Understand this: I am not living in either delusion or denial. I know that Brecksville is not Paris or even anything like Paris. But there is something decidedly French about my recent drinking and dining experiences there.
Opened last August on the town’s main drag, the restaurant is intimate, attractive, even stylish, but not fancy. Words like charming and cozy apply. There’s an eclectic, affordable selection of good-to-great wines and a menu heavy on Gallic gusto — fois gras, cassoulet and duck confit.
People linger even after the last plate’s been cleared. The sound of conversation never lets up. And we were ignored completely upon our arrival (a truly authentic touch) not once but twice, my companion and I left hovering uncertainly near the door wondering what to do for an uncomfortably long few minutes. This hosting gaffe is a sure sign that this is a destination for regulars, and just how I’d expect to be treated if I wandered into some neighborhood café in the Ninth Arrondissement.
Besides, it’s called 2182 Bistro. So allow me my French fantasy. It’s a vision owners Brian and Tennille Klopp and their chef, Rob Stauch, share. And their customers have taken to it with the enthusiasm of tourists to the Eiffel Tower.
The 55-seat room is busy almost every night. With most customers coming from the area, it’s clear that the suburban communities south of Cleveland were hungry for this sort of très chic little hangout.
Much to the chef’s surprise, and delight, they’re clamoring for his classic preparations, ordering the patés and terrines he makes as though they’re on the rue Saint Dominique instead of the junction of state Routes 21 and 82, from which the restaurant takes its name.
For those who want to sup like they’re on the Left Bank, there’s steak tartar ($10), crocks of beefy onion soup topped with a thick, bubbling layer of Gruyere ($5), and roast chicken ($21). But management aims to please even those still stuck on saying “freedom fries.” So the short, tightly focused menu always includes a pasta dish and a risotto along with a few anomalies such as a jerk chicken spring roll ($4) and Hawaiian BBQ scampi ($4.50).
There are two approaches to eating here. You can go the conventional route, from appetizer to entrée, or opt for feasting on multiple small plates. After trying both, I’m convinced that the better choice is to graze. Reasonable prices and just-right portions make it possible to enjoy a terrific variety of flavors. The culinary wanderings lend themselves to a leisurely pace and multiple glasses of wine. This is a fun way to spend a couple of hours and it truly captures the essence of the restaurant.
Among my favorites was the frisee salad ($7). The slightly bitter greens were dotted with cubes of bacon and served with a perfectly poached egg, cooked just enough so that when punctured with a fork the liquid yellow center became part of the chicken liver vinaigrette. (Don’t let the poultry parts put you off your feed — this dressing is absolutely delicious.) A couple of crostini smeared with Maytag blue completed the presentation.
The seared duck breast ($12) was another memorable mouthful. The generous helping belied its “petits” designation and made it ideal for sharing. Slices of rare meat were fanned over honey-glazed peaches, the plate drizzled with raspberry sauce and speckled with dabs of goat cheese and walnuts. In less capable hands, sweetness could dominate, but Stauch’s combination achieves a nice balance.
Mussels are typical bistro fare, and there’s always a version du jour here ($11).
We sampled a bowlful of exceptionally fresh and tender ones doused in a sublime portobello cream. We left not a drop behind and gave the mushroom, leek and goat cheese tartlet in brandy cream sauce precisely the same treatment. And for pure indulgence, you can’t beat the pomme frites ($4.50). Coated in extra virgin olive oil, rosemary and Parmesan, these spuds are a standalone snack, not a side dish, and prompt compulsive consumption.
Among the best seats in the house are those in the window up front, the counter-height community table with room for eight, and at the bar, an eye-catching surface of crinkled copper under glass.
Anywhere, though, guests sit in close proximity. Ordering can be downright collaborative, with people getting excited about what they see on your table and asking for an on-the-spot critique. A foursome beside us was intrigued with our charcuterie board ($12), featuring slices of a tasty salami, rounds of andouille sausage, a tiny crock of pork rillette (a spreadable potted meat paste), olives, cornichons (tart miniature pickles), two kinds of mustard and toasted bread. I gave it high marks, so they got one to kick off their dinner, along with an artisan cheese board ($13), a world tour of milk curds accented with candied walnuts and blueberries. The mix changes regularly — that day it included a Red Dragon cheddar from England made with brown ale and mustard seeds, a mild semisoft Port Salut from France, and an Italian sheep’s milk Pecorino Dolce.
Desserts are few but provide ample opportunity for gratifying excess. Crème brûlée is offered as a trio of mini-sized variations on the theme of custard — mine were caramel, mixed berry and raspberry ($6). The mousse cake, with an airy texture and an intense chocolate wallop, is enough for two ($6). And the tarte Tatin, an upside-down apple pastry ($6), was so nice on its own that it didn’t need the scoop of vanilla ice cream, though that didn’t stop us from making it disappear.
As much as I like it here, I can’t ignore the uneven pacing on my visits. Sometimes there was an interminable wait between dishes, other times new plates came out before we’d finished the ones in front of us. Food showed up but the next round of wine we wanted to pair it with didn’t arrive until we were almost done. I noticed the same kinds of problems at nearby tables. It was annoying. But such errors of timing were mostly forgiven and forgotten once the good stuff arrived.
Wine enthusiasts should make this a regular destination. Every bottle, most not typically found on supermarket shelves, is sold at state minimum plus a $10 corking fee. On Mondays, even that fee is waived. The significant savings over most other restaurants encourages trying unfamiliar labels, and the entire list is available for carryout.
For trial tippling or just the sheer pleasure of variety, there are 2- and 6-ounce glass pours, and the house creates its own themed flights of three. We especially enjoyed a fine Norman Petite Syrah ($35), a glass of Argentine Malbec (Erales Reserve, $10) and another of creamy golden Gruner Veltliner ($8). Wine tastings are held weekly — all the better for becoming one of those in-the-know regulars.
2182 Bistro & Wine Bar, 8918 Brecksville Road, Brecksville, (440) 717-9463. Mon 4 - 9:30 p.m., Tue-Thu 4 - 10:30 p.m., Fri & Sat 4 - 11:30 p.m. All major credit cards accepted.