Piccolo Mondo, that legendary Warehouse District restaurant from the '90s, turned out a bumper crop of talented chefs who all went on to do great things. Among them were Michael Symon, Ali Barker, Michael Longo and Tom Quick. After his seven-year tenure as executive chef of that wildly popular eatery, Quick fled downtown for bucolic Concord Township, where he ran another successful restaurant called Epiq Bistro, which had a solid 10-year run.
Following a very brief stint as chef at the very short-lived Zinc Bistro in downtown Cleveland, Quick again fled the city for the 'burbs, this time Mentor. Three years ago, he and his wife Denise opened Match Works Tavern in a sprawling brick complex that dates back to the 1800s, when it was home to a knitting mills factory. It later was a match factory, hence the restaurant's name.
"This area lacks choices when it comes to more creative options," Quick says when asked how and why he settled on Mentor for his latest endeavor.
As for that particular space, Quick says that he and his wife have loved it ever since they held their rehearsal dinner there some 25 years ago. Then called the Perfect Match, the place was a neighborhood institution, serving a generation of eastside residents. Since then, the space has seen more than a few restaurants come and go, but Quick appears to have a solid grasp on what the community is willing to support.
"Match Works is an American bistro that draws off my experiences at places like Piccolo Mondo and Epic Bistro," Quick explains. "But it's the 'burbs, so you can't get too crazy."
Indeed, Quick does a great job of blending adventurous "cheffy" fare with more approachable — but no less satisfying — chestnuts. There aren't many places outside the big city where diners can dig into a hand-chopped steak tartar ($18) made from USDA Prime sirloin. The beef gets the classic treatment with capers, shallots and a runny poached egg. More than enough nicely grilled toasts are served with it.
Quick also sidesteps the predictable calamari treatment, electing not to deep-fry squid rings, pop them in a basket and serve them with marinara like every other place in town. Instead, he grills up large, meaty pieces ($11) of the body and tentacles and serves them on fluffy housemade white bean hummus and pairs them with a bright, fresh Mediterranean salad with feta. This dish would be right at home in a Greek taverna.
A little less successful, yet equally out-of-the-ordinary, are the chicken pot stickers ($9). The dumplings are well seared and loaded with bold Asian ingredients like ginger, scallions, soy, seaweed and Sriracha. But the wraps are too thick and gummy in relation to the sparse fillings, diminishing the dish's potential.
Quick nails the preparation of a potato-crusted cod ($22), a popular fish dish that too often stars overcooked fish. It's a balancing act to simultaneously achieve a crispy potato crust while maintaining a downy white, barely flaking interior — and that's precisely what the chef accomplishes here. In a delicious twist, that delicate, sweet fish is served on a bed of Creole-style risotto loaded with spicy chorizo and succulent shrimp. It's a dramatic dish loaded with texture, taste and spice.
A creamy mushroom risotto ($18) gets heft from meaty grilled mushrooms and a healthy dose of cheese. A topper of citrusy greens does a decent job of cutting through some of the dish's richness, but it's still a bit of a belly buster. In the "safe for suburbia" category are entrees like grilled Prime beef tenderloin, chicken Marsala, and beer-battered perch with hand-cut fries. While less adventurous, perhaps, these dishes receive no less attention from Quick.
During our first visit to the restaurant, one can easily see why the site has been home to many restaurants over the years. It's a charming, rambling brick warehouse that seats at least 120 people in the dining room and lounge, with plenty of additional space for private events. The flipside of all that space is that it feels empty on slow weeknights, as it was when we were there.
"Weekends are crazy-busy, but weeknights are a little slow," Quick admits. "We are a little off the beaten path, but it's getting better and better every year."
In summer, a well-tended back patio seats another 50 or so diners at white linen-topped tables. A weekly summer concert series brings out crowds of folks who like to pair agreeable live music with chef-driven fare, a formula many of us can get behind.
Match Works Tavern
8500 Station St., Mentor, 440-255-0400, matchworkstavern.com.