We were seated at the bar in Collision Bend. To our left, through a wall of windows, was that incredible post-industrial maritime view filled with rushing water, gritty bridges and wee kayaks dwarfed by passing freighters. Directly in front of us was an array of creative small plates and a flight of house-brewed beer. And beneath us were sturdy, substantial and smartly upholstered stools with backs.
"I'm too f-ing old for those hard metal stools," a pal said, getting no argument from me.
Despite being billed as a brewery with food, Collision Bend, if we're being honest with one another, is more of a restaurant that happens to brew beer. From the high-end finishes and expansive menu to the Zack Bruell School of Service-graduated staff, little about this glitzy new Flats-based eatery functions like a brewery. In fact, if you didn't crane your neck to spot a few bright tanks through a small window, you might never even know.
Not that anybody is complaining. While breweries are great for craft beer lovers, they tend to be lousy for wine aficionados, fans of fine food and service, and those above a certain age who prefer to be comfortable. Guests who can manage to find the proper front door will be greeted, not only by that spectacular river view, but also an impressive dining room that makes the most of its 150-year-old brick warehouse setting. With a nod to the building's original use as a marine supply company, there are subtle nautical design elements like thick-rope chandeliers, brass post lamps, sailcloth awnings and dock-cleat side lights.
Ease your way back toward the drink and you'll pass through a four-season patio before landing on one of Cleveland's sweetest perches. With a couple hundred feet of frontage, this riverside space is outfitted with a bar, casual soft seating areas and tables for full-service dining. On a recent sun-soaked Friday happy hour, when the veranda was operating at full capacity, it was all I could do to pry myself away from the rail when our indoor table was ready.
That breezy seaside scene was quickly replaced by a waterfall of memorable, creative, delicious and shockingly affordable food. Bruell's menus are notoriously lengthy, and the one here is no exception. It careens from Buffalo-style tofu to Moroccan-spiced lamb ribs. A roster of 25 small plates joins salads, a handful of wood-fired pizzas, and a dozen or so main dishes. Deciding how to proceed is complicated not only by the sheer number of items, but by the seemingly random arrangement of those items on the menu.
Over the course of two visits we sampled an assortment of more than 10 dishes and only one or two was less than special. The lamb tamales ($7) knocked our socks off, with flavorful ground lamb tucked inside perfectly steamed masa dough, which itself is nestled inside corn husks. They're garnished with lively salsa verde. That beachy Latin flair extends to the killer San Diego-style fish tacos ($9) comprising freshly battered and fried cobia that's topped with crunchy cabbage slaw, salty queso and creamy crema. If you don't mind a little lamb fat dripping down your chin, order the lust-worthy lamb ribs ($14). The kitchen smartly sets the rich, supple, pleasantly gamey bones against tart and crunchy pickled vedge and cool, creamy cucumber-yogurt sauce.
One of the few small plates that fell flat was the "Country Fried" chicken livers ($7), which seemed to melt and collapse beneath the heavy beer and fig sauce. Even the Buffalo-style tofu ($8), I have to admit, was surprisingly savory, with "meaty" triangles tossed with crunchy celery in a buttery hot sauce and garnished with crumbled blue cheese.
Step up to the larger plates and you'll enjoy thin and chewy-crusted pizzas with the requisite char and crunch. There are seven in all, but you shouldn't miss the salami and green olive ($14), a nifty merger of sliced salami, bright and briny olives, pickled peppers, and a handful of cheeses, including fragrant raclette. In addition to a burger, a steak, and a salmon dish, the main course department offers Asian-stuffed chicken legs ($15), an immensely satisfying dish of thin but juicy dark meat rolled around shredded veggies and glass noodles. The rolls are paired with steamed rice and dressed with a sweet but mild chili sauce.
Back at the bar one evening, we finally worked our way through most of the house beers thanks to a pair of four-beer flights ($10). Brewed by Luke Purcell, a 20-year vet of Great Lakes Brewing, they are roundly and rightly praised. Those crisp German-style lagers go great with a bowl of salty, zesty and savory bacon fat-tossed popcorn. Tack on an order of the gourmet sauerkraut balls ($6), another flight of beer, and relax in the comfort of your very own cushy stool with a view.