When we stumbled onto Whiskey Island around 6 p.m. on Cinco de Mayo, there was a healthy crowd of about 200 or so folks. By the time we finally dragged ourselves out of there sometime after 9 p.m., those numbers no longer applied. There were folks inside, outside, on boats, pretty much everywhere you looked. And to a man, each and every one of them seemed to be giddy with excitement.
"Can you believe this crowd?" Steve Schimoler said during an impromptu tour of his new summer home. "Holy crap!"
While Schimoler was noticeably thrilled, his wife and partner Jackie was doing everything she could to keep things in place. The massive and unexpected crowd pretty much threw everything into chaos mode, with the tiny indoor kitchen struggling to keep up with demand.
When all was said and done, Cropicana pulled in 560 cars stuffed with approximately 1,100 people on its first night.
"That's what we call a soft opening," Schimoler joked afterwards.
When Cropicana (2800 Whiskey Island Dr., 216-631-1800) opens for real on Thursday, May 12, things should be a tad calmer. Technical glitches will have been smoothed, staffers will have a better lay of the land, and it won't be Cinco de Mayo.
Schimoler, the chef and owner of Crop Bistro, has taken over the food ops at the former Sunset Grill on Whiskey Island. The timing is perfect as he and his crew have a few months to kill until Crop 2.0 opens in Ohio City later this summer.
Changes to the casual eatery include an expanded alfresco bar with roof, additional seating, and a massive outdoor kitchen. The kitchen is expected to be operational in about a week. The restaurant's new smoker, however, is already kicking out smoked chicken wings, pulled pork, half chickens, and barbecue ribs.
Prices are moderate and include $3.50 for a hot dog, $6 for a burger with chips, and $14 for a full slab ribs with beans and slaw.
With live music, cold beer, great grub, awesome staffers, volleyball and a laid-back vibe, Cropicana is the place to be this summer.