"I'm kinda known as the Queen of Pork," says Melissa
Khoury, executive chef at Little Italy's Washington Place Bistro (2203 Cornell Rd., 216-791-6500, washingtonplacelittleitaly.com). And in a town that loves its swine, that really is an honor.
And when it comes to "What's Fresh" on the WPB menu these days? Well, it should be no surprise that it's a pork product: house-made chorizo in particular.
After high school, Khoury enrolled at Johnson and Wales, where she learned to appreciate the pig and all its blessings. "I believe in using the entire animal," explains Khoury, adding that she had a deep interest in charcuterie and butchering at school. After graduating she headed South for the warmer climates of Florida and Georgia, where she worked at two different farm-to-table restaurants. "They taught me how to be animal-centric," she says. And this on-the-job training helped her develop recipes that would be unveiled years later at WPB.
Upon returning to Cleveland five years ago, Khoury was looking for the perfect kitchen to lead. After a stint as sous chef for the wonderfully progressive AMP 150, Washington Place Bistro became her new home. For those who have not dined at WPB, it is a charming and welcoming American comfort food establishment in Little Italy.
"I loved that WPB was in Little Italy, but not an Italian restaurant," she explains. "It allowed me to challenge myself by pleasing both the foodies and the everyday diner."
A year at the helm has allowed the chef to express her fondness for pork in myriad ways, most recently through her incredibly flavorful chorizo. But this is not a traditional Mexican-inspired sausage; Khoury worked hard to put her own spin on the spicy pork product. Prepared fresh throughout the week utilizing various cuts of pork and secret spices, the sausage is "a little spicy and a little sweet."
"The use of smoked paprika in the sausage blend adds a different level of taste to each dish it is utilized in," she explains. In addition to being the featured sausage for the Sunday brunch, chorizo also lands in multiple menu items. Prince Edward Island mussels are sautéed with house-made chorizo, tarragon, tomatoes, miso and hard cider. The mac and cheese features Mackenzie goat cheese and chorizo, along with a goat cheese strudel. In the Southern-inspired shrimp and grits, chorizo adds zest and balance to the cheesy grits, scallions and beer blanc.
The popularity of Washington Place Bistro is proof that Clevelanders love both swine and the Queen of Pork.