If you’ve read my musings on food for this publication, not only do you deserve kudos for your intelligence, wit, good looks and all-around awesomeness, you also may have noticed that I possess an affinity for the big city of my youth: Akron. So I was thrilled when my editor suggested I visit Downtown Akron’s new, hip eatery, Crave.
In a zip code where most venues seem to cater to the crowd who thinks of surgery when you mention “new” and “hip” in the same sentence, trying anything interesting in the Akron dining scene can be a big gamble.
So DeAnna Akers and Aaron Hervey, co-owners and head chefs of Crave, must be World Series of Poker bettors, because they’ve given the Rubber City a beautiful restaurant that’s more cosmopolitan than anything we’ve seen in quite a while.
While I was too shy to come right out and ask how much their comfortably trendy and well-appointed eatery cost to create, I would venture to say “a lot.” (Yes, I know it’s brave to throw a number like that out there, but I’m a daring guy.)
Actually, I’m just the guy for a bold concept like Crave, where the hype and the experience coincide.
On its Web site, Crave boasts:
“Tired of mundane menu offerings at casual restaurants? Not in the mood for fine-dining formalities? Crave gives you the best of both worlds, with moderately priced, creative comfort foods served up in a sensational setting.
“Here, you’ll find quite a diverse crowd. Crave fans include everyone from suits to soccer moms, hipsters to railroad workers. Our regulars speak volumes about the variety of our offerings — we’ve got something for everyone’s cravings, including yours.”
Well, there you go. Just like I would have said it.
In a munificent gesture, I invited my old man to come along with me, as I figured a trip to a cool, new dining spot in Downtown Akron would be at least mildly thrilling for a man who spent his entire career as an executive at Goodyear Aerospace and its various subsequent corporate incarnations. Plus, I probably owe him a couple of meals for feeding and housing me during the 18 or so years it took me to matriculate through grade 12.
We were seated at a two-top in the center of the long, lean dining room. While the space itself is awash with vibrant colors, gauzy floor-to-ceiling drapes, super-cool lighting fixtures and comfortable-looking booths, our table brought out our shared and genetically-imprinted agoraphobia, and we asked to be moved elsewhere.
Luckily, elsewhere was Crave’s comfortable bar, where we immediately felt more at ease and ready to begin what was to become a big night of eating and drinking.
The menu at Crave, which may differ somewhat by the time you read this, is a nice, rambling jumble of affordable, comfortable and cutting-edge culinary creations that run the gamut from offerings such as jumbo chicken wings ($7) and grilled cheese and tomato soup (cup $3, bowl $4) to more ambitious items such as the grilled portabello and wild rice pancake short stack with lavender butterscotch sauce and vanilla chive butter ($7).
Like everything else at Crave, the wine list is eclectic and approachable, with most bottles in the $20 to $30 range.
Pa and I thoroughly enjoyed the soup while waiting on wine and other apps, remembering times gone by when Mom would feed us this wintry Saturday afternoon favorite. The mushrooms and pancakes, however, proved slightly less pleasant, due primarily to the lavender butterscotch sauce that was on the sickening side of sweet.
On the up side, the wild rice pancakes and vanilla chive butter were delicious and perfectly paired.
While we enjoyed the first of three bottles of wine (no, that’s not a misprint), my old man and I continued to cut a wide swath through the appetizer list at Crave, greatly enjoying the chorizo sausage and goat cheese-stuffed fried Sicilian olives ($5), which were perfectly matched with a savory smoked tomato sauce and saffron-ish aioli, the remarkably good buttermilk-dipped fried green tomatoes with tomatillo salsa, crabmeat and chili sour cream ($5), and the intriguingly peculiar, yet deliciously odd cumin and curry dusted fried pickle chips with caramelized onion raita (yogurt sauce) ($6).
Another bottle of wine accompanied our entrÃƒ©e selections, with Dad opting for the char-grilled rum and vanilla glazed halibut over mashed plantains with mango salsa ($19) and Son going for the more modest, yet delicious BLT ($6) with peppered bacon, fried onions, chopped pickles, tapenade aioli and house-made mozzarella on sourdough. The sandwich was tasty and is probably a big hit during Crave’s daily lunch. In fact, each of Crave’s nine sandwiches, served during lunch and dinner, looked thoughtfully composed and thoroughly delicious.
The halibut, however, was a little less dazzling, having seemingly passed the point when someone in the kitchen should have opted for the “when in doubt, throw it out” mantra.
As a chef, I understand how hard it can be to toss expensive pieces of protein in the bin, with fine dining profit margins being perilously low to begin with, but as a diner, I have to say the customer comes first. Lastly (and not to belabor the point) as a food writer, I have to say, if someone had pulled the trigger on that $5 piece of fish rather than sending it to a table, 50,000 people wouldn’t be reading about it right now.
What I most want readers to retain, however, is that with a single, hopefully isolated exception, Crave is a great destination for dining whether you live in Portage Lakes or Lake County. The culinary hit parade included to-die-for, perfectly prepared jerked pork chops ($17) with apple butter demi-glace and seriously awesome Chihuahua cheese and fennel grits, as well as a green-tea-smoked grilled duck breast and leg of duck confit ($20) with delicious herbed spaetzle and an expertly crafted blood orange veal glace.
Dessert, which is where I leave you, was a tooth decay-inducing, upscale rendition of worms and dirt ($7) with Godiva chocolate and crumbled Oreo “dirt,” basil vanilla bean ice cream and strawberry Chambord sauce ... and one last bottle of wine. In closing, I’d like to thank the folks at Crave and my father, Larry Hundley, for a fabulous night out in the big city of my youth.
Crave, 57 E. Market St., Akron, (330) 253-1234. Kitchen hours: Mon-Thu 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sat 5 - 11 p.m. Bar open until 1 a.m. daily. Separate smoking section. All major credit cards accepted.