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Outside Sources

Small venues find ways to serve up big tastes

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Who among us can say they've had to rent shoes just to attend a culinary affair? Yet that's the case at least once a month at Mahall's 20 Lanes in Lakewood, where bowling and big-name chefs collide for an odd yet entertaining evening.

Mahall's has a kitchen, but they regularly hand it over to a guest chef, preferring to focus on other aspects of the multifaceted operation.

"We are certainly not food experts," explains Joe Pavlick, who along with his wife, sister-in-law, and her husband purchased the 90-year-old bowling alley in January. "We think having a guest-chef series and the ability to highlight the hot local food scene complement our vision very well."

Since taking over, the new owners have entrusted the kitchen to chefs from nearby Root Café, Zappatelli's, and Barroco Grill, as well as Eric Williams from Momocho, who hosted a Latin street-foods fest. For the recent Buckwheat Zydeco show, Mahall's invited the Zydeco Bistro food truck to roll on by.

Across town at the recently opened BottleHouse in Cleveland Heights, owners Brian Benchek and Dave Schubert never even considered adding a commercial kitchen to their bar and brewery. But they fully grasp that a hungry customer will leave with his cash if you can't feed him.

"It's a balance," explains Benchek. "We want to provide food, but we don't want to have to deal with the logistics that go along with providing food. We didn't want a kitchen and all the things that go with it."

The BottleHouse and Mahall's join an ever-increasing number of local establishments that want to offer their customers interesting and creative fare without the hassles of daily food service.

From the start, BottleHouse customers were encouraged to bring their own food, an approach that works fine for those who plan ahead. Food deliveries were the next logical progression, with customers ordering out for pizza or Thai food.

"We know that people want more food," adds Benchek. "Every night we're throwing away five- to six-foot-high stacks of pizza boxes."

These days, BottleHouse guests supplement the pies with freshly made pierogi and stuffed cabbages from Perla Pierogi, a small outfit that takes up daily residence in the brewery. Beginning in mid-August, In Forno wood-fired pizzas will be making regular visits to the bar.

"These are symbiotic relationships," says Benchek, adding that neither party pays the other for services rendered. "Completely hands-off from our end of it, other than providing the space."

Often, a bar or club couldn't run a commercial kitchen even if it wanted to, given space or budget constraints.

"The full-on chef and kitchen thing would be cool, but we don't have the room," says Crystin Stoll, manager of Now That's Class. Instead, the club buys empañadas, enchiladas, and tamales from Orale Mexican Cuisine and reheats them onsite. On Tuesdays and Sundays, the club dishes up vegan specialties, also prepped off-site.

"It's making the kitchen work, as far as money and space are concerned," Stoll adds. "And it's better than just having a bag of Cheetos or something."

On the days when Mahall's hasn't been appropriated by a guest chef, the kitchen prepares a simple menu of fried chicken, burgers, and tacos. But even that is offered just a few days a week, with the remainder reserved for BYO food.

"We try to keep a few days open for that because it's always been a tradition here," says Pavlick. "But people love the fact that at least once a month they can experience one of Cleveland great local chefs."

So far, the assorted players contend these arrangements truly are win-win-win, with management, guests, and food providers all benefitting from the transaction.

That includes even well-known chefs like Williams, who is busy running two popular eateries: Momocho and Happy Dog.

"First of all, you expose yourself to a different crowd," says Williams. "How many people who don't know about Momocho go to Mahall's?

"Second, it's a way for me to be a little more creative, and to do something that's not part of the daily grind.

"And third, we get to work in other kitchens with other cooks, and chefs, and managers. You have fun and learn how other people do things.

"In the end, it's all good."

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