Eating out used to be so straightforward, didn’t it? You could pop into your favorite restaurant, place an order and kick back and relax with a great meal and not a worry in the world. In the past year, though, in-person dining has taken a hit with many of our favorites closing, and those that remain having to adapt accordingly.
Fortunately, though, many chefs leaned into their creativity and Midwest can-do mentality to pivot to concepts better suited to the pandemic’s many challenges. The co-owners of Soho Chicken & Whiskey in Ohio City doubled down on the fried chicken craze by switching from traditional dining to fast-casual spinoff Chicken Run, while Douglas Katz, owner of Zhug in Cleveland Heights, bought into the ghost kitchen concept with Chimi, a South American-style menu and Amba, inspired by Indian flavors.
“This experience was challenging, but with it came reinvention and innovation,” says Katz, who operates both out of his 3,000-square-foot catering space.
As the pandemic wanes, he’s looking at turning both ghost kitchen concepts into fast-casual brick-and-mortar spots — with menus he already knows his customers love.
The last year also put an end to trying to do it all, a feeling that resonates with Heather Doeberling, chef and co-owner of Boss ChickN Beer in Berea.
“The recalibration allowed us to laser-focus and decide what we were OK letting go of,” she says. That means no more large parties or gigantic menus, instead homing in on what the restaurant does best — chicken and beer. The restaurant’s second location, opening soon in Bay Village, will have limited seating and an intentionally streamlined menu.
“I’m a lot less hesitant now to open this smaller diner with a smaller footprint,” Doeberling says. “It’s not so much of a risk anymore.”
And in terms of risk and reward, other chefs went all-in this year, launching brand-new businesses. In August, Victor Morenz opened Home Bistro in Little Italy, working and reworking the concept of his fine dining comfort food restaurant as needed to accommodate the ever-changing landscape. And Matthew Harlan, who opened Chatty’s Pizzeria in Bay Village this March, was relieved to receive a warm welcome from neighbors eager to grab a pie.
“From the beginning, we’ve had a line of people waiting to get in,” he says.
It’s been a challenging year, to say the least, but one thing is for certain: Though the specifics may change with the times, the quality and ingenuity of Cleveland’s vibrant food scene is here to stay.
If you enjoyed this story, dig in to the rest of May's Best Restaurants issue below.
Cleveland 10 Best New Restaurants
From pizzas to tacos, New American comfort food and tightly packed sushi to decadent multicourse meals, these restaurants have made a lasting impression over the past year. Read More >>
An Ode To 5 Restaurants We'll Miss
From iconic downtown spots to a trailblazing New American joint to family favorites, these restaurants lost during our pandemic year have forever left a mark. Read More >>
How 5 Dining Spots Expertly Pivoted During The Pandemic
By creating more diverse menus that travel well, doubling down on their communities and rebranding all together, these Northeast Ohio restaurants found new ways to do what they do best. Read More >>
How Cleveland Restaurants Have Adapted To The Demand For Casual Dining
Gusto's Seafood & Chicken, Cilantro Taqueria, Domo Yakitori & Sushi and Citizen Pie Roman Cafe are elevating quick, comfortable eats. Read More >>
Ghost Kitchens' Small Footprints And Huge Ambitions Take Cleveland By Storm
The COVID-19 pandemic jumpstarts the ghost kitchen trend in Cleveland with options such as Good Meal Jane and Amba. Read More >>
Local Restaurants Expand And Experiment With Vegan Offerings
From GoBuddhaMeals' walnut taco bowls to The Vegan Club's fettucine Alfredo, we highlight four unique vegan dishes created by local kitchens. Read More >>
Chefs To Watch
Laura Jerina-Potts Takes A Detailed Approach To Desserts
Thyme Table's pastry chef has been serving up intricate delicacies and sweets for the last three years. Read More >>
Jarrett Mines Eager To Leave His Mark With Cleveland's Filter
With the opening of the new Warehouse District restaurant, the former personal chef is ready to wow the city with his interactive dishes. Read More >>
Vinnie Cimino's New Immigrant Son Brewery Menu Pays Homage To His Ancestors
The 'quasi-nomadic' chef is settling down with a new Lakewood brewery menu inspired by light, communal, immigrant-inspired fare. Read More >>
Tiwanna Scott-Williams' Homemade-Style Comfort Food Shines At Pearl's Kitchen
A former nurse, chef Tiwanna Scott-Williams tells us why she's ready to take Cleveland by storm with her homecooked, comfort-food style. Read More >>
Jose Melendez's Twisted Taino Expertly Blends Caribbean And Latin Flavors
A Sauce the City Food Hall staple, Twisted Taino is expanding to a second location in Parma that will house catering, carryout and delivery services. Read More >>