Will Steve Schimoler succeed where Scott Kim was unable to do so? We’ll find out soon enough when Crop Kitchen (11460 Euclid Ave.) opens in the former Accent space at Uptown in University Circle. The casual spinoff of the uber-popular Crop Bistro in Ohio City will open next week following a few days of closed-door dining.
The expansive half-moon eatery has a decidedly more informal look and feel following a quick and somewhat superficial makeover. Most surfaces have been wrapped in bead board, chalkboard and hand-painted murals. The only remaining traces of Accent’s signature décor elements are the lettered cut-outs on the ceiling, but by removing the backlighting, even those fade into the background.
“We put the space through a pretty good Cropification,” says chef-owner Schimoler.
Other design tweaks include ripping out the maze of booths in the main dining room and replacing them with roomy 10-foot pine communal tables that can accommodate a dozen people each.
“I envision students gathered around these tables with their laptops out,” adds the chef.
By altering the layout and seating, Schimoler has reduced the occupancy of the restaurant from nearly 200 down to just 160. That does not include the generous front patio.
The core menu at Crop Kitchen is built around the lunch menu at Crop Bistro, with salads, sandwiches and “big plates” taking up the most real estate. Those items are supplemented by snacks and starters, sushi bar items, and a handful of nightly specials. Those omnipresent chalkboards will tick off the draft beer and wine selections, sushi and fish offerings, nightly features, and desserts.
Here, the popular cheery bombs will be vegetarian instead of chorizo filled. Small bites also include wasabi deviled eggs, spring rolls, chicken satay cooked on the Robata grill, and belly bites, which are braised, pressed, skewered, deep-fried nuggets of pork belly that are dipped in soy-wasabi glaze. “They’re like crack,” says Schimoler. Charcuterie and cheese, displayed in prominent coolers, will be arranged on wooden boards along with accoutrements.
Sandwiches include a “Double Double” burger with two patties of Pat LaFrieda beef, a pounded, breaded and pan-fried chicken sandwich, a meatloaf sandwich with Korean BBQ sauce, and the Pig Mac, a double-fister packed with braised pork, pork loin, bacon and sauce.
In the “Big Plate” category one will find chicken curry rice, udon noodles with bok choy, and chicken cassoulet, which is finished in the blistering hot Josper oven. No item on the menu is priced above $19, with the bulk of the food coming in much lower.
Heading up the sushi bar is chef-partner Matthew Anderson, formerly of Umami in Chagrin Falls. To start, he’ll only be offering approximately three sushi items and three rolls, but will likely expand those offerings over time.
“On purpose I am not doing a larger sushi menu so I can maintain the same commitment to quality that people will recognize from Umami,” Anderson says. “People who know me from Chagrin Falls will also see some of the same dishes I was doing there, like the sushi, sashimi, noodles, dumplings… that kind of stuff. I’m jazzed to have a big kitchen to play in. It’s going to be fun.”
Also new to the space is a pool table, parked in the lounge side by the bar. While it might sound an odd design choice for a restaurant, Schimoler says that it’s a strategic move.
“We don’t want to be perceived as an upscale, pretentious bistro,” he says. “Plus, we love shooting pool. It’s the ultimate gentleman’s game.”
To combat University Circle parking snafus, valet parking will be offered right outside the front door under a covered portico.
Crop Kitchen will likely open its doors to the public for dinner starting Wednesday, October 15, with lunch following a month or so down the road.
“I think lunch is going to kick ass, but we want to get our sea legs before we start it,” says Schimoler.