For nearly 40 years, diners in search of an upscale meal in Strongsville pretty much had their pick of the litter so long as they chose Don's Pomeroy House. So you can imagine the enthusiasm that many residents of the sizeable suburban community and neighboring cities cultivated during the lengthy construction process of Square 22. Rather than yet another national chain eatery, or copy-paste of a popular regional brand, Square was aiming for nothing short of the sort of chef-driven fare adventurous diners might discover in Tremont or Ohio City.
Judging solely on the looks of the restaurant, which opened this past fall, the owners were well on their way to creating such a place. Designed to mimic an old brick warehouse, the expansive interior is divided into sections by large sliding panels that simulate multi-pane factory windows. In the center of it all sits the bar, a massive three-sider topped with gorgeous, glossy live-edge black walnut.
It wasn't just the setting that hinted at good things to come; according to general manager Dan Stroemple, the menu of contemporary American food would be neither unadventurous nor old-fashioned, geared instead to a hip suburban population that too often gets a bad rap.
"They're more adventurous than you think," he told me. "They've been going to W. 25th and East Fourth and Tremont for years. We're going to bring a little bit of that here and give them the opportunity to not have to drive so far."
Perhaps the goalposts have shifted since opening day, but judging by the current menu, the food is neither adventurous nor particularly exciting. Starters include now familiar chestnuts like shrimp cocktail, prosciutto-wrapped dates, bacon and egg-topped poutine and flatbreads. Entrees follow a similar tack, with dishes constructed around staples like chicken, salmon, pork chops, strip steak, pasta and burger.
It's absolutely acceptable – even laudable – to keep things simple, but you'd better nail them each and every time. That means cooking items to the proper doneness and pairing them with seasonal and complementary vegetables, starches and sauces. Our experiences illustrated otherwise, where the results on the plate failed to match our hopes and expectations, especially at prices that do in fact bring Tremont to mind.
In our opinion, there is nothing more gratifying than slathering globs of quivering roasted bone marrow onto slices of crusty bread. But as soon as the server delivered our order ($15), we knew that we'd end up disappointed. The pair of cross-cut bones had been roasted so long that little of the marrow remained, and what was still there clung to the bone like a crusty old barnacle. In the "what were they thinking" category, the marrow is paired with thin and floppy pita wedges and a dish of sautéed onions swimming in oil.
The grilled broccoli Caesar ($9) showed promise on the plate, a large head of broccoli with distinct bits of char from the grill. It was garnished with a shower of shaved parmesan and a drizzle of creamy Caesar dressing. Unfortunately the broccoli was over-steamed, leaving it watery and limp. We had no complaints about the chicken paprikash soup ($7), a hearty, satisfying bisque with chicken and fresh spaetzle in a creamy paprika-spiked base.
We also batted .500 in the main dish department. Square's lobster roll ($25), while priced on the high side at $25, is one of the best I've tasted in recent memory. The toasted split-top bun is loaded with juicy, firm and sweet butter-poached lobster meat, and the fries that join it are spot on. If the kitchen can turn out such beautiful lobster, we wondered aloud, then why did it blunder so epically when it came to the Gulf pasta ($23)? The fresh pappardelle was fine, but the shrimp arrived stiff and desiccated and the clams had long ago jettisoned their shell in favor of the bottom of the bowl, where they languished in the bland broth until they hardened to a rubbery texture.
An eight-ounce sirloin steak ($28) that was ordered medium-rare arrived medium-well, and it lacked the lust-worthy char that comes from a screaming-hot grill or broiler. The chop was paired with run-of-the-mill green beans, roasted potatoes wedges and a housemade Worcestershire sauce that was exceptionally sweet. An organic half chicken ($23), moist, tender, flavorful but soggy-skinned, came bathed in a fragrant herb jus and sided by those same green beans and roasted spuds.
In terms of atmosphere, Square does offer a nice change of pace from the bland chain. It's a lively place to grab a craft beer or bottle of exceptional wine with friends while enjoying a bite. While it might indeed spare area diners a trip out of the 'Ville, I'm not sure it will work the other way around.