For some odd reason, one of the world’s finest cuisines has mostly been ignored on the North Coast. It is as though there is some unspoken boycott of French food.
There have been attempts to tackle the succulent food of France, but the only local successes in this area are Chez Francois in Vermilion, which is nearly as close to Toledo as it is to central Cleveland, and the year-old Tartine in Rocky River.
But leave it to Zack Bruell, who has been opening restaurants here for nearly 25 years, to blast into the market and create a completely French environment with the most authentic French food Cleveland has seen. He’s discovered a perfect niche for his French brasserie and bar in University Circle at the former That Place on Bellflower. He has also renovated and reopened the 40-person patio the previous tenant was known for, and a bocce court is soon to follow.
“I never even considered that French wouldn’t work,” Bruell says. “This is my food, I knew it would work, I never thought otherwise.”
Bruell’s world is his restaurants. He balances 80-hour weeks between Parallax in Tremont and Table 45 at the InterContinental Hotel, of which he is part-owner. He has practically abandoned his passion for golf, unless it is on one of the restaurant’s televisions. Yet Bruell seems happier now than at any other time in the 24 years I have followed his exploits.
Of course, Bruell is right when he says French will sell in Cleveland. L’Albatros is packed, from its prenoon open to its midnight close with an audience that ranges from students to the corporate elite. The clientele are all here for the same thing: the amazing food, the fine service and the low prices. Of the 21 regular entrées, only four cost more than $20, and even those don’t top $22.