inside: greenhouse tavern

With four visits thus far and another one planned tomorrow, it’s safe to say I’m a bona fide Greenhouse Tavern fan. From Cento to Greenhouse, I’ve admired and enjoyed chef Sawyer’s approach to cooking. And I’m not alone. Sawyer and the entire Greenhouse team are receiving high accolades on the local and national level. And they couldn’t be more deserving. And the best part? They’re just getting started.

Here’s the piece I wrote for Metromix (and it made the front page to boot!):

Inside: Greenhouse Tavern
East 4th Street welcomes Ohio’s first certified green restaurant

After years of planning, commitment and determination, The Greenhouse Tavern on East Fourth Street is finally open and hoping to make as little impact as possible.

Certified as Ohio’s first green restaurant, The Greenhouse Tavern team, led by Chef Jonathon Sawyer, is guided by two principals: The proximity of the farm to the restaurant directly impacts the quality of food, and practicing green business everyday is not an option, but rather fundamentally imperative.

Guided by these principals, with each plate of food, the restaurant serves French-inspired fare consisting of local ingredients at approachable prices.

Food: While the restaurant may not have a big impact on Mother Earth, diners are another story. Chef Sawyer continues to make food, regardless of its origin, approachable and unfussy.
The menu, printed on 100 percent, post-consumer recycled fiber, is sectioned into firsts (small tastes), seconds (larger appetizers), thirds (full dinners) and halves (accompaniments to share). And the majority of ingredients are locally sourced, further minimizing the carbon footprint by eliminating unnecessary shipping while at the same time benefiting our local economy.

For firsts, try the French breakfast radishes with butter and salt and the organic American prosciutto. The sliced radishes, a vegetable that normally doesn’t receive much praise, are unexpectedly good and simple. The prosciutto is not too salty and lays deliciously atop grilled bread.

Under seconds, three are not to be missed: Chevre salad (French for goat) with Ohio goat confit from Lucky Penny Farms in Garrettsville, fresh herbs and sheep’s milk cheese; Virginica oysters with Meyer lemon mignonette; and hand-ground beef tartare with a cold poached egg.

The salad is packed with layers of flavor and the fresh herbs really shine. The tartare is simply magnificent. An order of the skate wing was the only somewhat disappointing second.
For larger portions, you really can’t go wrong. Standouts include the buckwheat pasta with mahogany clams and chili, cod in papier with fresh black truffle and potato, and the roasted Tee Hills chicken from Loudonville, Ohio with bread heels, carrots and herb jus.

The perfectly prepared pasta satisfied, although be aware, it can be a bit on the salty side. The roasted chicken, with its flavor-packed crispy skin, was surprisingly juicy, tender and well-received all around.

To finish off the meal, pastry chef Kerry Garcia has a handful of tempting items, mostly priced at $5. Not to be missed is star anise pot de crème with valhrona bittersweet chocolate and fleur de sal Florentine and the Calvados apple tart with cognac ice cream.

Libations: In continuing with the focus on all things local, general manager and beverage director Everest Curley approached the drink menu, specifically beer and liquor, with an emphasis on supporting the Great Lakes region. Because, as he shares, there is a superior product right here and wants to give the mom and pop purveyors a market all while exposing diners to a new product they may not experience otherwise.

The barley section of the drink list includes a selection of four beers on tap, including Four C’s Pale Ale from The Brew Kettle in Strongsville, 12-ounce bottles, 22-ounce bottles and a handful of 750-milliliter bottles.

Under grain, it’s a similar tactic. You won’t find all the usual suspects, with the exception of a handful like Grey Goose, Johnnie Walker and Crown Royal. Instead, there’s Boyd & Blair potato vodka from Pennsylvania, Buffalo Trace bourbon from Kentucky plus a lengthy list of other regional finds.

The grape section of the list stretches a little further than the region—much further to be exact. The wine list is inspired from the team’s trip to Paris last year. The group spent the past 18 months tasting wine to ultimately narrow down to 45 bottle choices including several glass pours. With the final list, Curley explains, every table can afford a bottle of wine if that’s what they want.

