First Look: Woodstock BBQ in Lakewood


Before speaking to the media about Woodstock BBQ, owner Robert Togliatti said he wanted to have his ducks in a row. That’s probably why you haven’t read – or likely even heard – much about his new restaurant despite the fact that it will open its very conspicuous Lakewood doors in less than two weeks.

Woodstock began life as Smōk, with initial estimates targeting a late 2015 opening. But given the amount of renovations that Togliatti had planned for the former Trio’s Bar (13362 Madison Ave.), that timeline turned out to be tremendously optimistic.

“If you saw it before, this place was a real dive,” he says.

Togliatti purchased the 100-year-old building a year and a half ago and has since poured a ton of time and money into the renovation project – and it shows. The overall space is bright, open and welcoming, the exact opposite of its dive bar days. The main spaces, connected years ago by the previous tenant, flow easily from barroom to dining room. A façade of accordion-style windows opens up and folds away, uniting the sidewalk patio to the interior. The building's exterior was restored to its original brick shell and the structure’s first real kitchen was installed.

Though the owner and his crew did almost all of the work, nothing looks like it was cobbled together to save money. The walls are clad in blonde wood. The tabletops are built from pallet wood and mounted atop bases fabricated from jet-black plumbing conduit. Light fixtures, though made from electrical supplies, are hip and appropriate for the space. Items inherited with the space include a towering cigar store Indian and an old telephone booth. A circa 1900 cash register sits atop the backbar. Woodstock will seat 60 diners indoors and another 15 on the front patio.

Togliatti might be the third guy to open a barbecue joint in Cleveland this year, but he likely began working on the concept long before any of them. This is a plan years in the making, he says, one cultivated from many miles of travel.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in Memphis, a lot of time in Nashville, and a lot of time in Kansas City, and everywhere I went I sought out barbecue places,” he explains. “I didn’t choose barbecue because it’s hot, I chose it because I love it. It’s pretty simple – it’s not over-cheffed food – and that’s the fantastic thing about it.”

One thing that Togliatti says he has gleaned from his years on the road is that every barbecue restaurant has its own style – and that’s not even getting to the food. Some of the best barbecue he’s ever had was from a carry-out-only joint, while others are a bit more elaborate. His will be somewhere in the middle.

“I like the easy vibe of barbecue restaurants,” he explains. “There’s all different levels and styles of places. This is a bar with barbecue. We’re still going to keep it super-simple, but we’re also going to have a full bar, appetizers, sides and desserts.”

Pitmaster Tommy Chambers will be smoking brisket, pulled pork, turkey, rib tips and sausage year-round on a pair of Old Hickory pits in an open-air smoke shack behind the building, Lakewood’s only outdoor commercial smokers. The menu will likely rotate daily, with three meats and three sides available on any given day. Starters will include smoked chicken wings, smoked cream cheese-stuffed jalapenos, barbecue loaded nachos, and barbecue loaded french fries. Sides will include spicy slaw, broccoli salad, mac and cheese, collard greens and plenty of sweet and hot pickles. Dessert is sweet potato pie. Everything will be made onsite except for the sausages, which are coming from Fresh Butcher Deli in Broadview Heights.

Togliatti says that he scrapped the original name for a couple of reasons.

“I was originally going to call it Smōk, but it was hard for me to even type and it was hard for people to say,” he quips. “People were pronouncing it like ‘smock.’ Plus, there are a lot of other barbecue places called Smoke. We’ve got all this wood, so Woodstock just worked.”

Togliatti might be new to the restaurant business, but he isn’t new to Lakewood. In fact, he has lived and worked within four blocks of the restaurant for nearly two decades, he says.

“Everybody in the neighborhood is excited. It’s obviously taken a lot of money and it’s taken a lot of time, I just hope we’ll be busy. As long as the food and service is good, we should be fine. The key is to keep the menu very simple and execute very well. The food has to match all the work I’ve done on the building.”

Look for Woodstock to open in early August.

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