Last year, Travel & Leisure magazine named Portland's Urban Farmer restaurant one of the "Best Steakhouses in the U.S." Not long before that, The Guardian included the restaurant in its listing of "Top 10 Places to Eat in Portland."
Why should we care? Because in a few months, Urban Farmer will open a second location, in downtown Cleveland.
Located at the new Westin Downtown, which is undergoing a $64-million renovation and slated to open in May, the restaurant is one of nearly a dozen red-hot concepts to come out of the Denver-based Sage Restaurant Group.
Sage co-founder Peter Karpinski has installed restaurants at the Pittsburgh Renaissance, the Curtis in Denver and the Renaissance in Chicago, to name a few, but none of them function like traditional hotel restaurants, he promises.
"Although all of our restaurants are adjacent to hotel properties, in general, 85 percent of our business comes from people staying outside the hotel – people who live and work in the community or are visiting but staying elsewhere," Karpinski explains.
Urban Farmer is the first restaurant in the Sage portfolio to be reproduced in another market, but that doesn't mean it will be a carbon copy of the Portland edition. Sage's concepts do so well with locals, argues Karpinski, because they are designed for them from the start.
"We ensure that every business is indigenous to the market that it's in, and it will be modeled after what the people who live and work in that city are looking for," he says.
Urban Farmer is described as a high-end, farm-to-table steakhouse, making it better suited to our market in some aspects than its native Portland. Not only does the fertile Cuyahoga Valley nourish a robust local foods network, but our wide-open spaces support a large and growing number of small farmers and ranchers.
Nobody is more thrilled about the concept than 31-year-old Brad Cecchi, who is relocating to Cleveland from Sacramento for the executive chef position. For the past five years, Cecchi worked as a sous chef at Grange Restaurant, a popular spot that champions relationships with area farms and farmers.
"The farm-to-table concept is right up my alley," Cecchi explains. "Working in Sacramento, I kind of came up the ranks in that movement. And especially the meat-centric aspect of Urban Farmer – that's kind of my passion. Butchering meat, whole animal fabrication, charcuterie..."
I caught up with Cecchi while he was driving through New Mexico, on a cross-country trek from California to his new home in Tremont, which he'll share with his fiancée. In fact, it was during Cecchi's only visit to Cleveland that he and his girlfriend got engaged.
In an article about the chef's impending departure, the Sacramento Bee called him the "master of cured meats," adding that the city was about to lose "one of its star sous chefs and go-to guy for some of the best charcuterie in Sacramento."
Their loss is our gain. At Urban Farmer, Cecchi will establish an ambitious charcuterie program, the focal point of which will be a 12-seat charcuterie station in the dining room.
Whole animals will be broken down in a chilly fabrication room, while a humidity and temperature controlled curing room will be used to hang salumi and dry age beef.
"I started curing meats as a passion project about seven or eight years ago," he says. "I got to Grange five and a half years ago, which had space that allowed me to do it, learn and grow."
A charcuterie program takes time to establish – you don't make prosciutto overnight – so Cecchi will supplement his larder with quality products from other providers.
"But there are also creative ways to get started faster," he notes, like curing smaller salamis and making pates and terrines while his coppa, lonza, soppressata and smoked mortadella get ready.
Relationships with area farmers, some of which have been in development for years, will be crucial to the success of Urban Farmer, says Cecchi. "Working with farmers and working with local agriculture is about building relationships with like-minded people wanting to expand the region," he explains.
A key menu item at Urban Farmer is the New York Steak Tasting, which features portions of grass-fed beef, USDA Prime beef, 21-day dry-aged beef and Imperial Wagyu beef. Other steak options range from flatiron cuts to bone-in ribeyes. Meals start with oysters and beef tartare and end with tarte tatin.
"The steakhouse concept is a blueprint for a menu, but it still leaves room to have a lot of fun, especially with the side dishes," says the chef, adding that many items will change seasonally, a rarity at traditional chophouses.
Above all, promises Sage's Karpinski, the 220-seat Urban Farmer will be warm, convivial and hospitable to all. "We're not like an old men's club," he says. "We take a really fresh approach to it, creating an environment where women in particular feel incredibly comfortable."