Fracas Still a Work in Progress

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The dictionary defines the word "fracas" as a noisy, disorderly disturbance, but on the night we visited Fracas Restaurant (2781 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216-321-6000, fracascleveland.com), a diner could hear an olive drop. Granted, it was the week between Christmas and New Year's, but that doesn't always translate into slow business.

Billed as a gastropub, the locally owned eatery opened in early December in the historic Centrum Theater near Coventry Road. Chef-owner Phil Romano, formerly of Hyde Park and House of Blues, has done a wonderful job freshening up the old main theater space. Old-time paint colors, intricate plaster work, and cool movie-theater lighting give this place a distinctive look. But it's the sheer volume of the room that stops diners in their tracks — especially after making the trip down the narrow entrance tunnel.

In a room this big anything less than a full house feels a tad gloomy, so here's hoping that the crowds soon come. In order to attract those crowds, chef Romano may have to step up his game — especially being on the restaurant-rich East Side. We enjoyed a starter of house-made potato chips ($5), served with a chunky onion dip. And we nibbled on the soft homemade pretzels ($6) until they cooled and could no longer qualify as "soft." More rods than twists, the pretzels were stacked like Lincoln Logs and served with a warm cheesed dip.

We appreciated the quesadilla ($12) presentation, which arrived in a twin towers rather than fanned out. Stuffed with duck confit and manchego cheese, this was a wonderful version of the pub classic. Less successful was the beer-braised lamb shank ($23), which was appropriately tender but not fully warmed through. And the sauce, perhaps a thickened braising liquid, tasted a bit burnt.

As one would expect of a gastro, this joint has a fabulous beer list with more-than-reasonable pricing. — Douglas Trattner

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