"Like Panera, only better" is how a friend describes the Village Exchange (79 West Street, 440-247-3460), the new soup-sandwich-and-smoothie stop in Chagrin Falls.
Open since May 9, the casual eatery — settled inside a Victorian-era farmhouse — represents something of a departure for owners Tom Lutz and Eric Heatwole, whose other ops include such upscale destinations as Gamekeeper's Taverne, Bass Lake Taverne, and 87 West wine bar. But with its menu of wholesome-sounding alternatives to fast-food fare, it's one they believe will prove a good fit.
The place was bustling during a recent lunch visit. And while the counter-service choreography still needed some fine tuning, the food was spot-on. That included a bowl of creamy tomato soup ($4), a lip-smacking confluence of sweet, tart, and savory flavors; the plushly piquant Tuscan Chicken Pita ($8), filled with tender breast meat, sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onion, fontina cheese, spinach, and a lively basil aïoli; and the refreshing Orange Creamsicle Smoothie ($4.50), made with orange nectar, peaches, vanilla yogurt, soy milk, and a dollop of honey for sweetness. Also on the menu, we found salads, Kobe beef hot dogs, flatbread pizzas, and a yummy-sounding tuna salad sandwich, with fresh ginger, sesame oil, toasted sunflower seeds, and cilantro.
Equally tasteful was the thoroughly remodeled space, done up in "contemporary farmhouse" fashion, with lofty ceilings, celery-green walls, white woodwork, and recessed lighting. A brick-paved patio, adjacent to Gamekeeper's own popular alfresco area, will seat at least 50 when it opens later this spring.
For those who prefer carryout, orders can by placed at www.villageexchangedining.com. Hours are 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Rumbar reopens: That chic urban oasis, Rumbar (8800 Euclid Avenue, in the InterContinental), reopens on May 23 with a lineup of 25 rums, 10 house mojitos, and happy-hour specials from 4 to 7 p.m. daily. Also debuting will be a lineup of sassy, tropical-themed small plates from chef Omar Jones, including mini crabcakes with tarragon aïoli ($12), crispy calamari ($10), and Hawaiian steak roulade ($10). Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Free valet parking is available. — Cicora