Dining » Dining Lead

Asleep at the Wheel

The beer rolls at Nano Brew, but the food falls flat


Ohio City — West 25th St. in particular — holds a special place in the hearts of Clevelanders who have a passion for dining. While numerous entrepreneurs have helped make this neighborhood successful, only a select few were there at its inception. One of them was Sam McNulty who, with his partnership group, recognized the heritage and potential of the area.

Since opening Bier Market in 2005, they haven't looked back. The addition of the critically acclaimed Bar Cento, Market Garden Brewery and Speakeasy solidified the reputation of this group as an industry leader in Northeast Ohio. As a fan myself, I was eager to check out their latest creation: Nano Brew, a mini-version of a standard brewpub. The concept is brewing a single barrel of beer at a time, with a one-barrel brew house system located a few feet from the bar.

Immediately upon entering, it's clear you are not in the former Garage Bar space. Splashes of industrial, urban and rustic designs complement a two-wheel motif. Exposed brick, Amish walnut wood floors, and a reclaimed wood bar and tabletops set the tone for a no-nonsense beer drinking environment. The most prominent design feature is bikes — the pedaling kind. Nano brewmaster Andy Tveekman has concocted "Radlers" (German for riders), low-alcohol beers designed for cyclists. Mixed with lemonade and other ingredients to increase hydration, these beverages minimize intoxication and reduce your possible PUI (pedaling under the influence). Nano also offers a nifty parking "corral" for up to 30 bikes, and discounts for riders with helmets. There's even a small shop for basic bike repairs.

I made my first visit on a busy Friday night, and found all the tables and barstools filled. With no host stand in sight, I waited as staff members walked past me numerous times. After 10 minutes, I finally managed to flag down a server who looked down at me like a second-class citizen and said, "We don't do waits here, it's first-come, first-served." I was eventually able to get a place at the bar, where after waiting for another 10 minutes and being ignored, I finally gave up and left.

Beside myself with disappointment, I was determined to give Nano another try. I picked a day and time — Monday at 4:45 p.m., 15 minutes after it opened — when crowds would not be an issue. My companion and I were the only people there, so it was easy to grab a couple barstools. The bartender was knowledgeable but still seemed to have an air of entitlement, like she was doing us a favor by waiting on us.

The endless sea of taps leaves no doubt that beer is the primary driver here. Nano offers one of the best draft selections in Northeast Ohio, with many of its 24 handles featuring local brews. The selections we tried were all ambitious and executed flawlessly. The KOLSCH, Nano Namber, and Nano Particle Accelerator will command liquid respect from rookies and beer snobs alike. With a respectable 5.5 percent A.B.V., Namber delivers the bitterness you expect from a world-class amber. A good KOLSCH is a delicacy in these parts, and Nano's is not good — it's great. The bright, straw-yellow hue and perfect punch of hops is a tribute to the century-old German recipe. My favorite, the Nano Particle Accelerator, is a double IPA with a bold, yet less sweet taste that goes down surprisingly easy. Consume with caution.

With the beer setting high expectations, we were ready to dive into the menu. But from the start, it fell short.

We began with the Stoner Poutine, which did not live up to its French Canadian moniker. It was hard to navigate — scallions topped the dish in long strands, which I removed to ensure a clean first bite. The chorizo chili, while tasty, completely smothered the accompanying waffle fries. What I thought would be the saving grace — the cheddar cheese — was too scarce to make any impact. If the dish was called chorizo chili fries, it would be a home run. But poutine this was not.

A second appetizer, Pumpkin Kibbe, was wrong from the first bite. Mixing pumpkin with this Middle Eastern classic invites a clash of opposites, and the pumpkin dough, cayenne honey, and curried pumpkin seed exterior do no justice to the chorizo and cheddar cheese interior. With these seasonal ingredients, I would expect a dessert filling rather than a heavily seasoned protein.

Then it was burger time. First up: the Breakfast Burger, which proved to be my least favorite. The English muffin was oversized and doughy. The maple beef patty appeared hand-packed, but desperately needed seasoning and was lost in the muffin bun. The bacon was well-cooked and tasty, but the American cheese was nonexistent.

The schnitzel sandwich seemed misplaced, both in being listed with the burgers on the menu, and served as just a schnitzel cutlet on a bun, sans any burger. It really needed the beef. The breading on the pork patty was expertly seasoned but overcooked and dry. Too much brown-butter caper aioli ruined the sandwich, and the arugula's aromatic taste overpowered the other flavors.

Still looking for a winner, we ordered the Nano, described as two 2-ounce sliders with beer-steamed onions, sharp cheddar, and whole grain mustard. The true mark of a slider is beef that covers the mini-bun. Nano must not have gotten the memo. The patty was again lost in the bun, and the cheese might as well have taken the day off. The onions, mustard, and well-seasoned, albeit small, patty acted as life preservers.

I finally resorted to asking the bartender for a recommendation; she suggested the Spicy Burger. Made with caramelized onion, sauteed poblanos, chilies and fresno, and topped with white American cheese and spicy aioli, it was the best of the bunch. The poblanos and chiles nailed the level of heat the burger needed. The American cheese finally showed up, and the aioli was properly portioned.

Despite the graveyard of burger baskets in front of me, I still wanted to finish with something sweet. The menu's sole dessert selection is Mitchell's homemade ice cream. But it's been unavailable for some time, according to the staff, because the restaurant's freezer is broken. With Mitchell's new headquarters moving in two doors away, maybe the ice cream for Nano can be held there.

To sum up Nano Brew in one statement: Great ownership, great concept, great beer, the menu needs help, and the staff needs to lighten up.


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