q & a with chef sergio abramof

Sergio Abramof has been a chef and restaurant owner in Cleveland for over 30 years – and is one of the founders of Cleveland Independents. His two restaurants, Sergio’s in University Circle and Sarava on Shaker Square, are both worthy of a visit – especially Sarava for great happy hour specials.

1. What are the top 5 spices every home chef should have? Black pepper, basil, bay leaves, rosemary and ginger.

2. What is your favorite and least favorite thing to make? I love cooking scallops, and for that mater, any seafood. I’m not into baking; requires more discipline than I have.

3. What is your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? My favorite thing about Cleveland is Clevelanders. They are genuinely nice people. The lack of economic and political clarity, leadership and courage that keeps this city from reaching its potential drives me nuts.

4. If you could cook for one person, real or dead, who would it be? Carlos Santana would be fun to cook for. I know my improvisational cooking techniques would inspire some great riffs on his guitar. It would be a great food and music jam session.

5. Favorite restaurant in Cleveland? Nate’s Deli.

6. What restaurant do you miss? Au Provence on Lee Road was one of the best restaurants in the country!

7. What hidden gem(s) have Clevelanders yet to discover? It’s amazing to me how many people have never been to University Circle with all the world class “gems” right there. Our restaurant is one of them.

8. What’s your last meal on Earth? My grandmother, Theresa, was the best cook I knew. I would want her chicken soup, homemade yogurt with fresh bread, roasted chicken with glazed carrots and handmade crunchy apple strudel.

9. Most unusual food you have every tried? Chocolate covered insects

10. Most famous person you have ever cooked for? The ultimate foodie, Julia Child.

11. If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing? Traveling and eating. Or eating and traveling.

12. What do you want people to know about Sergio’s and Sarava? First, that what makes both these restaurants great is the staff. We have the nicest and most talented people in the city working together. They are passionate – not just about food, but making people happy when they enter our doors.

Our University Circle restaurant is intimate and fun. Ryan, our manager and Chef, gives you a true taste of the Mediterranean with great tapas, seafood, pastas and one of the cities best cheese and wine offerings.

Sarava is big, bold and has the passion and energy of Brazil, my homeland. A big bar, caipirinhas, raw bar, and street plates – lots of intimate corners, lounges, a fireplace and a bustling patio with live music. It’s a way to take a vacation to Rio without leaving town.

14. How do you feel about the current state of Shaker Square? With the new Japanese restaurant open [Sasa Matsu], an Italian one on the way, Luchita’s, Balaton, Fire, Yours Truly, The Diner, plus all the great shops and restaurants around the corner on Larchmere, Shaker Square is poised to become one of Cleveland’s best dining destinations – and they are all unique, family-owned independent restaurants.

We look forward to seeing everyone at our restaurants. If anyone has any comments, we always love constructive criticism. Or, if you want to contact me for any reason, all info is the site.


  1. roger
    Posted December 10, 2007 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    i have to say i admire sergio’s passionate, enthusiastic (and borderline gushing) attitude about his restaurants and the others of shaker square and university circle. but come on. is this ten questions with a real person or a publicist? i’ve been to most of those places and they do not live up to his hype. rio? someone take this man down a peg.

  2. michelle v
    Posted December 10, 2007 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    While I agree the Rio reference was a bit much, this interview was with him. He’s a pretty interesting guy and he truly believes in Cleveland and fellow indie restaurants – which is why he helped start Cleveland Originals. I for one happen to appreciate that kind of enthusiasm and his passion for the area.

  3. sergio
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    Hi Roger, this is Sergio-believe it or not it takes this kind of passion (gushing) to create a restaurant that people actually feel something when they walk through the door, or put a forkfull of food in their mouth.

    My wife Susan and I designed the restaurant to “feel” like Brazil, where I was born. It isn’t meant to be literal, the word RIO is just a way to express that feeling in Cleveland. This isn’t hype- we do things from the heart-and we accept that it wont translate to every consumer that way. We’re OK with that-but at least Trust that our motives were, and continue to be sincere.

  4. michelle v
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Sergio, for taking the time to respond. Great answer!

  5. plr
    Posted December 15, 2007 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    as the owner of shaker square, i have worked side by side [but not in the kitchen] with sergio. the passion is real. the culinary artistry is exceptional. and sarava is more than fabulous food & drinks. it’s an experience.

  6. roger
    Posted December 19, 2007 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    please. sarava is an average restaraunt in a city filled with mostly below average ones. they do many things well, but in my opinion the space is way too big, and the service can be very sketchy on slower nights. and i am not sure i would equate the food they put out with “culinary artistry”, but it is unique and often very tasty. i fully support and admire anyone with the courage and ability to open an indepentdent restaurant, but just the fact that you open one does not make it a gem. many “foodies” in the city seem to heap praises on indies just because they are indies. (i’m not sure i am making my point well… it’s hard to be critical without seeming unappreciative or too harsh.)

  7. Posted September 1, 2009 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Just went to Sergio’s for the first time last night… So delicious! The calamari was perfectly cooked and the shortribs made a perfect dish for a chilly pre-fall night. I LOVED the panzanella salad… while it was a decent sized salad, I still want more! Great service too!

  8. Anonymous
    Posted October 14, 2009 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    As an employee of Sergio’s for many years, I have had the amazing experience of working for one of the most passionate, heart-felt, and genuine owners in the industry. The most powerful part of that is the trickle down. If Sergio is passionate about food and the standard of service he demands, then we as a staff are elevated and passionate about how we create food and serve the guest who made the choice to come through the door. I know how dedicated the staff is, and that only comes from working for a person they believe in and selling a product they believe in as well. In any restaurant, dishes will fall flat and service will stale at times. It’s the caring about it when it happens that sets Sergio and his staff apart from the rest.

One Trackback

  1. By Cleveland Foodie on August 29, 2012 at 9:44 am

    […] did not know Sergio well. Like many of you, I dined often at his restaurants and whenever I wanted to interview him for the blog, or had a question, he was more than happy to help – and always genuinely happy to help. […]