Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fine Dining on a Budget in Cleveland

Fine dining and reasonable budgets don’t always mix, but if you know where to look you can find exactly that in the Ohio City neighbor hood of Cleveland. Located on West 25th street, around the corner from the Great Lakes Brewing Company, is Sam McNulty’s mini-empire. The most recognizable portion of this is Bier Markt, a bar modeled after Belgian beer halls, serving a variety of beers with a focus on beers from Belgium. Also located within the building is Bar Cento (pronounced chen’-toh) which is where my friend Kate and I ended up eating an amazing meal last night.

Originally we had planned on getting Indian food, but there is a dearth of decent sub-continental cuisine on the near west side of Cleveland. Hungry and undeterred we wracked our brains for food ideas. Ultimately we decided that (A) we weren’t hungry for any certain food stuff or ethnic cuisine so (B) any and everything was on the table and that (C) our destination should offer the following:
1. Good eats
2. Decent prices and
3. Beer
We also stipulated that dinner could not be too heavy as we both had post-meal plans.

Finally Kate suggested Bar Cento, a place I had heard of (it’s owned by my landlord) but had never been. Kate vouched for the tastiness and reasonable pricing of their food, so we made the trek. On our arrival things were jumping, but we were told there would be but a 10-minute wait for a table. This seemed reasonable for a Friday night so we grabbed a seat and some beers from the bar. The beer: Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale; rich, spicy, and with a hint of orange, this is the beer to drink this winter, hands down. But be warned its ABV is 7.5 so they can, and will, sneak up on you.

We noticed a few of our other bar mates were happily munching away so we decided to grab some menus and eat at the bar instead of waiting for a table. Bar Cent has a nice, big, heavy bar so this is not a problem. The menu is short but solid, boasting a variety of Italian fare, a strong beer selection, and a huge wine selection.

After a few minutes of scanning the menu we came to the conclusion that we wanted pizza, narrowing our choices from Bar Cento’s 10 pies down to 2. The finalists: Apple Prosciutto with gorgonzola or Sunnyside with provolone, pancetta, eggs, and black pepper. The victor: Sunnyside. While Bar Cento’s pizzas would make a fine meal for one, split two ways they might not make it so we ordered some anti-pasta, too. While there are a number of meats, cheese, olives, and pickles to choose from, we decided to try a bit of them all with the Big Board, a sampling of all the meats and cheeses.

Having ordered we sipped our Christmas Ales and waited. When our food arrived, and promptly, too—considering the number of people in the bar that night—we didn’t know where to start. The pizza looked like the dream of the breakfast lovers everywhere and the anti-pasta board was loaded with incredible looking fare. We tucked-in to the meats and cheese first sampling a little bit of everything. The Spanish chorizo was at the top of my meat list, along with the prosciutto. I was pleasantly surprised by something called bresola and Italian cured beef, with a tangy bite. Cheese wise I was pretty into all of them but there were two nutty, hard cheeses reminiscent of Romano and Parmigianino, and a delicious few slices of a cheese that tasted like a hard brie. The few slices of pickled cauliflower that came along were tasty but no mach for the rest of the board. The big surprise of this portion of the meal: prosciutto wrapped dried cherries, wow!

As for the pizza, well, I love few things on this earth more than pizza and breakfast. Sure, you can eat pizza for breakfast and it’s great. You can have breakfast for dinner, that’s great, too. But the two have never fully reconciled, until the Sunnyside. Rich, tangy provolone and pancetta set a delicious foundation for the 4 sunny-side-up eggs baked on top. This was really a perfect bite almost every time, few blank spots and plenty of the good stuff all on top a great thin crust.

As we digested and finished our beers Kate and I agreed on a few things. That (1) this was exactly what we wanted (2) neither of us had known that before eating and (3) that made it all the better. We also agreed after the Big Board had been all but licked clean that there are few pleasures in life as deliciously simple as meat, cheese, and bread. Very little else is needed, save for good spirits and good company. Economically speaking we did ok, too. About $15 each for some delicious pizza and a healthy portion of artisanal cheeses and cured meats, while not the dollar menu, is still pretty reasonable in my book.

For the full menu, directions, and links to Bier Markt and Speakeasy, visit their website here:


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