It's time to ditch the sour mix and punch up the flavor of your happy hour drink with fresh ingredients straight from the kitchen. We raise a glass to the creative bartenders who are introducing food into our booze for a pantry's worth of alcoholic beverages.
MIXED UP // Daniella Grand got her creative juices flowing after she discovered extra pear poaching liquid used in Willeyville's seasonal poached pear salad. The bar manager took advantage of the surplus to make a twist on the margarita called El Bebido ($11). Using a mix of Espolon Reposado, Grand Marnier, ginger ale and lemon juice, the cocktail finds its culinary roots in sage that's infused with the pear liquid, as well as house-made Key lime bitters and a house-made sage-pear syrup. "Sage, pear and tequila are kind of good friends," says Grand. "The sage helps balance the sweetness. It creates layers of flavors instead of having one flat note." Even the skins from the pear get into the act — they are dehydrated into a powder that rims the glass. "We make everything from scratch [in the restaurant]," Grand says. "I kind of like the bar to be the same way." 1051 W. 10th St., Cleveland, 216-862-6422, thewilleyville.com
House-made orange fennel honey, Bulleit Rye whiskey and a dash of soda make the Orange Fennel Old-Fashioned ($11) feel new. So does a garnish of muddled oranges and fried cherries coated in sugar. 34205 Chagrin Blvd., Moreland Hills, 216-464-3700, flourrestaurant.com
spice kitchen & bar
During the summer, Ohio-grown strawberry puree is made right in the back of the restaurant and added to the Strawberry Sipper ($9), a gin drink with lime juice, fresh rosemary and a dash of house-made rhubarb bitters. 5800 Detroit Ave., Cleveland, 216-961-9637, spicekitchenandbar.com
crop bistro & bar
A play on the brunch favorite, the Bloody Devil ($9) uses a house-made bloody mary mix that starts off with a tomato sauce and beef base before it's added to red pepper-infused vodka, cilantro with a deviled egg on top. 2537 Lorain Ave., Cleveland, 216-696-2767, cropbistro.com
Intended as a way to preserve meats before refrigeration, this centuries-old tradition is no longer limited to wine bars and small plates menus. Chef-driven restaurants are beefing up their skills by curing their own salami, prosciutto and more to pair with pickled vegetables, tangy spreads and house-made crackers.
MEAT HERE // Vincent Sanchez likes to play matchmaker in his restaurant. When you visit Lakewood's Humble Wine Bar, the executive chef and his staff help you pick one ($5) or three ($14) cured meats from 10 on the menu by factoring in your palate and, of course, your desired glass of vino. "It's like a marriage," says Sanchez. "They got to work together." He'll likely set up first-timers with the delicate, soft-cut prosciutto di Parma from Italy, while foodies will find their mate in the decadent lardo, fat from the top of the pig that can be spread like butter across the house-made nutty and fruity crackers or a fresh-out-of-the-oven baguette. Add the sweet fig jam and Ohio honey to any one of the salty, sliced-to-order meats and you'll be salivating for another board. While charcuterie has been a lifelong affair for the Puerto Rican-born Sanchez, he equates the recent infatuation with cured meats to our craving to eat clean. "There is no preservatives or anything, so it's more organic and healthy," he says. 15400 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-767-5977, humblewinebar.com
the black pig
House-made meats shine in this foursome of perfect pairings ($11) featuring pork pate with bread-and-butter pickles, whipped chicken liver mousse with local berries, pork rillettes with pickled apples and Thai curry pork sausage with salsa verde. 1865 W. 25th St., Cleveland, 216-862-7551, thblackpigcleveland.com
Assorted meats ($16) are cured, smoked and dried then served in a duo with selections including bacon-wrapped bison terrine with pistachios, caramelized onions and roasted red peppers, and pork terrine with pork belly and pine nuts. 2175 Cornell Road, Cleveland, 216-229-1111, clubisabella.com
Press Wine Bar
Local sausage, four Italian meats and rotating cheeses (small $13, large $20) pair with house-made crackers and sides. Dig into combinations such as pickled radishes with salami or orange-and-ginger marmalade with blue cheese. 2221 Professor Ave., Cleveland, 216-566-9463, presswinebar.com
Whether we do it out of concern for the environment, to support animal rights or for the health benefits, more Clevelanders are opting to go vegan. But it isn't all tofu, kale and wheatgrass anymore. For breakfast, lunch and dinner — it's main course material.
