To find the Michael Symon restaurant with the liveliest atmosphere, diners need to sidestep downtown and Tremont and head west to Avon Lake. Vastly different from Lola and Lolita in spirit, mood and food, Bar Symon is a gleefully informal tavern with sparkle to spare. And thanks to the man behind the moniker, guests can count on quality fare.
For proof that residents of the far-west side were pining for just such a place, consider the line that begins taking shape long before the doors swing open. Like shoppers jockeying for position at a Black Friday sale, eager diners arrive early to secure a prime spot at the bar or in the dining room.
Billed as an American brasserie, Bar Symon merges the traditional notions of bar and grill into one big, boisterous beer hall. Guests who cross the threshold immediately find themselves near the bar, a mile-long procession of stools that fill up fast. The lounge's energy extends to the rear of the room now that the old Swingos Grand Tavern space has been opened up from end to end. Schoolhouse pendant lights, subway-tile walls, bare-wood tabletops and concrete floors reinforce the saloon-style design. Rock 'n' roll plays over the sound system.
The beauty of Bar Symon lies in the range of its culinary options. A single guy can belly up to the bar for a burger, beer and sports on the tellie (though one screen is permanently tuned to the Food Network). A couple can canoodle over a bottle of wine and a platter of oysters. Serious eaters can settle in for a full meal of appetizers, entrées and dessert.
Symon is adept at rewarding both the conservative and adventurous diner. The former secures updated and tightly executed American comfort foods, while the latter scores hardcore foodie fare with big returns. We could not have been happier with an appetizer of roasted bone marrow ($8), a dish that admittedly sounds less than appealing. Split lengthwise for easy scooping, the long bones cradle a lush and beefy pudding that is spread on toasts and topped with herbs and pickled onion. Timid guests can ignore the fibula in favor of addictive chicken wings ($7). Slow-braised for juiciness, then flash-fried for crispness, the double-cooked wings arrive bearing a mahogany-colored crust.
Much of the menu is built around a wood-fired grill, which tastefully chars everything from burgers and steak to fish and meatloaf. Nightly specials come from a rotating spit mounted above the grill. Not surprisingly, there is no shortage of pork. Heading up the kitchen is Matthew Harlan, the former chef of Lolita.
No table should pass up an order of the grilled fresh sausages. Available individually ($6/$7) or as part of the Big Board ($17 for three), boldly flavored varieties like lamb with mint, pork and fennel, and veal bratwurst are presented with toasted bread, pickled veggies and a trio of mustards (including Stadium). Everybody, it seems, is doing sliders — but nobody is doing them like this. Luscious shreds of duck confit ($6) are tucked into a wee soft bun with cilantro, carrot and spicy mayo. These gems should be sold by the bucket.
Bar Symon is by far the chef's most value-oriented restaurant. Just $15 lands a diner a plate of Barberton-style fried chicken, consisting of half a bird. The crunchy, moist pieces are gilded with an intoxicating truffle honey. For $12, a guest can dig into a Bible-sized flank of grilled meatloaf, the flavorful mixture more zesty than tame. Want simply prepared fish? Go with the walleye or trout ($17 each). Entrées also include a side dish, served up in a petite pot or pan. Choices range from cheesy soft polenta to out-of-this-world fried brussels sprouts. As one buddy put it, "Nobody will be complaining about small portions here."
Bar Symon's beer list is as impressive as Lola's wine list. Nearly 200 varieties are available, with 40 of those delivered up fresh on tap. Beer aficionados can sip on zippy pilsners, hoppy IPAs, sour Lambics, or dark and chewy stouts. Want a PBR? It'll only cost you a buck. Symon doesn't just serve up the suds, he delivers the ultimate snacks. Instead of stale pretzels, barflies can nibble on smoked almonds ($3), oregano-dusted popcorn ($3), or melt-in-your-mouth pork rinds ($4).
Bar Symon may be lively early on, but as nightfall descends, the crowds all but vanish. For relatively easy access, consider pushing your arrival later rather than earlier. Granted, you may miss out on the nightly special (gone by 8 p.m. most nights), but you shouldn't have to wait long for a table.