When we order takeout from our favorite restaurant, we typically have a dine-in experience with which to associate those dishes. In fact, it is likely those dining memories that we hope to recreate in some fashion by ordering carryout or delivery in the first place. But with a “ghost kitchen,” there is no dining room, there is no restaurant and there are no recollections of happy meals shared.
What Chimi lacks in comfort, it more than makes up for in speed. The new ghost, or virtual, kitchen from chef-owner Doug Katz does away with all the trappings of a traditional full-service restaurant to instead focus squarely on the food, which is available for pick-up or delivery only.
Ghost kitchens have always been a sound business model, but given the Covid crisis, the concept has never been more logical. To maximize odds of survival, many operators have pivoted to take-out and delivery, but they are still saddled with the rent, labor and utilities associated with running a full-service restaurant. By eliminating the brick-and-mortar restaurant altogether, an owner can dramatically reduce his or her fixed costs.
In Katz’s case, the decision to launch a virtual business was even more pragmatic because he already had the kitchen. The well-equipped space at the former Katz Club Diner in Cleveland Heights doubles as the home of Fire Catering, which has lost much of its event business in recent months. Katz and chef Cameron Pishnery already had been tinkering with South American cuisine, which they considered a germ for a possible future restaurant. Given their lean operating budgets, ghost kitchens also happen to make great proofs of concept.
Thanks to tech advances, it has never been easier to order food from any device. Chimi’s clean interface makes it a snap to place an order to be ready at a specific time. In the case of pick-up, customers park, call to check in and wait for the food to be handed over. As at Zhug, Katz’s sister establishment, this menu consists of dozens of options that range from a small bite on up to a main course. Everything plays well together, united by a variety of vibrant dips, spreads and sauces and scooped up via chips, flatbreads and tortillas.
Requeson ($8) showcases juicy vine-ripe tomatoes, which rest atop a pool of fluffy ricotta drizzled with olive oil and showered with fresh herbs. Likewise, a summery peach gazpacho ($7) bursts with aromatic fruit but also crunch and kick thanks to diced cucumbers and healthy dash of heat. If you feel like chip-and-dipping, consider the refreshing lime-infused crema ($3) or the warm-spiced roja salsa ($4) to drag through some corny, crunchy, Ohio-made tortilla chips. A sweet and creamy “hummus” fashioned from velvety sweet potatoes ($10) gets a nutty textural boost from a fistful of chile-dusted pepitas.
Other spreads, while delicious on their own, manage to boost the standing of everything they grace. That aforementioned rojo makes a great accompaniment to perfectly roasted, seasoned and smashed fingerling spuds ($8) and the chunky, captivating and slyly spicy peanut salsa belongs at the heart of every stuffed and twisted white corn tortilla. Speaking of those; tack on an extra order ($3) because you will inhale them.
Those warm, griddled wraps are used as vehicles for main dishes like grilled boneless dark-meat chicken ($14), which is paired with an electric-green Peruvian pepper sauce and cold cucumber and radish salad. Fat chunks of beef short rib ($17) are braised until ropey-tender and set in a pool of adobo cream sauce that will have you licking clean the plate. A crisp jicama and hot pepper slaw brightens up each bite. With the shrimp Veracruz ($17), Katz proves there are no duds to be unearthed on the menu. This earthy stew of tomatoes, olives, capers, nuts and mint is an adeptly layered gem. Hit it with the namesake chimichurri, a grassy, herby elixir, or the zippy mango and banana habanero hot sauce ($1) to really make it sing.
If there’s a downside to meals like this, it’s the guilt that comes from staring down a million and one plastic containers.
As scary as it might sound to a restaurant owner, the majority of today’s diners are not comfortable eating indoors. Outside, while more prudent, is limited in space and the weather is unpredictable. As fall looms and the window for outdoor dining closes, expect more savvy entrepreneurs like Katz to leverage their existing reputation and kitchens into spin-off businesses that offer great taste and convenience if not necessarily budget-friendly dining.