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First Look: Toast Wine Bar

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Federal attorney by day, wine bar owner by night, Jillian Davis has parlayed her fondness for great food and wine into Toast, a great new addition to the Gordon Square neighborhood.

"From frying chicken with my mother to making chocolate mousse at age 12, I have always found the kitchen to be a refuge," Davis explains.

That childhood passion matured into an adult obsession to find the ideal location for her wine bar concept. Though the exact address might have been a mystery, the surrounding neighborhood was not. "I've lived in the neighborhood for 11 years. I thought my concept would fit perfectly," says Davis.

While strolling down West 65th Street with a friend, she noticed the old Biley Building, a century-old structure that long was home to a bakery. "We were captivated," Davis recalls. "It looked like the little shop that time had forgotten."

From start to finish, Davis was respectful of the building during her ambitious renovations. Like most buildings of that era that housed a business, the space had a street-level retail portion up front and the residence in back. The front space now boasts a custom-built communal table, repurposed from an old flowerbed. The raised rear section now houses the bar, dining rooms and kitchen. Seating for 70 is scattered throughout the space at a 12-seat bar and in cozy rooms consistent to the original floor plan, giving the wine bar a very intimate feel.

Exposed brick, distressed wood, slate tile and an acid-treated zinc bartop combine to give the room a warm, organic feel.

While small, the kitchen here possesses some big-time chef power. Executive chef and front-of-house manager Jennifer Plank is no stranger to local and sustainably minded cooking. As former sous chef at Greenhouse Tavern and executive chef at Noodlecat, she picked up plenty of farm-to-table cred from her boss and mentor Jonathon Sawyer. Her boyfriend and sous chef Joe Horvath, another Greenhouse alum, complements Plank perfectly.

The pair pens a new menu almost weekly to best take advantage of the ever-changing local food supply. "They plan on bringing locally grown food and brews back to the forefront of the Cleveland restaurant scene," explains Davis. "Growing their own produce, raising their own chickens and using a small local brewery are the main focus of Toast."

During a recent visit we sampled the pig skins ($7), Toast's take on traditional potato skins. A crispy pig ear serves as a base for potato puree, cheddar, bacon and scallions. In a word, amazing. The spring mushroom soup ($8), prepared with Killbuck Valley oyster mushrooms, is tasty in all kinds of weather, as is a hearty coconut curried chicken ($15), served with braised collards. The best part? Toast serves food until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

The wine list is both extensive and eclectic, while the spirits program is centered around artisanal and pre-Prohibition-era cocktails. Toast makes its own bitters, tonics, tinctures and infusions. You likely won't regret ordering the Old Trafford ($11), a shaken mixture of gin, fresh lime juice, pineapple gomme and toasted grapefruit bitters. The Sir Alex ($11) stars Laphroaig 10-year scotch, which is hand-stirred with Fernet-Branca, Capano Antica and toasted mole bitters. One sip and you'll be blown away.

A little-known brewery in Wooster called Just Another Fine Brewery currently is featured on tap and also incorporated into a few of the chef-inspired menu items.

If you seek out places that are committed to sourcing great local ingredients, preparing them with a chef's touch, and pairing them with great wine and cocktails, put Toast on your must-hit list.

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