Photo by Ken Blaze
Stefan Was of Porco Lounge
Back when everybody thought Stefan Was had lost his marbles after he announced his plans to open a tiki bar in a rundown building in an isolated pocket of Ohio City, the original concept included plans for an Italian food menu. Of course now, three years into the success of Porco Lounge
, we see that nothing Was dreams up is crazy.
“My original concept was an Italian and tiki mashup of some sort,” Was explains. “Now, it’s coming full circle.”
Yesterday, Was announced a new partnership with chefs Brian Okin and Adam Bostwick of Cork and Cleaver
, Graffiti Social Kitchen
, and Dinner in the Dark
to launch Polpetta at Porco, a meatball-themed concept that will take root at the tiki bar. The separate and distinct concept will operate under the same roof, but will not affect any of the things that we love about Porco Lounge.
“This does not change anything in the front of the house,” Was clarified. “We are still Porco.”
Ever since opening day, Was has struggled to find an effective, consistent and delicious way to feed his guests under challenging circumstances. Given the physical limitations of the kitchen, a 10-by-10 space in a corner of the building, that meant dishing up basic items like nachos, tacos and the occasional shucked oyster. When Was saw Okin’s enthusiasm for the meatball concept, he approached him to consider Porco as its home.
“I was like, what the fuck do meatballs and tiki have to do with each other?” Okin recalls. “It makes absolutely no sense to me. But actually, it’s the perfect setup. Everybody loves meatballs. I can’t think of a single time when someone offered me a meatball and I said no.”
Okin’s appreciation for the concept originated during a recent trip to New York City, when he and a handful of other Cleveland chefs were invited to cook at the James Beard House. On an off day, the group dined at the Meatball Shop, a restaurant that started life on the Lower East Side of Manhattan but mushroomed to six locations in just four years.
“I was blown away by how obvious and simple and great the concept was and the fact that there was nothing even remotely like this in Cleveland,” Okin explains. “I thought to do something like that in Cleveland – not their exact concept, but to be inspired by it and do something based off of it – would be an awesome idea.”
Okin and Bostwick will convert the current space into a small but functional kitchen, adding a hood, stove, oven and other vital pieces of equipment. The streamlined nature of the menu makes it an ideal fit for the bar-like atmosphere of Porco Lounge.
“Imagine a meatball version of Barrio – that would be the best way to describe the concept,” says Bostwick. “You pick your ball, you pick your sauce, you pick your side.”
Balls will come in varieties like classic beef or pork and veal or chicken or veggie. Sauces include tomato, mushroom gravy, parmesan cream and pesto. Sides might feature braised Italian greens, creamy polenta or rigatoni. Meatballs can be ordered on their own, as sliders or in large sandwiches. Starters range from olives and almonds to pepperoni bread.
“A meatball is a meatball, but you have to start with good ingredients, whether it’s lamb, beef, pork or vegan,” notes Okin.
While Okin, Bostwick and Was have been chomping at the bit to get the ball rolling, so to speak, they are moving forward with all deliberate speed.
“We didn’t want to let the idea get away from us, but at the same time, we’re not the kind of people who knee-jerk and do something without being prepared to do it properly,” says Okin.
Guests can expect the first balls to start rolling off the line by early December. Polpetta will stick to the same hours of operation as Porco, but there might be a market for a late-night window down the road.
Of course, much like the original operators in New York, Okin, Bostwick and Was have their sights set on expansion.
“The goal is to start here and use it as an incubator to expand the concept into its own brick and mortar – and maybe more than one,” Okin says. “It feels like a concept you could see in three or four different neighborhoods around the city.”