ohio to source simple seasonal ingredients like beans, greens, mushrooms and meat. A slow-burn of quality and consistency built the Flying Fig into one of the city's most important dining experiences, named one of the city's best restaurants time and time again. Finally in 2018, the James Beard Foundation named Small a finalist for Best Chef in the Great Lakes region.
"I just thought the time was right," Small told us in February. "It's been 23 years, and we haven't done any significant changes in 18 years. Everything needs a fresh look after a while. It's time for something new and exciting in the neighborhood."
The new restaurant also nods to Small and Davis's travels together across the United States and Europe, so expect Euro vibes such as light meals and wines to converse over. Visitors will sit amongst wine shelves of bottles from small operators the partners discovered along the way, as well as beer and classic cocktails.
“We like to find wines that not everyone else is drinking,” says Davis.
While there isn't really an agreed-upon definition for natural wine, most are made organically, non-invasively, often with the skin on and without using additives. The process behind the trend speaks to a respect for the land and the grapes used to make the wine, and the result is often funkier and more unique — including orange wines, white wines and sparkly Pet-Nats (this writer's personal fave). Up until lately, these wines have been very tough to source in Cleveland.
“These farmers let the grapes be the grapes. There is an inherent respect for the land and the terroir really comes through,” Small said. “These wines are unique, funky and special.”
The restaurant will also host educational sessions and wine clubs when it opens sometime mid-summer. Stay tuned to Cleveland Magazine for updates as the restaurant's opening nears.