[Editorial note: We’ve inadvertently covered this restaurant before.]
I’ve been hearing about the Greenhouse Tavern for quite some time. (Follow the Columbus Slow Food Crew on Twitter, and you’re bound to see a word or two about the offal-loving joint in downtown Cleveland.) The plan was simple: arrive in Cleveland early on a Saturday, have lunch at Greenhouse Tavern (and avoid dinner prices), then meet up with our friends for an Ohio City dinner within walking distance of our bed and breakfasts. And it went something like that. Except for the lunch part. We eagerly arrived at the eatery to find it nearly empty. They were not open for lunch on the weekend.
It’s not the Itinerant Foodie style to write a piece on a place we’ve never been, so it’s safe to assume that I did not let this lack of foresight in trip planning stop me from dining at the tavern. Instead, after he’d been plied with a beer at an Indians game on Sunday (combined with a ton of sun; he’s not a complete lightweight) I asked Ben if we could have dinner at Greenhouse before we left town. He approved of the plan and I was a happy gal the rest of the game.
We sat outside, mainly so I could get pictures of our food. The restaurant is in an alley with half a dozen other eateries, most of which are designed for tourists who gravitate toward words such as “chicken parmesan” or “House of Blues.” I was impressed; this busy thoroughfare could have easily housed a chain restaurant and thrived. Instead an eatery with something as unpolished (and interesting) as scrapple dared to elevate the mix.
It’s a rare moment when great food and a great view collide into something affordable and attainable. And this is why I love the midwest.
Ever the gentleman, Ben suggested that we order as many things as I wanted to try. The menu is (confusingly) divided into “firsts,” “seconds,” “thirds,” and “halfs.” While I love most of the branding (including documentation on the menu of both sustainability partners and a list of current employees), I would have preferred a more direct naming method. Let’s go with “starters,” “small plates,” “mains” and “sides,” for example. At any rate, the first round included house-made ravioli stuffed with peas and carrot and served with lemon, mint and dill. I never did find the peas in this $9 dish, but I did find it incredible. Pureed (almost like baby food), the three pieces of ravioli brought the carrots to the limelight.
Next, crispy hominy with cracklins, red onion and lime juice. A midwestern take on the flavors of Southeast Asia, I shoveled several bites of this dish into my mouth, especially enjoying the cilantro and lime combination. In the end, this dish begged for a more humble vegetable accompaniment, but that’s the fault of the user, not the restaurant.
Instead of the French breakfast radishes offered on the menu, we went for the confit wings served with jalapeño, lemon juice, scallions and garlic. Because we make wise and healthy choices, clearly. I found myself (ever so delicately) sucking the skin off of the wings, which boasted a beautiful flavor combination combining the spicy jalapeño with the richness of butter and onion. The lemon flavor clung to each scallion and I giggled inside as Ben professed his love for the wings. (He’s not a breast man, nor a thigh man. His heart goes out to the wings. Weird.)
One of my favorites of the dinner was a dish of clams steamed in a broth of foie gras, butter, onion and vinegar. My bivalve matra (that the sauce always exceeds the meat) held true. While we were provided with plenty of grilled bread (so, so good), I actually found myself sipping from the bowl of rich broth. This is what gout looks like.
Our main dish was a saltimboca (on a pig plate!) featuring no fewer than four different types of pork. Served with a “red eye gravy” featuring coffee, the dish came together perfectly. I was overjoyed to find pork belly on the plate (a surprise; not on the menu!) and found that my first-ever helping of scrapple was reminiscent of breakfast, as a whole. The belly spread like a condiment and no bite went uneaten.
Above all, this is what I love about Greenhouse Tavern. This pig head. I went to the ladies (complete with a toilet that has a setting for both “liquids” and “solids”) and came out to a sort of hubbub on the patio. Someone (not us) had ordered the pig head. And every single person in the area was fascinated. I was not the only person to take a picture of this young man’s dinner; we were all geeking out. It was like a Slow Food party. The entire meal, actually, was an ongoing geek-out with our server, who’d once worked at a brewery and at Lola’s down the strip. He shared with us his favorite way to prepare pork belly and passionately described his experience in the brewing world with us. This geekdom made us feel at home.
What better way to finish a gushing review than with a low point? We ordered the vegan doughnuts for dessert. And they tasted like, well, vegan doughnuts. While I enjoyed a few bites of the sprinkles, I happily passed our dessert down our shared table to the gals we’d been chatting with any time a dish arrived to our table. Next time, I’ll just go with the Jeni’s. Or another beer.
Our (large for us) bill arrived underneath a baseball. Fitting. Not only had we come straight from the game, but they somehow softened the financial pain for Ben by presenting the damage with one of his favorite icons.
While I could give or take Drew Carey, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and even the Indians (my heart belongs to the Clippers), this restaurant is enough to dream of living in Cleveland. Simply put, I’m jealous of folks who can drop in for daily specials and seasonal menu changes. I will be back, no doubt. And next time, I’ll read more than just the menu before heading to the restaurant; I may even check out their hours.
The Greenhouse Tavern
2038 East 4th Street