After 17 years in the biz — including time in the kitchens of big-name chefs like Parker Bosley and Marlin Kaplan — Jeff James is digging his role as top toque at Reddstone, the evolving bar and bistro in the Gordon Square district.
Closed for renovations since early March, Reddstone marks its grand reopening on Thursday, May 3. Visitors will find a fresh, contemporary, but still cozy decor and a kitchen that serves up a sophisticated take on your typical bar food.
"It's all about vibrant, bold, clean flavors," James told us during a recent sneak peek. That much was clear in the shredded pork soft tacos: juicy, plush, and full of meaty goodness. To get that richness, James says, he braises the meat in cola for six hours before hitting it with a homemade barbecue sauce goosed with apple-ginger vodka.
Other "small plate"-style noshes include crisp, moist, bacon-wrapped shrimp with hints of basil and sage, and Buffalo-style calamari with piquant notes of sriracha, smoked sea salt, and vinegar. Veggie tempura went the whimsical route, dished up in a Chinese-restaurant carryout container; "shogun" dipping sauce — a high-test reduction of soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and pineapple juice — comes with.
Also on the menu: burgers, sandwiches, salads, flatbread pizzas, and daily dessert specials from sous chef Crystal Golias, along with a solid lineup of craft beers and creative cocktails. The OYO Mule ($7) was particularly delectable, with its creamy blend of Ohio-made OYO honey-vanilla vodka and Gosling's ginger beer.
Besides his other mentors, James gives plenty of credit to chef-restaurateur Fabio Salerno (Lago, Gusto, Grotto), who is one of four Reddstone co-owners.
"Fabio is one of the best chefs and friends I've ever had," he says. "He's made me a better chef."
Upgrades to the main dining area include improved traffic flow, new paint, the installation of rustic maple-slab tables, and a wall-sized photo mural featuring neighborhood landmarks. Still to come: renovations to the popular patio and upstairs dining room.
Starting Thursday, Reddstone's kitchen hours will be 4 p.m. to midnight daily; the bar will stay open till 2 a.m. Find them at 1261 West 76th St. in Battery Park; call 216-651-6969 or visit reddstonecleveland.com.
ROCBAR-B-Q: Until recently, if diners wanted Scott Slagle and Walter Hyde's righteous barbecue, they had to boogie on down to Fat Casual BBQ in Macedonia. Now we simply have to hit RocBar on the east bank of the Flats. A new partnership brings the sweet, sweet 'cue up to Cleveland, with ribs, pulled pork, brisket, and chicken, not to mention sides and specials, offered during lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. RocBar is at 1220 Old River Rd.; view the menu at rocbarcleveland.tumblr.com.
INTO THE SUNSET: Cropicana at Whiskey Island will not be back for an encore. Tim Poole, who founded the restaurant as Sunset Grille back in 2006, is back at the helm and determined to make this summer the best one yet. For the summer of 2011, the place had been operated by Crop Bistro's Steve Schimoler. Poole says he and Schimoler simply parted ways.
"Steve is high-end; that's his forte," Poole says. "To come down here — that's just not what he does. We're tired of having part-timers. It has to be somebody who has a passion, a vision, and a love for the marina and park. That's why I opened it, and that's why I'm coming back to run it."
Managing the kitchen is Jeff Tracy, a member of the family behind the former Tracy's Italian Restaurant in Ohio City. Expect simple but good-quality fare, including half-pound burgers, smoked barbecue ribs, and fish tacos. Guests can choose between quick line service or table service.
The season kicks off on May 5. Learn more at sunset-grille.net.