HEALTHY CHOICE // The very thought of slithery, quivering tofu is enough to send a shiver down the spine of any red-blooded carnivore. But at TownHall, local meatheads may meet their vegan match. With its stuffed banana peppers ($9), the Ohio City restaurant transforms a traditionally sausage-packed dish into a vegan treat. Chock-full of toasted fennel, risotto, arugula and topped with roasted tomato coulis, it has all the texture and flavor of the original with none of the actual sausage. The secret is seitan, a wheat gluten that replicates the texture of the recipe's traditional Italian delicacy without a single ounce of meat. "A lot of places do vegan food, but we try to do things that really focus on it," says co-owner Bobby George. Starting with only three simple options, TownHall has since bloomed into a vegan gathering place, now offering five daily dishes and five Monday night specials — complete with spirit and dessert options. To George, the tangy, savory peppers aren't just for eating — they're about spreading the gospel that vegan options can, in fact, be delicious. "It's all about education," he says. "We want people to really think about how food makes their body feel." 1909 W. 25th St., Cleveland, 216-344-9400, townhallohiocity.com
The napoleon de champignons sauvages ($20) will help you battle veggie cravings with its layers of portobello mushrooms, roasted red pepper, cauliflower, grilled squash and zucchini all held together with a heart-topped food skewer. 13101 Shaker Square, Cleveland, 216-921-3333, edwinsrestaurant.org
DEAGAN'S KITCHEN & bar
Fans of the Lakewood gastropub's Taco Tuesdays should try its Wednesday vegan specials, which include options such as the Unicorn tacos ($9). Seitan gets wrapped in a soft taco shell filled with a tangy slaw and sweet chili sauce. 14810 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-767-5775, deagans.com
THE ROOT CAFE
Take a lunch break with the Culture ($9), a sandwich made with tempeh (a soy and rice cake that's marinated in a secret, house-made sauce and baked to crispy perfection), spinach, pesto bell peppers and chipotle aioli. 15118 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-226-4401, theroot-cafe.com
Upscale Comfort Food
We love comfort food — the casseroles, the hearty meats, soups and stews. These dishes nurture and restore us while provoking memories of our childhood. But we're especially bowled over with modern reinventions of these classics, in which chefs incorporate unexpected ingredients without sacrificing a dish's approachability.
MEMORY REIGN // The Standard's short rib stroganoff ($12) may take us back to those Sunday family gatherings, but doesn't shortchange our desires for refined, quality ingredients. "We take a traditional Eastern European classic with meat, vegetables and sauce, but incorporate all fresh ingredients," says chef Patrick Fisher. To accomplish the rich texture and flavor, Fisher lightly dusts the cubed short rib meat with salt, pepper and flour before browning the chunks in oil. He then integrates a sautee of garlic and onions with the short rib, along with veal stock, mushrooms, fresh thyme and Ohio City egg noodles. A few dollops of sour cream add some tartness. "This dish is an exact representation of this neighborhood," says Fisher. "We have elderly customers who say it reminds them of their youth. A friend who's 25 just tried it for the first time — there wasn't a drop left in the bowl." 779 E. 185th St., Cleveland, 216-531-9643, thestandardcleveland.com
Dive into a contemporary spinoff of the meat-and-potatoes duo with a fatty, flavorful rib-eye ($41). The humanely raised, antibiotic-free cut of meat adjoins radicchio, fennel, scallion and pickled garlic. 2058 E. Fourth St., Cleveland, 216-621-5652, lolabistro.com
PEACHTREE SOUTHERN KITCHEN & COCKTAILS
One bite of the country-fried sirloin ($23) with onion mashed potatoes and white gravy, and any earlier chain restaurant rendition will remain a distant recollection. 200 N. Main St., Hudson, 234-380-1789, peachtree-
The oAK BARREL
Go for the pork shank ($18) — from a New Jersey-based specialty meat purveyor — braised with Dr. Pepper and served with roasted garlic whipped potatoes and soy chili jam. 5975 Canal Road, Valley View, 216-520-3640, theoakbarrel.com