Hingetown, that eclectic little corner of Ohio City, will soon have its first full-service, finer-dining restaurant when Alea opens next month near the intersection of W. 29th Street and Church Avenue (2912 Church St.). A concept two years in the making and six months under construction, the restaurant will offer a wide-ranging taste of the Mediterranean in an attractive, modestly proportioned setting.
Chef and owner Athan Zarnas been cooking professionally in Cleveland for approximately 20 years, with stints at Nighttown, Sergio’s and Cracked Mobile Foods, his own food truck. For more than half that time, his goal has been to open a restaurant. He believes he found the perfect spot, a 1,400-square-foot brick building that for more than 100 years functioned as a drill bit factory.
A garage-door façade opens to reveal an open kitchen anchored by a wood-fired grill. An 8-person chef’s counter and intimate dining room will combine to accommodate about 32 guests. Those guests will enjoy a contemporary menu of snacks, small-plates and sharable entrees, most of which will be cooked over a live wood fire.
“I spend a lot of time following trends in other cities and, obviously, I’ve watched the trend in Middle Eastern foods and wood-fired cooking,” explains Zarnas. “But what I felt was missing was a kind of higher-end approach to Mediterranean food. Typically, it’s served in a rustic fashion and lacks polish. The idea here is to present flavors that, I think, people associate with rustic dishes, but in a much more refined way.”
When devising the menu, Zarnas will take inspiration from “all over the Mediterranean,” including Italy, France, Greece, North Africa, Turkey and elsewhere in the Middle East. Everything is designed to be shared, from small snacks and appetizers on up to large-format dishes like whole grilled fish and large steaks.
To drink, there will be a limited cocktail menu, but the emphasis will be squarely on wine, especially natural wines.
“There seems to be a lot of interest in wine in this neighborhood,” he reports. “There really is nowhere to get a decent glass of wine between the Black Pig and Gordon Square. This is kind of a wine desert.”
When it opens in late September or early October, Alea will be dinner-only. Weekend brunch will be added down the road.
As for the name, Zarnas explains that in Latin, “alea” means "a gamble."
“I’ve opened restaurants for other people, but this will be the first one that I open one for myself,” he says. “It’s always a roll of the dice.”
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