Thomas Schrenk has reserved a sunny booth at the front of the restaurant for our lunchtime meeting. It's one of the best seats in the house to admire the bustling Market District outside, a sight Schrenk missed after three years at the Glenmoor Country Club in Canton. Set on returning to the innovative restaurant scene closer to home, the chef has landed at Bar Cento (1948 West 25th St., 216-274-1010, barcento.com).
Schrenk's name should be familiar to fine-dining fans; he opened Fire Food & Drink with chef-owner Doug Katz, spent time at Lopez with Eric Williams, and served as sous chef and later chef de cuisine at Table 45.
"You really have to love what you're doing and be passionate about it for your full potential to come out," the chef notes. "That's the challenge: finding something that's going to fit your style and your food, and Bar Cento is a perfect fit for me."
Even with such an impressive resume, Schrenk has some big shoes to fill. Bar Cento has employed a veritable who's who of top chefs since opening in 2007, including Jonathan Sawyer, Michael Nowak, Adam Lambert, Andrew Bower and Kevin Auger, whose menus the chef will be updating over the next month. "This is actually the first time in Bar Cento's history that the executive chef wasn't promoted from within," Schrenk says proudly. "It makes it unique to me."
The first order of business was to populate the recently established brunch menu with entrees that would set Bar Cento apart from the competition. The chef used his background to design some items in the modern Italian tradition, including focaccia doughnuts with chocolate ricotta spread, garnished with whipped cream and strawberries. The Belgian waffle with chocolate creme, whipped cream, berries and mint plays off the Belgian influence of sister establishment Bier Markt.
The chef's Parmesan-based gnocchi with candied bacon lardons, garlic, shallots and a fried egg is another interesting fusion, which Schrenk hopes to bring to the dinner menu.
Bar Cento's eight pastas are made in house, a true labor of love. "It takes a long time to make pastas by hand, but you can tell the difference; it's one of our staples. Another staple is our charcuterie program. I think Bar Cento has the most extensive one on the street for sure. All of our sausages, pates, everything is made here in house."
Other classics, such as the award-winning pizzas, will stay, with some additions. Currently, a pork and veal Bolognese pizza is running for dinner, courtesy of Schrenk's personal craving. An updated seasonal spring/summer menu will soon be revealed.
"Nothing is more gratifying than having an idea and a couple of months later, hundreds of people are eating it," says the chef. "Making the menus is my favorite part about being a chef, using them as an expression of self. It's extremely gratifying when the process is over and you see people enjoying. That's what I'm most excited about: putting my own personal stamp on the property."