We once heard of two wine snobs so passionate about their pursuits that they stashed
a full complement of pricy stemware in their car trunk. When they found themselves
in a wine bar where the glasses weren't up to snuff, they'd run out to the car and
grab the Riedels.
These two probably would not approve of Press Wine Bar, the down-to-earth restaurant
in Tremont that opened in November. With no-name stemware and a total lack of pretention,
this new addition to the former Lago space is far more about food and fun than genuflecting
at the shrine of wine.
For this, let's toast executive chef Rachael Spieth. The graduate of Pittsburgh's
Le Cordon Bleu comes to Tremont after nearly eight years in the kitchen of the former
Three Birds (now Georgetown) in Lakewood. While there, her commanding culinary chops
took her in short order from pantry cook to top toque. Sharp as a Santoku knife
and resolutely hands-on, the chef brings a zesty but nuanced style to the wine bar's
seasonal menu, elevating the fare far beyond the old-school cheese plates.
That's an important consideration for a spot hoping to make a mark in one of the
city's most food-centric neighborhoods. "Given the competition, diners need to know
we are more than just a wine bar," Spieth says. "I've tried to create a menu that
stands on its own, no matter what you like to drink."
For Spieth, that means making nearly everything fresh and in house, including crackers,
pickled veggies and condiments such as an orange-cinnamon-and-ginger marmalade and
mustardo, a kicky Italian-style preserve made with mustards, vinegars and dried
fruits. Product sourcing is painstaking, with items on the popular meat-and-cheese
board ($13 and $20) coming from as near as Lakewood (Toulouse sausage from K2 Sausage)
and as far away as Australia (the superbly nutty Roaring Forties Blue cheese). "Nearly
every restaurant on the street serves a meat board," explains the chef. "I wanted
to be sure ours stood out, with selections I don't think you'll find anywhere else."
And as befitting one of the city's new crop of talented young chefs, Spieth never
ignores her veggies. She often designs dishes such as the lemon-pepper fettuccini
($12) tossed with asparagus, peas and pistachios in a watercress pesto cream sauce,
putting seasonal produce at the forefront. (Need your protein? The kitchen will
add braised lamb shank for an extra $4.)
The result of all this effort is a well-priced collection of reinvigorated favorites
that would be at home in any neighborhood haunt — "wine bar" designation notwithstanding.
In fact, we'd guess that a good percentage of the guests bypass the wine list entirely,
opting instead to explore the cocktail menu or the roundup of 40 craft-brewed beers,
including seven locals on draft.
Not that Press' wine program doesn't merit some homage. Comprehensive but not overwhelming,
the international list includes Spanish bubblies, French Bordeaux, and plenty of
West Coast faves. Eight of the 32 by-the-glass pours come from a trendy tap system
that keeps the wines at their best. Bottles reside in a giant, glass-enclosed cellar
situated at one end of the handsome open dining space (and bartenders will break
out the Riedels for those who splurge on a big-ticket bottle).
Credit owners Sherman DeLozier, Dave Rudiger and John Owen for keeping the vibe
relaxed, yet polished. DeLozier and Rudiger operate Tremont's highly successful
South Side while Owen and Rudiger oversee Market and Wine Bar Rocky River. Together,
the three share well-earned reputations for creating welcoming spots that are stylish
but unfussy. Press Wine Bar clearly fits that mold.
The restaurant's big, three-sided bar is typically bustling on weekends. A row of
high-tops provide a good perch for observing Spieth's open kitchen, while window-side
seats serve up a lively sidewalk view. Moody lighting, flickering votives and dark
wood paneling lend a grown-up feel to the space, while paper napkins and T-shirt-clad
servers keep the froufrou factor low.
Among the most popular menu items are Spieth's crisp, fresh flatbreads. We went
with the lively pig version ($12), where the house-made dough formed a slightly
sweet substrate for savory bits of shredded pork shoulder, nutty provolone and sheer
slices of prosciutto cotto (a cooked version of the more familiar prosciutto crudo)
— all enlivened with a hint of mustard, pickled red onion and sliced cornichons.
For a similarly subtle poke, consider the spiced deviled eggs ($6), with their creamy
paprika-and-Sriracha-spiked yolks topped with translucent slices of pink pickled
radish and delicate poached shrimp.
Alternatively, sink your teeth into the 8-ounce Press burger ($12), made with a
specialty blend of certified Angus beef. On top, Spieth's smoked-tomato aioli adds
campfire panache to a melty slab of Red Dragon, a Welsh cheddar made with whole-grain
mustard and ale. Meanwhile, a tall tangle of arugula in place of the usual bland
iceberg lettuce provides a bracing counterpoint. The slim, golden fries on the side,
dusted with a vibrant house-made spice blend, are like the barbecue chips of your
dreams. A wholesome substitute, the house salad of arugula, candied walnuts and
blue cheese is almost equally addictive, thanks in no small part to its sheer dressing
of fruity pear-and-walnut vinaigrette.
Be sure to catch the walleye ($23) among the short list of entrees on Press' menu.
Moist, sweet and flawlessly pan-seared, the filet boasts a delightfully crisp skin
and comes perched on a lush salad of white beans, juicy roasted tomato, bits of
al dente asparagus, Parmesan and arugula (yes, Spieth does love arugula). Part of
the salad dressing, lemony Agrumato (a hauntingly indulgent Italian olive oil milled
with whole lemons) jazzed up the fish and veggies alike. "Isn't this what walleye
has always hoped to be?" asked a poetic companion as she devoured every morsel.
In the absence of a pastry chef, Spieth cooks up sweet endings such as a vanilla-bean
and ginger creme brulee, sugar cookies with raspberry-lemon cream cheese frosting
and zucchini chocolate cake.
They're nothing complicated, she'll tell you. But simple, comfy and well executed,
they're a lot like Press Wine Bar itself.
When You Go
Press Wine Bar
2221 Professor Ave., Cleveland
Mon-Thu 4 p.m.-midnight
Fri 4 p.m.-2 a.m.
Sat 10 a.m.-2 a.m.
Sun 10 a.m.-midnight
» Try This: The Press Burger ($12), topped with Red Dragon
cheese, smoked tomoato aioli and arugula on a toasted challah bun
» Good to Know: The weekend brunch features omeletes, pancakes,
French toast and flatbreads.