Two popular food truck proprietors drive new sit-down spots.
Chris Hodgson, owner and chef
Restaurant: Hodge's, 668 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216-771-4000, hodgescleveland.com, lunch and dinner Mon-Fri, Sat & Sun dinner. Visit website for hours. Food trucks: Dim and Den Sum ( ), Hodge Podge ( )
Great eats and a big personality pushed Chris Hodgson to the forefront of the food scene after his Dim and Den Sum food truck got rolling in 2010. Then he sped across our TV screens last summer on the Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race. Afterward, he began planning his first restaurant, which opened in March. It's Who You Know: Hodgson partnered with his friend and restaurant proprietor Scott Kuhn (Washington Place Bistro) to make the move from truck to table. "[He] didn't want to see me go up in flames." The Edge: Kuhn's experience managing restaurants allowed Hodge's to grow from an original vision of 50 seats to 128 seats inside and 100 on the patio. Biggest Obstacle: "Getting people to pass East Fourth Street and come down to us." What Hodgson Calls the Concept: "Casual fine dining." Lunch Menu: Midday fare mirrors what you know from the food trucks. The popular PBLT is a staple. "They can get in and out in 25 minutes and have a great lunch." Evening Hours: "Dinner is where we're able to have a lot more fun with a more Symon- or Sawyer-style menu." What About the Trucks: "You'll see the trucks roaming around this summer, and it'll be a lot more organized. It's no longer on the fly."
Jae Stulock, co-owner and chef
Restaurant: The Hipp, 5000 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216-361-9700, facebook.com/TheHippCLE,
Tue-Sat 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Food truck: Umami Moto ( )
Backpacking trips to Boulder, Colo., made Jae Stulock want to open a food truck there. But just as he was about to move out West, he learned of the city of Cleveland's food truck pilot program and filed an application. Umami Moto started prowling the streets in 2010, and Stulock's restaurant, The Hipp, opened at the Agora Theatre complex in February. Career Change: Stulock worked in construction before his foray into food. But he has cooked for years, inspired by his Hungarian grandmother and his mother. "Even at job sites, I would bring my backpacking stove and always have something a little off the wall at lunch." Power of Nostalgia: Stulock says he jumped at the chance to put his restaurant in the Agora concert club complex. "Everybody has a personal connection to the Agora: I saw this band there or that band there or made out with so-and-so there." His Cooking Style: American dishes with "some sort of international spin." The Menu: Build-your-own burgers, sandwiches, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. Biggest Adjustment: "On the food truck it's small circles. You're making it for today. In the restaurant, you're making it for today, tomorrow, maybe 150 servings." What About the Truck: "Expect to see Umami Moto everywhere this summer. We are not backing off of what we're doing."
Two culinary talents join forces on the East Side.
Paul Minnillo, chef and owner
Restaurant: Flour, 34205 Chagrin Blvd., Moreland Hills, 216-464-2700, flourrestaurant.com; open for lunch Mon-Fri and dinner daily. Visit website for hours. Previously: The Baricelli Inn, from 1985 to 2010
Paul Minnillo likes simplicity, and you'll find that in the food he's making at the modern spot he has called home since April 2011. Flames dance inside the mouth of a huge wood-burning oven that's a focal point. It churns out beautiful, wonderfully smoky 10-inch pizzas. But they are just one of the tastes from a full menu that Minnillo describes as "just really kick-ass, simple food...simple Italian food" and spans favorites such as calamari, cavatelli and lamb osso bucco. Endings and Beginnings: Minnillo split with his previous chef soon after Flour opened. "I was in the weeds. I just started calling friends to help me out for four, five, six days just to get me by." A friend suggested that he get in touch with Mytro. "Matt stayed for a week and never left." What Struck Him Most About Matt: "I could tell he had the feel, which is a gift. But you still have to be happy in the environment. You never know if it's going to click or not." On Collaborating: "We sit down and talk about menu changes and 90 percent of what Matt wants to do, I think it is fabulous. We won't put it on unless I've tasted it, cooked it." Future Plans: Minnillo and Mytro traveled to New York City together to visit gastropubs including The Spotted Pig, The Dutch and The Breslin to mine ideas for a new place they hope to open next to Flour. "We don't want to compete with what we're doing here, and that would be totally opposite."
Matt Mytro, chef
Restaurant: Joined Minnillo at Flour last fall. Previously: Consulted on the openings of various restaurants including Boulevard Blue and Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar; co-founded Stove Monkeys apparel line in 2007
Until seven months ago, Matt Mytro had never met Paul Minnillo. He knew about his role in the city's dining scene, of course, and was attracted to the idea of helping out in his kitchen. "I thought it would be a good experience and opportunity. We pretty much fell in love with each other. We just had a really good chemistry." What Struck Him Most About Paul: "Just the pure passion and the credibility of what he's accomplished. The guy is the first one here and the last one to leave." On Collaborating: "It's a pretty natural fit. Most of the time we'll discuss something, and it's thumbs up or thumbs down. If it's thumbs down, we go back to the drawing board." Simple Reminder: Mytro doesn't always hit the mark. He recalls an initial take on Flour's cavetelli dish, which included black trumpet mushrooms, lamb cheeks and a demi-glace. "It was good, but it was too rich. Paul was busting my chops the whole time: [puts on a deeper voice] 'Simple stupid. Simple stupid.' " The end result was a version featuring pork ragu, goat cheese and English peas. Future Plans: In addition to the gastropub, Mytro says the duo will begin offering cooking classes at the restaurant this summer. "We're looking forward to that."
( ) Denotes Silver Spoon 2012 Award winner