You wouldn't know it by driving down Pearl Road, home to every type of fast-food joint and strip mall known to mankind, but there's a little slice of heaven in Brunswick. It's called Mapleside Farms, and it has managed to remain unsullied by progress despite the advances of many a greedy developer.
Resting atop one of the highest bluffs in Northeast Ohio, Mapleside boasts unobstructed views 50 miles westward, over majestic hills, valleys, orchards, and forests. Some 4,000 apple trees dot the scenic landscape, providing the autumnal assets of this suburban farm. Founded in 1927, Mapleside has seduced generation after generation with its unforbidden fruit.
All that nearly ended in 2007 when a developer did purchase the property, fully intending to cram it full of cheaply constructed housing and retail. When the bottom fell out of the real estate market, the deal died a welcome death. But that merely prolonged the fate of the family-owned farm, which lingered on the precipice of foreclosure until last year.
That was when longtime Brunswick residents Greg and Kelly Clement learned of the situation. They quickly cobbled together financing to save the farm and preserve a genuine Ohio treasure.
"Like many Clevelanders, I have made many happy memories at Mapleside Farms," says Greg Clement, the farm's owner since December.
One of the first items on Clement's to-do list was improving the restaurant, which he admits never lived up to its surroundings. Like Cracker Barrel without the good sourdough bread, Apple Farm Restaurant was all kitsch and no quality, luring customers simply by virtue of the nature outside. Sporting a hokey old-fashioned vibe, the restaurant survived on large parties held captive until the tour bus departed.
Following a six-month overhaul that touched kitchen, dining room, bar, and staff, Apple Farm reopened this summer as Melrose, a variety of apple developed by the farm's original owner. In an attempt to attract guests younger than Moses, an attractive new barroom was constructed, featuring an upturned apple tree sculpture. A new wine bar carved into an upper-level loft provides killer views of the valley — and sunsets — beyond.
While far from five-star dining, Melrose is taking steps in the right direction. I wouldn't drive across town specifically for a meal here, but I'd have no problem sticking around for a bite post-apple-picking. A new smoker turns out good barbecue, and the kitchen is beginning to make the shift to seasonal cooking. By next year, says Clement, the bulk of the restaurant's produce will come from on-site gardens.
Given that Mapleside hosts a weekly farmers market, you'd think the kitchen would be able to scare up a ripe tomato or two for the salads. Maybe next year. But everything we sampled from the smoker was a hit, including the pulled-pork nachos, which come piled with tender, smoky, and thankfully minimally sauced meat. It's a good starter — especially when paired with a cold beer. We tried the Johnny Juice, Mapleside's new proprietary hard cider ($4.75) and deemed it a work in progress.
Also a work in progress: the bacon-wrapped shrimp, which featured skewers of small, pale shrimp wrapped with flabby bacon, coated in a thick, sweet glaze.
Like the pulled pork, our dry-rubbed St. Louis ribs left the smoker at just the right time. These unbelievably meaty, juicy bones arrived bearing a pink smoke ring and a thin layer of subtly sweet sauce. There's also smoked brisket, chicken, and turkey wings.
When God gives you apples, apparently you use them to stuff a butterflied pork chop. We found the bacon, apple, and spinach stuffing to be a bit too sweet, so we nudged it aside and focused on the meaty bone-in chop.
Seafood at Melrose still resides in the Dark Ages, what with broiled scrod (is that even a real fish?) and maple-crusted salmon.
This weekend, Mapleside will hold its 38th annual Johnny Appleseed Festival, when literally tens of thousands of people descend upon the farm. (See Get Out for details.) If you go, grab some apple pie, apple butter, and apple ice cream, and thank the Clements for saving a fat slice of Ohio pride.