At 50, Tim Bando looks burly and bright with black Ray-Ban spectacles, a thick gray goatee and the kind of broad shoulders — and belly — you'd expect from a chef and father of four. He sits down and takes a sip of beer, then sets the glass down and shrugs as if to say, "What do you want to know?"
There's a lot to cover. The chef and owner of Grove Hill, located in the center of Chagrin Falls' shopping district, has a storied history. Though he's decidedly a chef now, Bando started his career waiting tables at Giovanni's, then managing a restaurant in Chicago, then farming. At 27, he worked as house manager at the Warehouse District's Piccolo Mondo with his friend and mentor Michael Symon, before joining Symon in the kitchen at Caxton Cafe.
Bando has worked with Jonathan Bennett of Moxie and Red, the Steakhouse, and Douglas Katz of Fire Food and Drink. He was executive chef and general manager of two multimillion-dollar restaurants in the Hamptons — at the same time. Oh, and the next restaurant he opened, in Manhattan, was nominated for a James Beard Award.
"You know that stereotypical chef: drunk all night, coke all day? This guy," he says, thumbing toward himself. "I got nominated for a James Beard Award when I was drunk and high."
He takes another sip — the beer in front of him is nonalcoholic — and looks around. "I would have liked to have a shot at doing that sober in New York, but that's never going to happen," he says. "So you do the best you can."
After a little less than a decade in New York, Bando and his family moved back to Northeast Ohio, settling in Chagrin Falls as he worked for a time at Crop Bistro and Bar, then Deagan's Kitchen and Bar, and then temporary gigs at Marigold Catering and the Standard.
His own restaurant, in the former Raintree spot, is 10 minutes from his home. In this tiny, well-to-do suburban enclave, Grove Hill has managed both to fit into its surroundings and to stand out from it.
Opened in July 2014, the restaurant maintains some of the homey, lived-in comfort of Raintree. Blue-gray beadboard, vintage-looking pendant lights, tufted black vinyl seats and the original picture window ground Grove Hill so the neighborhood's older residents feel just as at home here as the 20-something diners who drove from downtown. It's charming.
"I've opened 14 restaurants," Bando says. "So far, this has been the hardest." Grove Hill is the first he's owned himself, and newfound budgetary constraints mean living with existing decor or sacrificing badly wanted upgrades. "I'm never satisfied."
The same cannot be said of his patrons, probably for that very reason. On a Tuesday night, every seat in the house is occupied. The four-man team in the kitchen, including Bando, slams out dishes nonstop for several hours, trying to keep up with the dangling stream of tickets issuing from the printer. Though the age gap between the youngest line cook and himself probably spans three decades, the chef shows no signs of slowing — or of lowering expectations.
Barking commands rise above the din of controlled chaos, cursing and minor crashes: "Why is this still here?" "All day chicken liver, cauliflower, arancini, Brussels sprouts," and "Eighty-six beignets!" A steaming plate of mussels appears, filling the kitchen with the aroma of butter, toast and garlic, mixing with cinnamon, grilling fish, sugar and vinegar.
His staff responds with "OK, Tim," not "Oui, chef." There are no precision tweezers here, no obligatory piles of microgreens or preciously stacked baby vegetables.
The food is just really good.
The menu at Grove Hill is heavy on small plates, a nod to both his Mediterranean tapas-style bent and his years serving New York-sized portions. With nearly two dozen options, it's possible — encouraged, even — to make a meal out of several smaller dishes. Vegetarians beware: You won't go hungry, but few dishes leave out meat entirely.
A dish of pepper-crusted tuna ($12) balanced with arugula and a roasted red pepper relish hits spicy, cool and fresh notes all at once. The tuna is deep pink and still moist, obviously sliced just seconds before hitting the table. Shaved Brussels sprouts ($8) tossed with crispy bacon, sharp blue cheese and toasted walnuts are tasty enough to prompt a second order, and a crock of mac and cheese ($9 for half, $16 for full) delivers creamy bites of Gruyere tamed with fresh chives.
But the ingredient that truly sings in every iteration is the humble chicken. Arguably one of the best dishes in Cleveland, the roasted half chicken ($22) is the perfect marriage between the local culinary scene and Bando's less bounded skill. It reminds you of home, if your mom had ever been nominated for a James Beard Award. Perfectly juicy but with bone-dry, crackling golden skin, the chicken is accompanied with a soft and savory mushroom, thyme and goat cheese bread pudding, plus a side of Swiss chard that actually melts in your mouth.
Try telling the chef that, however. He grumbles his appreciation, but with his next breath says he's working on a complete overhaul of the menu. "I'm sick of it all," he says.
While that might mean Grove Hill will never become your every-Wednesday-night roast chicken place, it also means you can expect more — much more — to come from Bando and his casual, crazy-good cooking.
He drains the last of his virgin beer and rests his elbows on the table. His forearm is a cornucopia of colorful vegetables, underlined by a black tattoo in Latin that reads Ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt (Fate leads those who follow, drags those who don't).
Try This: The Spanish chicken wing small plate ($10) is a showstopper with brined, baked and flash-fried wings doused in smoky-spicy-sweet piment d'Espelette. The dish's cooling element comes from a slaw of shaved celery and Manchego.
Cooking with Bando
Tim Bando, chef and owner of Grove Hill in Cuyahoga Falls, schools us on how to roast a chicken without overcooking it, plus a recipe for his savory bread pudding — the perfect side to serve with your bird.
Flawless Roasted Chicken
- Take the chicken out of its packaging and remove the bag with gizzards from the cavity. Pat dry with paper towel.
- "I'm a big fan of early seasoning," Bando says. Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper, then return to the fridge for about an hour.
- Remove from the fridge and return to room temperature. Truss the legs, if you know how. Otherwise, insert a halved lemon into the cavity. Either one will prevent excess moisture loss during roasting.
- Here's the key to crispy skin: "Blast it in the oven at the highest setting your oven will go for 10 to 15 minutes," says Bando.
- Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F and finish cooking, about 35 to 40 minutes. Most people overcook chicken, Bando advises. "It might be a little pink at the joint. But it won't be overcooked."
- Rest chicken for about 10 minutes before cutting. This actually finishes the cooking process and lets the juices redistribute throughout the tissues.
Mushroom Bread Pudding
1 loaf cubed brioche bread (about 8 cups
6 cups cremini mushrooms, quartered (about 1 pound
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 quart heavy cream
6 ounces goat cheese
Salt and pepper
Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
Toss mushrooms with chopped garlic, enough oil to coat and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Spread onto a baking sheet and roast until golden brown and most of the liquid has evaporated. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and let mushrooms cool.
Whip eggs, heavy cream and thyme together.
Fold mushrooms into the heavy cream mixture. Then fold in bread cubes.
Soak about 10 minutes. Spoon mix into an oven-safe, buttered casserole dish or muffin pan and cover. If there is excess liquid that hasn't soaked into the bread, pour it out. Bake until the top has browned and the custard is set (the center should jiggle a little when you pull it from the oven).