As for specialty cocktails, all drinks are made to order; no premade concoctions found here, which is what the team believes every customer deserves. The drink selection pays homage to cocktails from the pre-prohibition era, when drinks had a reason, Curley states. One must-try cocktail is the signature Ginger Flip, a subtly sweet, unique blend of Goslings rum, egg white, ginger beer, powdered sugar and fresh nutmeg.

Décor: The team worked to keep much of the original Cort Building in tact. The space features four different dining levels that break up the large space into four uniquely intimate dinning experiences.

The basement, where the main kitchen is housed, features a chef’s table (best seat in the house), classic jukebox that spins 45s and bathrooms complete with one-of-a-kind, handmade wallpaper from Europe. The solid English oak tables are actually laboratory furniture from John Carroll University’s science classrooms, circa 1950s. And the bars, kitchen and restrooms utilize the latest water-saving technologies, including solar-powered dual flushers and faucets.

The main dining area, which is earthy and open, features Civil War era cedar barn wood from Jefferson, Ohio that chef Sawyer found on the side of the road. The vintage benches (even a few church pews), bar tables, chairs and chandeliers custom-made from a local bike co-op that feature bike rims are all recycled from local neighborhoods. Finally, the long bar that spans the narrow space illustrates the teams’ dedication to finding creative eco-friendly design solutions. Wine and beer bottles were painstakingly broken to bits and recycled to create a custom concrete bar top.

Next are two mezzanine levels, each offering overhead views of the restaurant and people watching on East 4th Street. The carpet squares are not only produced in a sustainable factory with high-recycled content, but are samples from interior designers and architects that were headed for the landfill. From the collection, an aesthetically pleasing patchwork design was created.

Finally, the rooftop, which is set to open later this summer, will offer dining and a functional greenhouse that will contribute to the daily food preparation.

Service: After a handful of visits, you’d think this restaurant’s been open for a lot longer than a month by the way this team works together and interacts with customers. Servers are knowledgeable, friendly, efficient, and most important, passionate about where they work and the restaurant’s mission.

Insider tip: Happy hour is available twice, starting at 5 p.m. until 7 p.m., then again from 11 p.m. until 1 a.m. Look for drink and food specials, including $3 prosciutto, $5 chicken and duck wings with chili pepper and garlic, pomme frites with housemade aioli, $1 Virginica oysters and a $7 Ohio beef burger with raclette cheese.

Many remember the popular Rock & Roll wine projects from Sawyer’s Bar Cento days. Look for these at Greenhouse soon, only bigger and better. Additionally, brunch service is expected to start this summer followed by lunch.

Bottom line: Sawyer and crew’s footprint may be environmentally small, but the impact they are making on Cleveland’s culinary scene is impossible to ignore.

14 Comments

  1. Nancy Heller
    Posted May 1, 2009 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Great review! Thought that you might like to know that the skate is off the menu – apparently, once Chef learned that it can’t be sourced sustainably, he 86′d it.

  2. Amy G
    Posted May 2, 2009 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I took a group of friends last night for the first time. FABULOUS! So much to look at, along with outstanding food. My only complaint would be the noise level. I was straining to hear my friends and our server the whole time. Otherwise, I’m going back next week!

  3. Steve
    Posted May 2, 2009 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I was there last night for my fifth time since they opened and have enjoyed each and every visit. I suggest that patrons ask about the specials, which can be very interesting. At least one night this week they had venison and morels. And if it was a little noisy last night it was because we were celebrating Chef Sawyer’s birthday.

