Everyone knows that operating a restaurant can be a pain in the ass. But opening one? That's no picnic either. Just ask restaurateur Raj Singh (owner of Spy Bar, The Wine Room, and three Café Tandoor locations) and Executive Chef Mark Wilson. Their newest project, Willowick's Brass Tap Bar & Grille (30829 Euclid Avenue, 440-944-4462) had been on the drawing board since May, yet still missed its planned July launch by four months. Even then, the tavern wasn't fully staffed until just days before it opened. But if our visit there last week is any measure, Singh and Wilson can finally take a breather: The Brass Tap is flowing freely.
Less than one month after opening, the 210-seat tavern feels right on target, settled squarely on the sweet spot between sports bar and neighborhood bistro. Those looking for some after-work downtime will find all manner of diversions, including a well-stocked jukebox, 10 flat-screen TVs, and more than 40 different brewskies (including chichi choices like Hoegaarden, Pilsner Urquell, and Blue Moon) in bottles and on draft.
Foodies will dig the place too, thanks to Wilson's sassy menu of made-from-scratch fare, with options that range from well-dressed burgers and oversized fries to roasted wild-mushroom pizza, shrimp wraps, and barbecued short ribs, served with roasted acorn squash on a king-sized bed of creamy mashed potatoes ($13.95). (The Tap also offers tempting homemade desserts like caramel bread pudding topped with malted peanut-butter ice cream.)
A graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, Wilson first came to regional attention some six years ago, when he helped transform Collinwood's Grovewood Tavern from run-down watering hole to casually sophisticated wine bar and café. Now, as then, his training, talent, and personal exuberance combine to create dishes that are big and boldly seasoned, yet comfortingly accessible -- sometimes assembled with a wink, as with a "vertical tasting" of four buttery Kobe-beef miniburgers matched with four mini-mugs of beer ($12.95), and sometimes designed with unabashed classicism, as with a trio of dainty walleye cakes, seasoned with tarragon and lemon zest, garnished with freshly made garlic aïoli, and finished with slender ribbons of freshly made walleye "bacon" ($6.75). The result? A menu far removed from ordinary pub fare and as surprising for its quality as for its modest prices.
The kitchen is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.