Cleveland continues to be good to me on my regular visits here. On my last visit here I had an outstanding evening at Greenhouse Tavern, and learned that a substantial fraction of the culinary professionals there know and respect each other. Indeed, one of the last pieces of advice from the bartender at Greenhouse Tavern was that if I wanted some good beer and pizza, I should check out Bar Cento (where Greenhouse’s Jonathon Sawyer was chef before opening Greenhouse).
Interestingly, I also got a recommendation for Bar Cento from my friend Rick in Vermont, who happens to know the new chef at Cento, Michael Nowak, from his days as a culinary student at NECI. So that was two reasons to head to Bar Cento on this trip.
I’m rather glad I did. Bar Cento is located in the Ohio City part of Cleveland (West 25th), right around the corner from Great Lakes Brewing, which is a rather happening part of the Cleveland restaurant scene. I had, in fact, pegged Bar Cento’s sister establishment (Bier Markt, located next door and sharing seating and menus) as a place to check out. Indeed, the Bar Cento/Bier Markt co-location works quite well, since I was able to avail myself of the healthy selection of Belgian beers, eventually settling on a Delirium Tremens (although I was hoping for the sister brew from Huyghe, Delirium Nocturnum).
As far as food, this is where I may have made a gaffe. Several people, and the majority of the web reviews, all herald the pizza at Cento (indeed, when I showed up at the restaurant, chef Michael Nowak was on the television news showing off one of his pizzas). But having just come off of a pizza bender, I opted for some duckfat fries and a braised shortrib and canneloni bean, in a move that probably frustrates the folks that told me to come to Cento in the first place.
They shouldn’t be disappointed. The fries (cooked in a blend that mostly duck fat) were thorough excellent fries, with a nice crispy exterior transitioning to a nice, fluffy interior, nicely complemented by the flavor of the duck fat. These were definitely top-tier fries, the kind I wish every place could pull off (I need to hire some Belgian cook and go around to various pubs in the US and show their fry cooks how to make good fries).
The stew was also good, with nicely braised short rib meat, canneloni beans that were cooked just to the point of being soft but not squishy, held together by a nice sauce that hearty but not salty. I may have missed an opportunity by not getting pizza, but I certainly can’t say I missed out on a good meal.
So Bar Cento is definitely on my “repeat visit” list, and hopefully one of the next times I’m in town I’ll be able to return and try the pizza. However, it’s competing for attention with several other Cleveland spots, I’ve got several of Michael Symon’s places (B Spot, in particular) on my hit list, as well as a return trip to Quince in Olmsted Falls (where I had a truly phenomenal lunch, but having gone there straight from NASA Glenn, I didn’t have my camera with me).