After Michael Symon, no Cleveland chef is as nationally bewitching as Jonathon Sawyer. The Greenhouse Tavern purveyor's cuisine is brusque where Symon's pays tribute — the pig's head yin to Symon's calves' heart yang. But with the opening of Trentina in late June, Sawyer is ripping a page from Symon's playbook: Simple things done right. The menu, inspired by the ancestry of wife Amelia Sawyer, features the flavors of Italy's Trentino region made with Northeast Ohio ingredients. It's what Sawyer fans are craving: The 30-seat dining room at the former Sergio's in University Circle was partially funded through Kickstarter — netting $39,583 from 206 backers, $17,584 over the initial goal. We spoke to Sawyer about Italian cuisine, stepping into heritage and crowdsourcing success.
Q. What differentiates Trentino cuisine from other northern Italian foods?
A. What we've experienced there is more Germanic than Italian cuisine. As we like to say, "It's more sauerkraut than it is tomato sauce." Not to say there's not tomato sauce, but the people in the region of Trento have been under so many different flags over its history.
Q. What's it like taking over a space with heritage like Sergio's in University Circle?
A. We just really liked this space, always. I really loved Sergio [Abramof] as a person. He didn't need to be nice to me for any reason, and when we moved back from New York, back to Cleveland the first time, he made it a point to reach out and just say, "Hey, I'm Sergio Abramof, and if there's anything you ever need, I live over here and my restaurant is over here and I'd be more than willing to help." I thought he was one of the most endearing chefs we've ever had in this city.
Q. Why did you decide to use Kickstarter?
A. It wasn't, for us, about pushing our budget higher. It was actually a social outreach. The idea was that we were pretty active electronically between the Greenhouse Tavern and Amelia and Noodlecat and myself. We wanted the opportunity for people to invest no matter where they were, whether they were in Bosentino, Italy, or Boston, Massachusetts, or Alabama.
Sawyer shares his three favorite dishes from Trentina's tasting menu with us.
Strongolopretti alla Trentina
"The trick in Italy is whenever you only have a certain amount of meat or a certain amount of cheese left, you craft something to stretch it across an entire family," says Sawyer. "It's a celebration dish, but only because there's a little bit of luxurious cheese inside each dumpling."
"It's the predecessor to carpaccio," he says. "It has a written record of lightly cured, super red, almost raw meat being eaten in the mountains of Trento all the way back to the 1400s."
"This plate is a cousin of the peach and mascarpone dish you would see in the Veneto," he says. "The inclusion of the blue label olive oil adds a peppery, savory note, and our own house-made cheese brings a ricottalike Old World feel to the dish."
Since Jonathon Sawyer financed Trentina through Kickstarter, here are three more foodie-themed crowdsourcing projects we would endorse.
The next time we need to make a run for the border, we want one of these automated dispensers to shell out gourmet options such as short ribs, braised beef and barbecued chicken with inventive toppings — all with the slide of a debit card.
Chandelier Bagel Shop
With our crazy work schedules, we need fresh bagels and tasty schmears to help us get through grueling deadlines. While there are plenty of options in town, we'd like one right near our Playhouse Square building to make bagel runs easier.
Forget Icees and popcorn. The next time we're catching a flick, we want a cushy seat at a luxury movie theater — a growing trend on the West Coast — complete with a waiter to bring you cocktails and gourmet meals. It's one ticket we'd get in line for.