It's hard to keep from swooning when David Russo describes the menu at his soon-to-open restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls. Freshly made ravioli . . . saucy étouffée . . . tagliatelle with mushrooms . . . Cajun jambalaya -- the tantalizing lineup is split almost evenly between dishes Russo calls "country Italian and country Cajun classics." Credit the menu's dual nature to Russo's Italian heritage, compounded by 13 years in Louisiana kitchens, where he learned the mysteries of authentic Cajun cooking from wizards Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. "It's all simple, straightforward stuff," says the popular chef from the former Liberty Street Brewing Company. "But sometimes, that's the most challenging type of food to do right."
Russo clearly puts great stock in doing it right. The chef and his culinary team, which includes fellow Liberty Street alumni Carl Dupree, Bob Ponkivar, Paul Kleiss, and Zolia Vega, will make breads, dressings, sauces, and desserts -- everything -- fresh and in-house. And in a move guaranteed to endear him to true food fanatics everywhere, a line on Russo's lunch menu notes, "Tomatoes taste best when they are in season. When they are not, fire-roasted red bell peppers will be the substitute."
But the most tempting dish on Russo's menu may be the Navajo Taco, a tender Indian fry bread topped with seasoned sautéed onion, bell pepper, and a choice of chicken, beef, or seafood, then slathered in homemade salsa and finished with crème frâiche. It's a good thing the restaurant (the eponymous Russo's, 4895 State Road; 330-923-COOK) will be up and running for lunch and dinner in about two more weeks; we can't stand the anticipation much longer than that.
Crossings over . . . The former Hudson Crossings (5416 Darrow Road) recently reopened, with a new name and a new boss. Restaurateur Harry Hatzis, owner of Harry's Steak House in Independence and Dimitri's in Parma, has rechristened the sprawling restaurant and banquet center Waters, and has stocked it with an upscale steak and seafood menu. General manager is Bob Conforto, previously with Lockkeepers in Valley View; executive chef is Jerry Peters, formerly with Quail Hollow Resort in Painesville. Hatzis reportedly picked up the property at auction for a mere $1.35 million -- or about $2 million less than indicted accountant Jim Capwill allegedly paid for it during his pre-prosecution spending spree. Guess price was no object for Capwill, who is awaiting trial on charges of fleecing $39 million from investors.