When we talk about catching lightning in a bottle, places like ABC the Tavern spring to mind. Here's a joint that limped along in the shadows for decades until new ownership came along and renewed its lease on life. Within days of reopening, the former "old-man bar" with a funny name became the hottest perch in town, lighting up the Ohio City night.
The thing about catching lightning in a bottle is that it's nearly impossible to do it twice. But that's precisely what the team behind ABC is attempting to do with XYZ the Tavern. Owners Randy Kelley, Linda Syrek, and Alan Glazen even followed the same script, focusing their efforts on a neglected space in a budding urban neighborhood. This time around it was Perry's Family Restaurant, a defunct greasy spoon on Detroit Avenue.
Since opening in late February, XYZ has performed as hoped, drawing thick crowds, steady buzz, and repeat customers. But while ABC may have been as easy as 1-2-3, XYZ is proving to be not without its challenges. The spare and boxy space is loud, the food can be spotty, and the entrée selection is more than a little limited.
These shortcomings aside, the restaurant has more than its share of enticements to keep folks coming back. As with ABC, the staff strikes that perfect tone between feisty and festive. We can't say enough about the craft beer list and the jaw-dropping whiskey anthology. XYZ's patio will undoubtedly join the ranks of Best Alfresco Watering Holes. And if you know where to look, there are more than enough gems on the dining menu to please even finicky palates.
If ABC is a dive bar with pub grub, then XYZ is its slightly upmarket brother. Generous table seating, a full suite of servers, and an elaborate menu will make this tavern more appealing to a broader audience. A placemat-size menu is loaded with small plates, salads, and sandwiches, while a chalkboard wall ticks off the night's entrée specials.
Pub-perfect, a platter of house-fried chips arrives dark and brittle with a side of kicked-up onion dip. We can imagine digging into the spot-on chicken and waffles day or night, early or late, drunk or sober. In it, country-fried chicken is paired with fluffy waffles, maple syrup, and rich gravy. When doused with hot sauce, the soul food classic sings with sweet heat. As an alternative, the moo shu crêpe is a plump, eggy, meat-free burrito filled with mushrooms and shredded veggies.
Elsewhere, we gave the broccoli tempura two separate chances, but each resulted in limp defeat. Pale and spongy, the so-called tempura coating likely would send a Japanese chef into fits of apoplexy. The same floppy crust appeared on the battered Buffalo shrimp, but it had less of a detrimental effect on that dish overall. Even French fries that accompanied a sandwich managed to arrive crispless.
Billed as the "big brother" to the rightfully famous ABC burger, the XYZ burger is bigger, beefier, and equally dreamy. Like the original, this one is topped with lettuce, tomato, American cheese, and "frizzled" onion rings. Essentially a stuffed-cabbage sandwich, the Roly Poly fills a hoagie bun with meatball-size stuffed cabbage rolls and sauce. While nearly impossible to eat out of hand, the sandwich is a wonderful interpretation on the theme.
The entire back wall at XYZ is a chalkboard designed to list the day's entrées, none of which are included on the printed menu. Thus far, the selection has been less than vast. On a recent visit, for example, we had a choice of one single entrée — or two, if you count steamed mussels. That sole main, priced at $12, was a very simple sauté of chicken breast, tomato, spinach, and artichoke hearts served on a fried polenta cake.
And a note to management: Please list prices on the board.
Nitpicking aside, we can't think of a better addition to Gordon Square. Approachable, affordable, and fun as a barrel of bourbon, XYZ is another in a long list of reasons to live, work, and play in the burgeoning Detroit Shoreway neighborhood.
XYZ the Tavern
6419 Detroit Ave., Cleveland
Hours: 4 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. seven days.
XYZ the Tavern The team behind the uber-popular ABC the Tavern moved west to Gordon Square for their second act. Generous seating, a full suite of servers, and an elaborate menu make XYZ more appealing to a broader audience. Eclectic and affordable pub-style comfort food is the name of the game, with great burgers, corned beef and chicken sandies filling the bill. Don't miss the housemade chips and the killer chicken and waffles. Over 70 varieties of whiskey, scotch, bourbon and rye and a smashing craft beer list make this lively American pub a true neighborhood gem. 6419 Detroit Ave., Cleveland, 216-706-1104. $$