After Public Square, The 9 is likely Cleveland's most talked-about development project in recent history. The $250 million renovation of the long-neglected Ameritrust complex, originally designed in 1971 by celebrated architect Marcel Breuer, has breathed more than just the promise of new life into the city. Along with the Heinen's grocery store in the restored rotunda, the Geis Cos. have crafted a new downtown hub along East Ninth Street.
Since its Sept. 5 opening, the modern Mediterranean restaurant Adega, neither stodgy nor overly hip, has been a popular spot with well-heeled Clevelanders from 20 to 65. Barring its awkward, semi-obstructed entrance, the restaurant wows the moment you step inside. As in the adjoining hotel and apartment complex, the decor is an opulent but tasteful mix of sparkly new and vintage aesthetic, where industrial art contrasts with crystal chandeliers and luxury is restrained by comfortable touches for an old money charm.
But like a wealthy debutante whose elegant dress can't quite disguise the clumsiness of youth, there's some maturing left for Adega to achieve.
For instance, the entire dining room flows around a glass-encased, temperature-controlled wine room, and the staff is eager to explain again and again that Adega means wine vault in Portuguese. Yet despite a diverse wine list and overall significance to the restaurant, some of the staff demonstrated considerable difficulty in making recommendations, relying instead on the novelty of iPad drink menus.
Despite flaws, there's promise here. Even with cavernous, two-story ceilings, the 140-seat dining room feels intimate thanks to chef's tables overlooking the open kitchen and a cozy bar nestled under a staircase. The total guest count can top 350 a night, which keeps the line cooks hustling through typical dinner-service lulls. The kitchen didn't seem to miss a beat, though, and courses were well-timed without ever feeling rushed. Overall, it's an indication that the 7-month-old business is finding solid footing.
This is in no small part due to Adega's young but very capable 31-year-old executive chef Eddie Tancredi, a Solon native who has been making a name for himself for more than a decade. He graduated second in his class from Le Cordon Bleu culinary academy in Pittsburgh and trained under certified master chefs in the prestigious three-year Greenbrier apprenticeship program.
Tancredi has competed in nearly three dozen national and international competitions, including the Culinary Olympics, the largest food exhibition in the world. In 2013, he was named U.S. Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Federation.
He's worked in top-tier restaurants including the Michelin three-star rated Fat Duck in London, but says he didn't hesitate in returning home. "It's just all about timing," he explains. "You look at some of our chefs like [Zack] Bruell, [Jonathon] Sawyer and [Michael] Symon — they've paved the way and did a lot of the hard work to get [the city] where it is right now for the new generation of chefs like myself."
Most chefs, let alone chefs of his age, never get the opportunity to build a restaurant from the ground up. But while Fred and Greg Geis directed him in the modern Mediterranean concept, Tancredi has had fairly autonomous control.
He came on board in April 2014 as the fifth hire in the entire hotel-apartment development which allowed him to help design the kitchen layout and equipment, hire his own staff and, of course, develop the menu.
Tancredi's style is marked by playful twists on familiar flavors and classic dishes, such as the toscano ($18), a crab cigar riff on crab cakes made by pressing bread through a pasta roller, wrapping the crab filling inside and lightly frying it. Crispy polenta mozzarella ($12) likewise revamps mozzarella sticks.
Such descriptions belie the elegance of the plates coming out of Adega's kitchen. Appetizers are portioned for sharing but show restraint, particularly the World's Greatest Ham plate ($30), composed of grilled bread, a lightly dressed salad and tissue paper-thin slices of cured Iberico ham. It's a simple dish but full of flavor and round with buttery layers of fat.
A spiced grilled octopus ($14) evokes Grecian island fare with smoky char, sweet paprika and bits of potato, artichoke and tomato. It's slightly too fussy and landed somewhere between room temperature and hot, yet it compelled bite after bite as if in a challenge to discover something new in the recognizable.
The menu is heavy on entrees, divided by fish, meat and pasta, and many have a Cleveland-centric bent, such as the cornmeal-crusted walleye with corn risotto ($26), a somewhat one-note but delightfully textural dish. The star dish, however, is the intricately marbled Iberico pork secreto ($45) served with carrot puree and fried kale. If you can get it, that is.
"Right now there's no supply for it, but it's in customs," Tancredi explains. "But nobody else in Cleveland has it but me."
Iberico is a breed of black pig raised in Portugal on a diet of olives and acorns. It's considered some of the world's best ham. Secreto is a cut between the shoulder blade and rib cage. "You only get 2 pounds out of a whole pig, so the availability is obviously very limited," he says.
Overall, Adega delivers an elegant experience that will challenge your concept of what is familiar and foreign. There are still some kinks to work out in execution, but Tancredi and the management team are well aware of the challenges.
When You Go: 2017 E. Ninth St., Cleveland, 216-331-6289, metropolitancleveland.com/restaurant, breakfast Mon-Fri 6:30-10:30 a.m., lunch Mon-Fri 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner Sun-Thu 5-10 p.m., Fri and Sat 5-11 p.m., brunch Sat and Sun 6:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Try This: Desserts are made in-house, including the ice cream. Try the Manhattan, a chocolate-cherry bread pudding served with brown butter ice cream and bourbon butterscotch caramel. The brown butter gets strained and added to vanilla bean ice cream, which is frozen and whipped at a high speed using a special device called a Pacojet for a light, airy, sweet, nutty a la mode.
On Cloud 9
Adega executive chef Eddie Tancredi walks us through his tips and toppings for the best flatbread this side of the Mediterranean.
"It all starts with the dough and proper fermentation from the yeast," says Tancredi. For the best dough, start the day before you actually want to eat. He recommends using King Arthur flour and dry active yeast. Dissolve 2 teaspoons yeast in 1 cup of lukewarm water until it starts to bubble. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 3 cups all-purpose flour and 1-1/4 teaspoons salt and knead 4-5 minutes in a stand mixer. "The trick is to not over-mix the dough," Tancredi warns. Once mixed, allow it to sit in the fridge for an hour, then portion into two and place back in the fridge overnight.
The next day, pull from the fridge and allow dough to warm to room temperature. "I like to roll out, starting by hand, with a rolling pin," says Tancredi. To get the oblong shape you'll find on your plate at Adega, though, he says to pull out a pasta roller and send it through on the No. 2 setting. Sprinkle the bottom with a little semolina flour or cornmeal to prevent sticking and give your crust "a different, crisp texture."
Heat your oven to the hottest setting possible, usually around 500 degrees for home ovens. If you have a pizza stone, put it in while the oven is still cold. If not, a heavy baking sheet will do.
Now for the best part: the toppings. "I like to stick to bold flavors and textures," says Tancredi. He starts by brushing roasted garlic oil — you can make this quickly in a shallow pan by gently heating a crushed clove of garlic and a generous splash of olive oil — then spreads sauteed wild mushrooms and feta cheese over the dough. "Less is more," he says, "a flatbread is not a deep dish." Leave about a quarter inch around the outside of the flatbread for a chewy ring of crust.
Cook until the edges are golden brown and cheese is bubbling, about 7-10 minutes, rotating occasionally while cooking. "When the flatbread comes out of the oven, I allow it to rest for a minute then hit the outside of the crust with more roasted garlic oil and place it back in the oven for about 30 seconds," he advises. For more texture and a touch of freshness, Tancredi likes to top his with a handful of arugula dressed in olive oil and Parmesan.