When Steve Schimoler closed Crop Rocks and Crop Sticks in September 2016, Backyard Bocce swooped into the Flats East Bank spot and seemed to fill a void.
It mixed the fun activity with a small, easy menu of pizza from Dante’s Inferno — a sign of the casual dining transformation our city was going through at the time.
But somewhere, something shifted. Instead of promoting great dishes that are affordable, quick and packed with flavor, business owners started opting for gimmicky entertainment-driven tactics to get Clevelanders in the door: a duckpin bowling spot in Tremont and a take on a ’70s basement-style bar in the Flats.
The plate got pushed aside. Ingredients aren’t as important. Flavors get muddled. Presentation and quality aren’t No. 1.
Sure, spots such as Punch Bowl Social in the Flats have navigated how to combine entertainment with cuisine. But if Cleveland wants a reputation as a culinary destination, we must constantly look for ways to improve and evolve our food first.
Within the last 18 months, solid restaurants serving inventive, elevated food such as Willeyville and Graffiti Social Kitchen have closed. Vita Urbana and Portside also struggled to find an audience.
I haven’t heard of plans on who or what will take their place.
But it’s an opportunity for our creative and passionate chefs to help put the plate back where it needs to be — front and center.
8:00 AM EST
March 6, 2018