When Blake's Seafood Grille in Chagrin Falls succumbed to a nasty bout of the norovirus two years back, it proved as good a time as any to shut down and reboot. Restaurants had been trending away from fine dining for some time, and diners were electing to sidestep special-occasion joints in favor of upscale-casual eateries. Not to be left behind, Hyde Park Restaurant Group gave the property a top-to-bottom makeover and, this past spring, unveiled Jekyll's Kitchen.
As the name coyly suggests, Jekyll's is meant to serve as alter ego to Hyde (Park). Where the latter lavishes diners with USDA Prime steaks and buttery lobster tails, the former is designed to seduce a new generation with "modern American comfort food" and reduced check averages. The formula of blending mainstream dishes with haute technique is hardly a novel one, as evidenced by the recent spate of gastropub-like eateries. The problem with Jekyll's, though, is that it offers neither modern food nor reduced checks.
Like the title character in the R. L. Stevenson novella, Jekyll's is a restaurant suffering from a bit of a personality disorder. Management promised to deliver a fresh concept, but what they really crafted is Hyde Park Lite. Apart from a handful of bar snacks, the menu reads like a traditional chophouse. Shrimp cocktail? Check. Wedge salad? Check. Steaks and chops? More than you can count on two hands. Add to that the customary sauces and sides, and a diner might be hard-pressed to see how, exactly, Jekyll's is anything but a steakhouse in disguise.
For folks sitting in the spiffed-up bar area, Jekyll's can indeed feel fresh. An amped-up energy level now permeates the expanded lounge, where tipplers enjoy the same picturesque views as those in the dining room. A summery cocktail list features beverages fashioned from boutique booze and fresh-squeezed fruit juices. Wine drinkers likely will be wowed by neither the variety nor the by-the-glass pours ($6-12), which are all delivered in puny white-wine goblets regardless of the grape.
A modest "bar food" menu adheres to the gastropub playbook, offering familiar but updated fare that pairs well with beer or wine. Few can quibble with a mountain of fresh-fried potato chips ($6.50), gilded with buttermilk blue cheese, candied pecans and a drizzle of sweet balsamic glaze. A wood-fired oven turns out reliably tasty thick-crust pizzas. One is topped with a meaty ration of zesty Italian sausage ($11.90), mozzarella, olives and banana peppers. Other pub-grub options include a cheddar burger ($9.50) and a prime rib French dip ($11.90). Both include hand-cut fries.
For folks seated in the dining room, Jekyll's still feels like a fancy restaurant — and not just because of the million-dollar views. White-topped tables, formal place settings and a lack of any discernable music conspire to suppress any measure of levity. While handsome, the new paint colors and light fixtures do little to lighten the mood.
Because the bar snacks are lumped in with the appetizers on the main menu, diners are limited for choices. Once you ignore the aforementioned burgers, sandwiches and pizza, which make poor starters, guests are left only with soup, salad, shrimp cocktail or calamari. The calamari ($9.50) is fine, but the lime dipping sauce leaves the squid tasting tart. Apart from the limp bacon, we thoroughly enjoy our wedge salads ($4.90). The standard-issue treatment includes crisp iceberg, creamy blue cheese dressing and chopped hard-cooked egg.
It's odd that a restaurant once heralded for its seafood selection has whittled its fresh fish offering to just two: farm-raised salmon and Chilean sea bass (both regarded on watch lists as "eco-worst"). If you show up on a Friday, a decent alternative is the "daily feature," a bountiful bowl of linguini ($18.50) with jumbo shrimp in a milky cream sauce. Fans of fall-off-the-bone-tender ribs ($19) will praise those served here, though sloppy finger food seems ill-placed given the surroundings.
Hyde Park certainly has earned its reputation as King of the Corn Fed, but if our poorly trimmed NY strip ($29) is any indication, Jekyll's is getting the scraps. Fatty but not well marbled, the chop requires surgical dexterity to wheedle out the good bits. Taking into account the various cuts, there are 13 different steaks and chops. All are served with mashed potatoes and green beans.
It's a pity to watch summer fade, because one of Jekyll's best features resides outside the building proper. Rivaling the best patios in town, a polished new alfresco playground places diners within spitting distance of the rushing Chagrin River. Here, folks can sit by the stone fireplace, order snacks off a limited menu and savor the "upscale-casual" atmosphere.