Friday, February 11, 2011
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Fracas, an American Gastro-Pub, is the latest addition to Cleveland’s ever expanding restaurant roster. Opening late last year in the Centrum Theater at the corner of Coventry and Euclid Heights Boulevard, I’d been curious about before it even opened due to its Gabbo-like hype campaign. A hand painted sign reading “Fracas” first appeared on the awning buttressed by the Dog House and Chipotle. Later a sign in the window declared that it “[was] Coming.” Eventually the signage disclosed that Fracas was going to be a restaurant around the same time I started seeing ads in Scene, Cleveland’s free weekly. So my curiosity had been piqued already when I noticed that the print ads Fracas was running were declaring it “The Best New Restaurant in Cleveland!” A rather bold statement, I thought; a challenge even. And so with little hesitation I agreed to accompany Nicole to this new spot for dinner this past Tuesday.
Luckily Fracas is only a few blocks from either of our apartments so braving the latest storm-of-the-century-of-the-week was little problem. We entered the front doors of the old Centrum building to find the hostess sitting behind the disused ticket counter. She quickly escorted us down the hall and into one of the theaters. With no real way of knowing from the outside, I was slightly shocked to find that Fracas is massive. With a 3 or 4 story high ceiling and taking up almost all of the theater’s former seating area, Fracas has the potential to accommodate some large crowds, throngs, even. A huge peninsula of a bar juts through the middle of the dining room, adorned with fifteen taps. Surrounded by several dozen high stools, the bar alone seats more than some restaurants in the area.
It seems we were the first to arrive, and being the only two guests in this cavernous space was a little strange, but the staff on hand was amazingly friendly so the slightly uncomfortable feeling was quickly assuaged. Glancing through the drink and food menus I was relieved to find the drink menu was notably larger than the food. While I appreciate options at restaurants I feel, sometimes, that a menu too large spreads the quality too thin, at least when it comes to food. A competent bar tender should be able to master a laundry list of libations, but too much variety in the kitchen can compromise quality even in the strongest kitchens. Making a final choice was tough, so we just picked drinks first. I went local with an Old 21 Imperial IPA from Strongsville’s Brew Kettle. A rich, gold/blond colored ale with a touch of head and decent lacing, Old 21 is packed with citrusy hops, mostly grapefruit with a hint of orange and pine, and a pleasant bitter-malt aftertaste that borders the taste profile of some barley wines. Nicole chose Stone’s Levitation, an American amber ale with a strong hop presence but without the heft of a lot of Stone’s other offerings. Similar to Arrogant Bastard, but it’s possible to drink more than one or two Levitations in an evening if inclined.
With drink orders in we were still uncertain of our food choices so we selected an appetizer from the simple but well appointed offerings. House made potato chips with bacon onion dip was the final call, although the calamari, shell fish, and pretzels also sounded promising. The chips were solid, but not the best homemade chips I’ve ever had, they either needed to be dried more thoroughly pre-fry or drained better post-fry. Either way a fair few were greasy and limp and still tasting of fryer oil, the successful chips were wonderful. But the real star of this opening act was the dip, taking rich, decadent onion dip, always a favorite, and ratcheting up the deliciousness with bacon was inspired. The sweet/saltiness of the bacon balanced out the creaminess of the dip base, while the pork fat partnered with the mayo and sour cream for a ménage trois of artery wrecking flavor.
Our minds now slightly relieved of order anxiety we were finally able to place entrée orders. I selected the angus burger under the belief that most restaurants can be reasonably judged based on the execution of their burger. Nicole chose excellent sounding gnocchi. On such a slow night orders arrived quickly and we were able to dive right in. My burger, ordered somewhere south of medium and north of medium-rare, was cooked perfectly, solid seer on the outside, equally pink and brown in, allowing for the maximum flavor combination of meat and heat. And, man, was it meaty! Like beef on ten, just a few nibbles of meat this good could convert most of PETA. Topped with caramelized onions in Port reduction, apple wood bacon, and smoked Gouda, Fracas could almost be accused of gilding the lily with this dish. Luckily all the ingredients married so well that it was like devouring a four part harmony between grilled brioche. For my side I picked the fries (the other option being the chips, but we’d already ordered those), which were obviously cut fresh and delicious, if a little soft on the outside. Nicole’s gnocchi was also excellent. Locally made Ohio City black pepper gnocchi came swimming in a smoked gouda Alfredo and accompanied by wild mushrooms, leeks, English peas, and grape tomatoes; as rich, hearty, and delicious as it sounds. My main concern when I saw the menu entry for it was that the gouda Alfredo would overwhelm the rest of the dish, but it was elegantly subtle, offering a rich smokiness on the back end of the palette, while allowing the rest of the swimmers room to shine. The meaty wild shrooms were the co-stars of this picture while the leeks provided some much needed onion-y high notes in this sumptuous affair, and the tomatoes and peas provided color and texture contrasts. An absolutely delicious but extraordinarily filling dish.
We agreed that our first experience with this new restaurant was great and warranted another visit in the near future, possibly for the fish and chips, meatloaf, or risotto. Or maybe just to try the intriguing beer-amisu from the dessert menu. Maybe not the best restaurant in Cleveland, Fracas is definitely a welcome addition and well worth a stop.