Several times a night, bartenders at Crop Bistro spray water from a Lombardi Trophy-shaped bottle onto any number of surfaces, including but not limited to their hands, citrus for the night's service, and the bar top itself.
The water from the Franke EcO3Spray Sanitizing Spray Bottle is disinfecting everything it touches thanks to boron-encrusted crystals in the bottle's head that infuse it with ozone. Yes, that ozone. The inorganic molecule that wreaks havoc on the earth's atmosphere also happens to be a 99.9-percent effective sanitizer that's also perfectly safe to drink when infused into ordinary tap water. That's good news because at Crop, you'll ingest loads of it.
"We have an attachment that does the same thing to the water that feeds our ice machines," explains chef-owner Steve Schimoler, adding that the result is sanitized ice. "The ice keeps the ice machine sanitized at all times. It sanitizes the scoop when you're scooping it, and then it sanitizes the glass when you go to fill it."
Schimoler's other business, Crop Cultivates, is one of the largest privately owned culinary development and innovation outfits in the U.S. and operates out of the basement of the cavernous United Bank Building that Crop Bistro occupies. Schimoler is paid to test and prove gadgets like the Franke EcO3Spray and develop recipes and techniques that later will be used by huge restaurant chains across the country.
Elevate the Ingredient
Last year, every bar in Cleveland introduced barrel-aged cocktails to their drink menus, but Crop's approach is different. Instead of combining ingredients and letting them age in a barrel for up to eight weeks, Crop first seeks to understand and quantify the effects time in the barrel will have on the individual ingredients. To do so, they are aging 12 different spirits on their own in barrels and featuring them on their cocktail menu. Four are ready to go right now.
"It's a very disciplined process," bar manager Erica Coffee says. "We take time every day to draw out the spirit while it's aging, taste it, and take notes on how it tastes relative to the day before, so that we can achieve the perfect balance."
House barrel-aged Myers Platinum Rum, Tanqueray Gin, Tom's Foolery Applejack and Woodford Reserve Bourbon star, respectively, in the Daiquiri ($11), Raultini ($14), Star Cocktail ($14) and Manhattan ($13). Each is served with ice made from barrel-aged water.
"Adding value to ingredients independently is how we protect the integrity of their flavors," Coffee adds. At Crop, no ingredient is used in vain, and no ingredient is wasted. Bacon for the Mr. Figgy ($12), a cocktail list mainstay, arrives from a New Hampshire smokehouse before being candied with brown sugar and bruléed to order. The sugar and smoke that dissolve into the drink as it's stirred are essential to the experience. The Kentucky Breakfast ($10) is made with fruitcake-flavored rye whiskey. It took the team at Crop a few weeks to identify the key components to make a bourbon cocktail taste like fruitcake without the aftertaste of the stuff that Grandma used to make.
Even Water Has Ingredients
"A few years ago we had Kinetico, the company that installed our water system, analyze tap water from Manhattan," Schimoler explains. "We compared it to the analytics for Cleveland tap water and we found that Cleveland water has more than twice as many ingredients," which perhaps is the least surprising news ever.
"Our water system offers four levels of filtration—minerals/solids, carbon filtering, softening, and reverse osmosis—the last of which returns water to its purest form," the chef says. "We stripped down Cleveland water and added ingredients back by percentage and we were able to make a pretty exact version of New York water—and then we made pizza with it upstairs.
"We did consumer testing, everything from ABC testing to seven-point hedonic scale testing, and then we compiled the data. Cleveland water wins out. But for shits and giggles, I'm thinking of putting a Manhattan on the cocktail menu that uses ice cubes made from Manhattan water."
Addendum: Mary Sweeney was a contributor to our Jan. 22 article, "Apéritifs: Let's Slow Things Down and Bring Back the Pre-Dinner Drink." Grazie, Mary.