It's 8:30 on a Saturday night at Hudson's Rosewood Grill, and the press of would-be diners shows no signs of stopping. They come in sports coats and sweatshirts, blue jeans and Burberry, all trying to elbow their way to the crowded bar or snag a seat in the dining room.
Combined with a no-reservations policy, tonight's crush guarantees a wait for a table. We pass the time pondering the lists of handcrafted cocktails, a concise but comprehensive wine collection and boutique beers. The latter includes the lip-smacking red cherry and caramel Rosewood Red ($4.75) custom brewed at Akron's Thirsty Dog Brewery.
Situated in what used to be the parking lot of the circa-1852 Turner's Mill, this contemporary lounge is part of a 4,500-square-foot addition to the mill's lower level undertaken by Rocky River-based Hospitality Restaurants. Boasting comfy booths, high-top tables and a view onto a pocket-sized stone patio, the airy room is chic and energetic while its companion 90-seat dining room inside the building's sandstone foundation walls is comparatively subdued.
We ogle the action inside the open kitchen visible behind the bar. The line labors over items ranging from burgers and flatbreads to steaks and seafood with surprising composure and grace.
That's music to the ears of Hospitality Restaurants partner George Schindler, who says the challenge was creating a casual yet polished neighborhood hangout. To that end, prices are moderate, and the large, seasonally inspired menu can accommodate anything from weeknight burgers to Saturday splurges with steaks and fine wines. That's the reasoning, too, behind the seating policy, Schindler says. "We hope you'll drop in any time, without the formality of making advanced reservations."
The man behind the menu is corporate chef Shawn Cline, former long-time executive chef at Blue Point Grille. As a devotee of seasonal ingredients, he brings a gardener's heart and perfectionist's eye to his dishes.
True, perfection can be elusive when your kitchen churns out more than 300 meals on a Saturday night. Still, Cline and his staff generally nail even the smallest details. Take the ample Rosewood salad ($5). A toss of fresh baby spinach and leaf lettuces topped with shredded carrot and fontiago cheese, the salad exemplifies the kitchen's willingness to sweat the small stuff — from the chilled plate to the judiciously applied white balsamic vinaigrette.
Portion size, too, is impressive. That salad could stand alone as a light meal. Instead, we pair it with the "killer" french dip sandwich ($14) — a towering stack of tender prime rib topped with nutty Gruyere on a toasted French roll — and have enough for leftovers. Somehow, we do polish off a side of freshly cut french fries that also accompany the juicy mushroom burger ($9), a blend of Angus beef capped with crimini, shiitake and oyster mushrooms, along with Swiss and caramelized onions.
Rustic flatbreads from the 575-degree stone oven are a worthy house specialty. The mushrooms and Brie ($10) bursts with smoky appeal. We make short work of the buttery homemade hummus ($8), a family recipe from Hospitality Restaurants partner Kay Ameen, enhanced with Greek yogurt, sour cream, sesame oil and pureed cucumber. Carb lovers should not miss the generously sized lobster mac and cheese ($7), an indulgent side of firm shell-shaped pasta, aged Tillamook cheddar and nuggets of sweet claw and knuckle meat.
The boneless Maui ribeye ($26) begs no apology. Marinated in pineapple juice, soy and ginger, then grilled to medium rare, the succulent showstopper is so well marbled it melts in my mouth. No wonder it's a Rosewood Grill top seller.
One troublemaker is a good-looking summer roll ($9) featuring a bland crab-and-veggie filling tucked inside a tough rice paper wrapper. During a follow-up conversation, staffers said they were aware of the problem and had taken steps to address it.
It's worth loosening the belt to dig into a housemade dessert. Topped with a scoop of Mitchell's vanilla bean ice cream, warm Maine blueberry cobbler ($6) puts a wholesome-tasting cap on the evening. Even better is the deconstructed pineapple "not upside-down" cake ($6): swirls of buttery caramel, wedges of grilled pineapple and an impossibly moist brown-butter cake made with ground macadamia "flour."