20 August 2008

Cleveland: Bar Cento/McNulty's Bier Markt

While exploring the amazing culinary landscape of Cleveland, I made two trips to the Westside Market-area restaurant run by Chef Jonathan Sawyer. The establishment is divided into two sides that share a common kitchen but operate different bars, and I had to try both.

First up was the left hand side, Bar Cento: I sat at the bar near the kitchen, close enough that I could feel the heat off the ovens. I loosened my tie and settled in for dinner. It wasn't until I saw the tattoos that I realized Sawyer was right there in front of me making pizzas and running the kitchen. I had a wine flight of unnamed Barbera, Sangiovese, and Nebbiolo--all quite good for the $10 flight special. A warm biscuit was delivered in a brown paper bag with a dish of butter to whet the appetite. I gazed over the menu and finally decided on the Shiitake and Wild Boar Salumi pizza. Excellent crust, great combination of ingredients, and I got to watch the whole process, meaning I got to see Sawyer place full sprigs of thyme on the pizza and then carefully remove them after cooking. Full thyme flavor without having to pick the stems out of your teeth.

One great note about Bar Cento was the music. As I was sitting there on a weekday afternoon, I noticed that Genesis was on the music system. Geez, I haven't heard "Land of Confusion" in a while. After the second Collins song, I saw that the cover for the Invisible Touch LP was propped up nearby. And just to the left, a turntable spinning away. I realized that the record albums stacked above the bar weren't just for decoration, and even enjoyed the minutes-long pause between the A and B sides when the bartender remembered to flip the record.

Later that week I made my way over to the right side for McNulty's Bier Markt, known more for it's massive beer selection. If you love the well-crafted beers of Belgium you can waste a lot of time at McNulty's. I started with a glass of the St. Bernardus Abt 12 dark beer, and followed up with the lighter Delirium Tremens. Two seriously produced Belgian beers from the enormous and well-thought out beer menu. Sadly, the ladies next to me were drinking Corona and Michelob. Oughta be a law.

I had the burger (topped with Dutch cheese and peppery greens) and a side of frites. The burger was great enough to make you cry and call your Mom, but those frites... By far the best I've had in the US and damned close to those available in the Netherlands. They're served with sprigs of rosemary and roasted garlic, and a tiny ramekin of salt and a pepper grinder are provided for you to further season them. And you get a dish with a dollop each of ketchup and three homemade mayonnaise blends incorporating different flavor profiles.

I had greasy fingerprints all over my newspaper, but I was a happy lad. Along with Lola, Lolita, and the Flying Fig, this place is on the Must Visit list for anyone coming to Cleveland.


fredric koeppel said...

stay in Cleveland long enough (does the city have a nickname?) and you'll be writing a guidebook to bars and restaurants.

Benito said...

Cleveland's got several nicknames, perhaps the worst being "The Mistake on the Lake", but I prefer "Metropolis of the Western Reserve", which calls back to the area's history as part of Connecticut.

I often wonder what the world would think of Cleveland if Sandburg and Terkel had lived and written there.

fredric koeppel said...

not to mention Saul Bellow and Nelson Algren. LL's family lived in North Madison, Ohio, when she was in high school, in one of the original houses from the Western Reserve landgrants. not many p[eople remember that in the early 19th century, that part of the country was called The Old Northwest.