With less than an hour to go before the first guests start trickling in, Steve Schimoler is working his way from one end of the property to the other, which is a considerable amount of distance to cover given the scope of the project. On one end is Crop Sticks, a contemporary Asian bistro. On the opposite end is On-Air, a multi-media venue. And sandwiched in between is Crop Rocks
, a rock-and-roll themed casual American restaurant.
The two restaurants, the latest flush of new life in the Flats East Bank, will open their doors for dinner tonight. The studio space will follow a few weeks down the road.
“I’ve been pulling 30-hour days, if that’s possible,” Schimoler, clad in an electric-colored tie-dye T-shirt, says.
Still, his enthusiasm for the project belies his work-induced exhaustion. As we begin exploring the cavernous spaces, which are falling into place right before our eyes, it’s easy to see why. From the wall of albums – 20,000 plucked from former Rock Hall president Terry Stewart’s private collection – to the cartoonishly outsized WMMS transistor radio, the eclectic interior is like a trippy stroll through rock and roll history.
Besides the museum-like collection of rock memorabilia that plasters the walls, Crop Rock’s second most impressive feature is the glassed-in DJ booth, from which celebrity hosts like Stewart or Alan Cox will spin the soundtrack for dinner. It boasts a top-of-the-line sound system that fills the space with concert-quality audio courtesy of Altec Lansing Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers.
Take a seat at the Crop Rocks bar and you’ll spot some of classic rock’s finest album covers, all entombed beneath a quarter-inch of crystal clear resin. The conversation-starting bartop stretches for 50 feet, with colorful KISS and Grateful Dead albums snuggling up to labels from Billy Joel and the Beatles.
“It was the most freaked-out project I’ve ever done,” says the chef-owner. “You don’t get two chances to get it right.”
Roll-up windows turn the inside bar into an outside bar, where diners can grab an alfresco stool feet from the Cuyahoga River and dig into Schimoler’s playful take on “stoner food.”
“We had a lot of fun with this menu, obviously,” he says with a grin.
Start with some Friend of the Devil-ed Eggs or Hell in the Bucket spicy fried chicken wings. We Built This City Chicken is a city chicken (aka pork) poutine with fries, gravy and cheese. The main dishes run from a platter of Phish and Chips (exactly like it sounds) on up to a bucket of King crab legs. In between are updated comfort classics like meatloaf and mashers, chicken and waffles, and a whole host of sandwiches.
Next door, in the slightly smaller and more intimate Crop Sticks, modern takes on Asian cuisine are what’s for dinner. In place of walls covered with signed gold records are gold-threaded scrolls imported from the Far East.
“My goal is to be the best Asian-influenced restaurant in the city,” Schimoler says
The menu, like its sister eatery’s next door, has been in the R&D phase for the past year at Crop Kitchen, which has run many of the items as specials. Updated versions of egg rolls and pork-filled potstickers join fried-oyster steam buns and wasabi deviled eggs in the starter category. For the main event there’s pad Thai, Crop pho, and a beef udon noodle bowl. Large plate options include Chinese-spiced spare ribs with veggie fried rice, Korean-style short ribs with coconut steamed rice, and crispy basil duck with grilled bok choy.
There’s even a concise roster of nigiri and rolled sushi, all prepared in-house by chef Vince Griffith, who has worked at fine restaurants like Charlie Trotter and Greenhouse Tavern. Griffith’s style is the yin to Matt Anderson’s yang over at Crop Kitchen, where tradition not innovation is the name of the game. One such “out there” example at Crop Sticks is a surf-and-turf roll filled with ribeye and lobster.
While both Crop Rocks and Crop Sticks go live tonight, On-Air will debut a few weeks down the road. The flexible 250-person venue can be used for everything from concerts and comedy to theater and fashion shows, all of it wired to stream real-time high-def video and sound to the World Wide Web. The 7,000-square-foot space features its own bar, stage, green room and fully equipped banquet and catering kitchen.
Neither restaurant is easy to miss, located on the ground floor of the glitzy new Flats East Bank apartment building. But if you do need a helpful marker, just look for the baby blue VW bus, which is permanently parked directly out front.
Look for both restaurants to begin lunch service in a few weeks.