New things come and grow with the changing of the seasons, but at Spice Kitchen & Bar, change doesn’t have to wait for that six-month Ohio spring turnover. Instead, it happens constantly year-round with a menu that evolves on a weekly basis.
Executive chef and owner Ben Bebenroth keeps things fresh at his quaint corner restaurant in the Gordon Square Arts District with whatever is growing on his 13-acre farm just 21 miles south in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Purchased in 2014, the farmstead sources 10 percent of the restaurant’s ingredients including carrots, butternut squash and other heirloom vegetables, while the rest are supplied from sustainable, small family farms within a 150-mile radius.
“It’s a delicate balance between creativity and catastrophe,” says Bebenroth. “Half of what we use is what it’s destined for, the other half we have to find ways to be creative.”
Bebenroth creates each dish centered around a focal point typically pulled straight from his farm. For a recent butternut squash risotto, he foraged small lilac blewit mushrooms, dried and smoked them, and combined them with pickled fennel, arugula, peeled local tomatoes, and shallots with clarified butter in a butternut squash risotto that blended together a multitude of colors, textures and flavors.
While that dish is, of course, no longer available, Bebenroth approaches each plate with a rapid-fire, meticulous attention to detail that sometimes takes years to process.
For example, the current pickle board ($8) was three years in the making — with 4,000 crowns of purple asparagus that were planted in 2016 now ripe for picking. Those spears will nestle alongside the likes of pickled dryad’s saddle and fermented shiitake, turnips and radishes.
The warmer weather ahead will bring an abundance of other vegetables, such as Japanese knotweed, a prolific, invasive weed that’s beloved by Bebenroth. We’ll just have to wait and see what he creates with it.
“It’s so easy to harvest and process,” he says. “We’ll make jams, ferment, do acid pickles.”
5800 Detroit Ave., Cleveland, 216-961-9637, spicekitchenandbar.com