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Bites: Matt Harlan -- The Man Behind Bar Symon

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After 11 years in Tremont — first at Lola, then Lolita — chef Matt Harlan is heading west to Avon Lake. When the doors open to Bar Symon (June 29), Michael Symon's American brasserie, Harlan will be the man running the kitchen. It's clear that the move is a bittersweet one for him.

What's it like leaving the restaurant after so long?

It's hard, absolutely. I've met so many great people. I've got a ton of great memories. The worst part is leaving Tremont. I love the wackos down there. I love being close to downtown, getting the game crowds. But hey, I guess we have a new baseball stadium in Avon.

What will you miss most from the Lolita menu?

I'll miss making pizza. Pizzas are a blast to make. There's no rhyme or reason to them. Every pizza has its own personality.

Who's taking over at Lolita?

Andy Strizak. He's been with us for a year and a half.

Will folks notice any changes?

Nothing's changing. We love what we're doing there. The only difference is that Andy will start to put his twist on things. I'm passing the torch on the cured meats, pig roasts, pizzas.

You're going from a wide-open kitchen to a closed one. What will that be like?

It is definitely going to be different. But I'm going to be able to walk off the line when I want. And I will have an open-kitchen-door policy, so people can always drop in and say hi.

Apart from one guy, you hired a whole new crew. What do you look for in a cook?

I'm not overly concerned with work history or if someone went to culinary school. I look for personality and work ethic. You give me a good first impression, and you're practically in.

What's an American brasserie?

I have no idea. We're shooting for a tavern-like atmosphere. This is not a white-tablecloth restaurant — the most expensive item is $17. We will have 40 beers on tap. And we want the best food to go with the best beer.

Tell us about the food.

We'll have raw-bar items, grilled sausages, sandwiches, a bunch of sides. We will offer a daily beer-battered fish. And like Roast [Symon's Detroit restaurant], we'll have a spit-roasted daily beast.

Will you have input on the menu?

The first menu is all Michael. Moving forward, changes will be mine. Lolita went through five changes until we landed on the format that worked best.


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