When Chris Lieb bought the two-story red-brick building in Tremont that had previously housed Brother’s and Trinka’s, he and business partner Jason Workman felt confident in their eventual success.
That stretch of road connects Tremont to I-90, so it’s heavily trafficked; the concept featured reasonable prices and live music; and Tremont is known for its bars and restaurants. What could go wrong?
As it turned out, practically everything.
I started going to the Starkweather occasionally when I was in the neighborhood. It always seemed to be peopled with friends and acquaintances. Everyone I know liked the guys and their comfortable, fixer-upper, shot-and-a-beer joint. Unfortunately, that didn’t include their neighbors, who were none too keen on the noise and smoke emanating from the otherwise sleepy corner of Starkweather and Scranton.
Inspectors cited the bar with 36 building violations, the health department swung by to express its disapproval and money grew thin. Eventually, disappointed friends told me that the Starkweather had gone under. But what I didn’t realize was that Lieb and Workman had to close the bar to save it.
For 16 months, the business partners worked diligently to resurrect their phoenix from its ashes. A demolition permit, a city-sponsored Storefront Renovation grant and a lot of out-of-pocket cash allowed them to correct the violations, pave the parking lot and build a patio. They repaired relations with the city and their neighbors, who were ultimately convinced that the duo wanted to bring something nice and upscale to their corner of the city.
The newly remodeled and rechristened Tremont Tap House, which opened Halloween night 2007, earns its name by featuring 24 American craft-brewed beers on draft and a hip, globally aware bottles list that runs to at least four times that number.
It features a cool, clean, nouveau-pub design. Centered on a long concrete bar with a chalkboard rail for frustrated artists, the space boasts a wall of vintage beer cans, beautiful wood finishes that contrast nicely with the concrete and metal highlights, and a roll door that opens to make the bar a double-sided, indoor/outdoor affair. Tremont artists designed the tabletops. The effect is comfortable and inviting — two things that I look for when picking out a drinking establishment.
The co-owners upped the ante by bringing Joshua Montague onboard to design and execute a true gastropub-style menu. Having worked with Montague in the past at the now-defunct restaurant Theory, I did not doubt his prodigious talent.
Over the past few months, I have exceeded my magazine-sponsored trips and stopped by to chow down on probably no fewer than 20 occasions. It doesn’t hurt that the kitchen keeps hopping until 1 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends.
It’s always difficult to list all the outstanding items on any good menu for purposes of a review, and it may be tougher here since I have sampled so many of them. But I’ll try.
The upscale hot pretzels ($5) are served with a warm, finger-licking good stout-and-smoked-cheddar dip, or for one dollar more a spinach, blue cheese, roasted garlic and bacon dip. The short-rib sliders ($8) are tender, perfectly braised in a strong ale and topped with a tangy slaw.
Midway through the menu lies an impressive and delicious selection of sandwiches, burgers and pizzas. The house burger ($9) is perfectly done with white cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion and a mound of french fries. For the slightly more adventurous burger fan, Montague offers a variety topped with fried egg, Swiss and caramelized onions ($11). Yum.
The personal-sized four-cut pizzas ($7-$8) are baked on a delicious homemade crust with toppings including spicy sopresatta with pepperoncini and smoked cheddar, and there’s a zesty pie with chorizo, scallions and Boursin cheese.
Montague rounds out the menu with eight culinarily current entree offerings. His paprikash-inspired free-range chicken ($16) with egg dumplings, sour cream and paprika sauce, paired with haricots verts, is as good as anything Grandma made, while the Jordan almond-crusted duck breast ($16) with a side of creamy sun-dried tomato risotto would be at home in any of this town’s best restaurants.
Carnivores can delight in a flavorfulgrilled hanger steak ($16) with red onion jam and fries or — my personal favorite — the pork chop ($17), which is topped with the chef’s house barbecue, grilled, then sided with braised red cabbage and creamy mashed potatoes.
The menu is upscale but comfortable, much like the Tap House itself.
In April, the team added a Sunday brunch, which, for value and sheer awesomeness, may be the best brunch in town. Eggs Benedict ($10), the chorizo breakfast burrito ($12) and hangover-helping breakfast pizza ($8) are served hot, made from scratch and (with a Bloody Mary to wash them down) just what I’ve been looking for to start the morning.
With business booming and patio season in full swing, Lieb and Workman are looking to the future. The upstairs lounge is slated to open for private parties this fall, and monthly beer dinners and clubs are in the works. It’s all in the name of making this bar — into which they have put so much time, money and effort — a success and a lasting contribution to our city’s favorite dining neighborhood.
Tremont Tap House, 2572 Scranton Road, Cleveland, (216) 298-4451, Mon-Fri 4 p.m. - 2:30 a.m., Sat & Sun noon - 2:30 a.m.