Once home to Cleveland's colossi of industry, including General Electric Co., Lincoln Electric Co. and Eaton Corp., the lakeshore neighborhood of Collinwood thrived for half a century as thousands of Irish, Italian and Eastern European immigrants found factory jobs and swelled the census.
Long before Legacy Village, East 185th Street was the East Side's main street shopping district. "It was every mom-and-pop clothing store, food store — everywhere, up and down the street," says Chris Hammer, co-owner and general manager of the Standard, which occupies one of those former spaces.
Yet racial strife, suburban flight and the eventual decline of manufacturing took its toll on the neighborhood. But Collinwood — following the West Side's Tremont and Ohio City neighborhoods — is attempting a comeback, employing the same attributes that made it great in the past: walkable streets, authentic shops and an appreciation for its culture.
Like the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern, Bistro 185 and the nonprofit Waterloo Arts, the Standard beckons new life in Collinwood. Along a stretch of drab storefronts, vacant theaters and corner marts, a single vertical marquee broadcasts its name with tinted glass substituting for bold neon, making it a little too easy to pass right by the unassuming gastropub. While it might not stand out from its flashier neighbors, the Standard is definitely different.
"It was a dark and dingy bar for so many years," says Hammer of the former Harland Pub. Though the spot is casual enough for jeans and a button-up, Hammer patrols the front of the house in a suit and tie on most nights. It's his way of illustrating that there's more to this neighborhood than dive bars and vacant storefronts.
The space is similarly outfitted: Exposed brick walls, dark-wood trim, crystal chandeliers, a tin ceiling and a few unexpected pops of robin's egg-blue plaster look inviting and trendy. Local photographer Tim Lachina's works hang throughout, buffing the city's gritty side smooth with his stark black-and-white images of the ghosts of Cleveland manufacturing.
And in a bold move to embrace the neighborhood, an open kitchen concept extends beyond the requisite chef's-table view as large picture windows expose the entire space to the street.
Hammer feels it's important for passers-by to see what's happening inside. "It's alive, in one way, shape or form," he says.
Hammer and his business partner, Matt Quinn, took a similar bet on opening Paragon in downtown Euclid four years ago. As with their first joint venture, they also put their own backs into bringing the Standard to life.
"We chiseled down the walls, we ripped down the ceilings, we ripped up the floors, we built the bar," Hammer explains.
The Standard opened its doors in January with a menu — designed jointly by executive chef Patrick Fisher and Tim Bando, who left to open Grove Hill in Chagrin Falls this July — created to be shareable with lots of appetizers, tapas-style dishes and entrees priced by small or large portions. In a departure from its decor, though, the dishes are a conscientious reflection of Collinwood.
Hammer explains that the food honors its heritage as a melting pot of Slovenian, Croatian, Irish, Italian and African-American. Still, even the most traditional ethnic favorites get enough of a twist to keep the noshes here novel: beef stroganoff ($14 small, $23 large) swaps outdated beef tips for braised short ribs, and chicken paprikash ($12 small, $23 large) departs the realm of run-of-the-mill with confit drumsticks. It's a fresh take and bold for an Old World neighborhood.
It's possible to eat your fill in salads and snacks here, as the offerings are varied and inexpensive, and attentive servers are happy to keep the food coming. An adventurous-sounding chilled beet salad ($7) with ricotta salata simultaneously struck earthy, citrusy and briny notes, and shredded Brussels sprouts ($7) with blue cheese quickly disappeared, despite the generous size.
By the time the table cleared enough for entrees, the small portion of spaetzel ($12) would have been a better choice than the large ($21). Though the chicken was spoon-tender and the dish was balanced with salty prosciutto, crisp peas and sweet onion, most of it went home in a takeout container.
But perhaps the best representation of the Standard's personality comes in its humbler offerings: The mac 'n' cheese ($10) made with Gruyere and Parmesan and sprinkled throughout with fresh chive is both homey and elevated. A traditional wedge salad ($6) took an unexpected turn with bacon croutons — crispy breaded cubes of pork belly — and the Standard Burger ($12), both in name and description, was expertly cooked.
Though the Standard is just the latest on Collinwood's list of establishments that are working toward a stronger, safer and more vibrant community, the restaurant doesn't take itself too seriously.
Rather than your traditional "W" or "M" for bathroom signage, photos of Collinwood natives Monica Potter and Danny Greene (actress and gangster, respectively) shepherd patrons through the appropriate doors.
Just like the restaurant itself, it's unexpected, it's clever and it's totally Cleveland.
WHEN YOU GO
The Standard, 779 E. 185th St., Cleveland, 216-531-9643, thestandardcleveland.com
Sun-Thu 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri and Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Five to Try
The Standard's Chris Hammer shares his favorite restaurants with us.
Chris Hammer, who grew up helping out with his family's wine and beer distributing company, got to know most of the city's landmark restaurants and culinary heavyweights through the back doors. "I've made deliveries to every restaurant in the city since I was a kid, so I've always known where to go, whether it was Bruno's or Velvet Tango Room," says the Standard's co-owner and general manager.
Check out his recommendations for the five best eats in town, including pizza, pastries and pecan desserts. "Some people come [to Cleveland] and they just go, 'OK, what do I do,' " Hammer explains. "You kind of need to explore."
Marotta's: Founded by New York-native Brian Linihan and his wife, Alicia, almost 15 years ago, Marotta's is a Cleveland Heights hidden gem. Despite the restaurant's diminutive size, it churns out huge New York-style pies with toppings such as fresh mozzarella, plum tomatoes and basil. "I mean, there's definitely good pizza in Cleveland, without a doubt," Hammer says. "But it's life-changing." 2289 Lee Road, Cleveland, 216-932-9264, marottas.com
Flour: This guy loves his pizza. "Don't get me wrong, I love a New York-style pizza," Hammer says, but when it comes to the 90-second Neapolitan pizza at Flour, though, "I feel like the two are completely different." Hammer says he's usually a dine-in kind of guy, but there are advantages to eating at home. "I do like cold pizza the next day, no matter what anyone tells you." 34205 Chagrin Blvd., Moreland Hills, 216-464-3700, flourrestaurant.com
Luna Bakery and Cafe: "I try to [eat healthy]," says Hammer, "but that doesn't mean it actually happens." Luna Bakery's pastry chef and owner Bridget Thibeault makes killer cakes, pastries and paninis at her cafe in the Cedar-Fairmount neighborhood, and Hammer is a fan of the made-to-order crepes. But it's her salty caramel macaron cookies that steal the show there, he insists. "I definitely have a sweet tooth, without a doubt." 2482 Fairmount Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-231-8585, lunabakerycafe.com
Bistro 185: While he and his partner Matt Quinn were working on opening the Standard, Hammer filled some of his downtime bartending at the nearby Bistro 185. You'll still find him there on occasion, even if he's on the other side of the bar. "I'm still friends with everyone who works there and the owner, so I go down there whenever I get a chance to sneak away," he says. 991 E. 185th St., Cleveland, 216-481-9635, bistro185.com
Grovewood Tavern: "Everything they do really is wonderful," Hammer maintains. That might be true, but it's his sweet tooth that wins out again. "I am highly addicted to this pecan cake dessert that I can't seem to stay away from." 17105 Grovewood Ave., Cleveland, 216-531-4900, grovewoodtavern.com