As neighborhoods like Ohio City, Tremont, Detroit Shoreway, Lakewood and Cleveland Heights reach their respective restaurant saturation points, chefs and owners increasingly are staking claims on less fashionable zip codes. As one chef recently stated it, "Why fight the competition in Tremont when I can be a big shot in the 'burbs?"
Call it low-hanging fruit or simply the predictable evolution of a robust dining scene, but many of Cleveland's next hot eateries won't be in Cleveland at all.
The Standard, while technically located within city limits, is a prime example of the trend. Straddling the border of Collinwood and Euclid, the tavern is a good 15 miles from Tremont, but cross the threshold and you'd be hard pressed to know it. Owners Chris Hammer and Matt Quinn spent the better part of a year converting an old double storefront into a sparkling bistro, an expensive and risky move that appears to be reaping early rewards.
Even lacking a proper sign marking its position more than a half mile from the I-90 off ramp, the restaurant was so crowded on a Thursday evening that bar seats were the only available option, and even those came with a short wait. A later visit on a snowy weekday was less packed but still bustling. The crowds have descended upon the two-month-old Standard because, like the best neighborhood spots, it straddles the fence between cozy pub and swank bistro, where comfort foods are perked up, slimmed down and executed with the skill of a seasoned chef.
"We're not fine dining, but we're not freezer-to-fryer either," Hammer explains.
Management was so committed to getting the restaurant off to a good start that they recruited an A-level chef for a B-level bistro. As consulting chef, Tim Bando, whose culinary resume stretches clear back to the Michael Symon days of the Caxton Café, has created the menu, coached the staff, and promised to train his replacement.
"I know I'll be real comfortable with Bando for as long as he stays with us," Hammer notes. Just how long that will be, nobody is certain.
Before ordering, it's wise to examine the entire menu, as items that might make suitable starters are scattered throughout. Fresh-shucked oysters, for example, are grouped with the Seafood entrees, while duck rillettes appear in the Meat category. Those rilletes ($12) make a great sharable starter, with the smooth, rich, slightly gamey pâté served with crisp toasts, grainy mustard and pickled veggies. Arancini ($8), another worthwhile snack, features three hot, crisp and cheesy fried rice balls topped with parmesan and seated in a bright marinara.
Salads are fresh, bold and well composed. A citrusy baby kale salad ($6) includes in-season fruit like sweet grapefruit and tart pomegranate seeds. They join creamy goat cheese and slick-skinned Marcona almonds. A warm shaved Brussels sprouts salad ($7) could double as a great side dish, with walnuts, bacon and blue cheese providing loads of earthy flavor.
Not only does the Standard menu contain nearly 20 appealing mains, but all are priced at $15 or below, with most hovering in the $10 to $12 range. The portions are agreeably compact, with tables often ordering multiple options to pass and share. In the shrimp and grits ($12), three fat shrimp are perched atop creamy polenta with big chunks of smoky bacon. An adorable version of chicken paprikash ($12) features chicken drumsticks on a bed of tender spaetzle in a creamy paprika-infused sauce.
For something light, order the chicken Milanese ($10), a thin, crisp and utterly greaseless panko-breaded chicken breast paired with a delightful little bistro salad. On the other end of the spectrum is the mac and cheese ($10), a hot and bubbling crock of gruyere-enriched noodles beneath a blistering cheese topping. The only dish we were less than thrilled with was the short rib stroganoff ($12), a heavy, dull beef stew with thick and gummy pasta noodles.
Many restaurants have open kitchens, but few expose the operations the way this joint does. Rather than views of just the line, diners seated at the counter have unobstructed views of the entire kitchen, dish station and all. It's a tad jarring, to be honest.
By our second visit the restaurant had installed its 12-tap draft beer system, with a nice selection of crafts like Fat Heads, Three Floyds and Founders. Even the wine list, with more than a dozen glass pours and three times that in the bottle, goes well beyond what one would expect at the "corner tavern." And by the time you read this, the Standard's new, permanent and highly visible sign should be firmly affixed to the building, guiding the way for what is sure to be a steady stream of new and repeat customers.