We once heard of two wine snobs so passionate about their pursuits that they stashed a full complement of pricy stemware in their car trunk. When they found themselves in a wine bar where the glasses weren't up to snuff, they'd run out to the car and grab the Riedels.
These two probably would not approve of Press Wine Bar, the down-to-earth restaurant in Tremont that opened in November. With no-name stemware and a total lack of pretention, this new addition to the former Lago space is far more about food and fun than genuflecting at the shrine of wine.
For this, let's toast executive chef Rachael Spieth. The graduate of Pittsburgh's Le Cordon Bleu comes to Tremont after nearly eight years in the kitchen of the former Three Birds (now Georgetown) in Lakewood. While there, her commanding culinary chops took her in short order from pantry cook to top toque. Sharp as a Santoku knife and resolutely hands-on, the chef brings a zesty but nuanced style to the wine bar's seasonal menu, elevating the fare far beyond the old-school cheese plates.
That's an important consideration for a spot hoping to make a mark in one of the city's most food-centric neighborhoods. "Given the competition, diners need to know we are more than just a wine bar," Spieth says. "I've tried to create a menu that stands on its own, no matter what you like to drink."
For Spieth, that means making nearly everything fresh and in house, including crackers, pickled veggies and condiments such as an orange-cinnamon-and-ginger marmalade and mustardo, a kicky Italian-style preserve made with mustards, vinegars and dried fruits. Product sourcing is painstaking, with items on the popular meat-and-cheese board ($13 and $20) coming from as near as Lakewood (Toulouse sausage from K2 Sausage) and as far away as Australia (the superbly nutty Roaring Forties Blue cheese). "Nearly every restaurant on the street serves a meat board," explains the chef. "I wanted to be sure ours stood out, with selections I don't think you'll find anywhere else."
And as befitting one of the city's new crop of talented young chefs, Spieth never ignores her veggies. She often designs dishes such as the lemon-pepper fettuccini ($12) tossed with asparagus, peas and pistachios in a watercress pesto cream sauce, putting seasonal produce at the forefront. (Need your protein? The kitchen will add braised lamb shank for an extra $4.)
The result of all this effort is a well-priced collection of reinvigorated favorites that would be at home in any neighborhood haunt — "wine bar" designation notwithstanding.
In fact, we'd guess that a good percentage of the guests bypass the wine list entirely, opting instead to explore the cocktail menu or the roundup of 40 craft-brewed beers, including seven locals on draft.
Not that Press' wine program doesn't merit some homage. Comprehensive but not overwhelming, the international list includes Spanish bubblies, French Bordeaux, and plenty of West Coast faves. Eight of the 32 by-the-glass pours come from a trendy tap system that keeps the wines at their best. Bottles reside in a giant, glass-enclosed cellar situated at one end of the handsome open dining space (and bartenders will break out the Riedels for those who splurge on a big-ticket bottle).
Credit owners Sherman DeLozier, Dave Rudiger and John Owen for keeping the vibe relaxed, yet polished. DeLozier and Rudiger operate Tremont's highly successful South Side while Owen and Rudiger oversee Market and Wine Bar Rocky River. Together, the three share well-earned reputations for creating welcoming spots that are stylish but unfussy. Press Wine Bar clearly fits that mold.
The restaurant's big, three-sided bar is typically bustling on weekends. A row of high-tops provide a good perch for observing Spieth's open kitchen, while window-side seats serve up a lively sidewalk view. Moody lighting, flickering votives and dark wood paneling lend a grown-up feel to the space, while paper napkins and T-shirt-clad servers keep the froufrou factor low.
Among the most popular menu items are Spieth's crisp, fresh flatbreads. We went with the lively pig version ($12), where the house-made dough formed a slightly sweet substrate for savory bits of shredded pork shoulder, nutty provolone and sheer slices of prosciutto cotto (a cooked version of the more familiar prosciutto crudo) — all enlivened with a hint of mustard, pickled red onion and sliced cornichons. For a similarly subtle poke, consider the spiced deviled eggs ($6), with their creamy paprika-and-Sriracha-spiked yolks topped with translucent slices of pink pickled radish and delicate poached shrimp.
Alternatively, sink your teeth into the 8-ounce Press burger ($12), made with a specialty blend of certified Angus beef. On top, Spieth's smoked-tomato aioli adds campfire panache to a melty slab of Red Dragon, a Welsh cheddar made with whole-grain mustard and ale. Meanwhile, a tall tangle of arugula in place of the usual bland iceberg lettuce provides a bracing counterpoint. The slim, golden fries on the side, dusted with a vibrant house-made spice blend, are like the barbecue chips of your dreams. A wholesome substitute, the house salad of arugula, candied walnuts and blue cheese is almost equally addictive, thanks in no small part to its sheer dressing of fruity pear-and-walnut vinaigrette.
Be sure to catch the walleye ($23) among the short list of entrees on Press' menu. Moist, sweet and flawlessly pan-seared, the filet boasts a delightfully crisp skin and comes perched on a lush salad of white beans, juicy roasted tomato, bits of al dente asparagus, Parmesan and arugula (yes, Spieth does love arugula). Part of the salad dressing, lemony Agrumato (a hauntingly indulgent Italian olive oil milled with whole lemons) jazzed up the fish and veggies alike. "Isn't this what walleye has always hoped to be?" asked a poetic companion as she devoured every morsel.
In the absence of a pastry chef, Spieth cooks up sweet endings such as a vanilla-bean and ginger creme brulee, sugar cookies with raspberry-lemon cream cheese frosting and zucchini chocolate cake.
They're nothing complicated, she'll tell you. But simple, comfy and well executed, they're a lot like Press Wine Bar itself.
When You Go
Press Wine Bar
2221 Professor Ave., Cleveland
Mon-Thu 4 p.m.-midnight
Fri 4 p.m.-2 a.m.
Sat 10 a.m.-2 a.m.
Sun 10 a.m.-midnight
» Try This: The Press Burger ($12), topped with Red Dragon cheese, smoked tomoato aioli and arugula on a toasted challah bun
» Good to Know: The weekend brunch features omeletes, pancakes, French toast and flatbreads.