  4. michelle v
    Posted May 2, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Seriously – some of you have way too much time on your hands, hence why the comments have been deleted. Like I’ve said 100 times, I don’t care if you disagree with me, but we’re all adults here. What’s the point of insulting me – and then hiding behind anonymous?And for the record, I paid for my meal. The only item we were given for free during this review were a few cocktails. I am always honest in my reviews – always. If you don’t believe me, or don’t care for what I have to say, the solution is quite simple – don’t read.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted May 3, 2009 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    So I had been excited to check out Greenhouse, great reviews, great chef, great atmosphere… expectations where high! Im a foodie and can get critical, after spending 8 years in kitchens from line cook to chef its my nature! So lets get into the details, I had friends in from Norway, Florida and a few locals… We started out with a spread of the Prosciutto and bread, the breakfast radishes, pork shmere with bread, tartar, oysters these where all great.. the tartar was some of the best I have had! From there I went with the Vegetarian pasta special (im not a veg but the ingredients where amongst what spring is all about)… So what sold me was Shaved truffles, ramps, fiddleheads and morels over buckwheat pasta. The pasta was cooked perfectly BUT there we NO fiddle heads, 3 tiny morels and about 10 ramps.. overkill!! Im very let down by the fact there was no fiddleheads and morels, its why I ordered it. Now the rest of the table went for the hanger and pomme frites. The cut wasnt hanger! It seemed to be strip steak cut into hanger shapes, I have cooked and eaten 1000s of hangers in my day and this was not! That is a massive failure on all fronts, and again the people at the table where all foodies as well, it was comical almost to be in a place like this and have them trying to pull the wool over our eyes on serving such a different cut of meat. We also had 1 chicken plate that was good, skin was over salted though.

    All in all the place has potential, but they better get their shit together quick and 1/ have enough food on hand to sell whats on the menu and learn when to 86 a dish if there isnt enough product to make it. I think Ill have to stay with my old favorties at Lolita and Lola for now and let Greenhouse have some more time to work out the kinks.

  6. Nancy Heller
    Posted May 3, 2009 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    @ Anon – with complete respect to your review – did you bring these shortcomings up to anyone who was serving you? I know that had I mentioned the two sandy clams I had on my last visit to the server, they would have immediately made it right. We were all so full by that point, however, that we saw no need.

    The salt is another issue – Chef Sawyer is not at all shy about salt; we noted that on our last visit. We found it right at the edge, but not over – but obviously, again, some feedback to the house might be helpful.

    We loved Jon’s food at Bar Cento and at our two visits to Greenhouse thus far – hope they take your comments to heart!

  7. Kate
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I really want to believe that you don’t have to be a food critic to get good service (and food) at Sawyer’s restaurants, but time and time again it just hasn’t happened. I went to TGT April 17th and just about everything we ordered they were “out of”. We decided to just to get dessert as we were celebrating a birthday but they were out of everything but two desserts. One of which was the cookies and ice cream and we were notified that although they had the ice cream, they were out of cookies. WTH? The other dessert was the rhubarb shortcake that was so heavily doused in rose water none of us could eat it.

    The piece de resistance was that they charged us full price for the ice cream and cookieless dessert and had the audacity to charge a 20% gratuity for 6 drinks and 4 desserts. It’s a real shame, the place has so much potential.

  8. michelle v
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Hi Kate -

    Nancy said it best in her comment above, but if this should happen again, at GHT or any restaurant, you should share your concerns because the back of the house may now always know what’s going on w/ the front of the house – and they want to know, trust me. Especially in this instance being a new restaurant. They are still figuring things out and working on some kinks, so it will take time and I’m sure they’ll learn from their mistakes.

    As for the service – I’m not a critic by any means and just b/c I have a blog doesn’t mean I receive better treatment, etc. In fact, the majority of times that I dine out, people have no clue who I am. In fact, we were there on Saturday night – 10 of us, and our service wasn’t that great. The server, who was super nice and great overall, was still slow and didn’t take our order all at once, which I still can’t figure out. He took the girls order first (we were all at one end), drinks and apps, then we got our drinks and apps before the guys but in their order! So we ended up sharing everything so they wouldn’t have to wait even longer to eat something. And they were also out of a few things – like the wings which really bummed out all the guys!

    SO I’ve been there a handful of times now and each time the service has been great, with the exception of Saturday (which was still good, just super slow). And it was kinda like this at Cento, too, which I’ve written about. I know at Cento they didn’t have an excess of staff in an effort to keep food prices so low. I assume maybe that’s the case here? Not sure. But I do realize that they just opened and no one is going to be perfect from the get go. And for that, I’ll cut them slack and any new restaurant. Because I know I’m not perfect when I just start a new job or any new endeavor. It takes time. But the food is good; the space is great and what they are striving to do really impresses me. And for that, we’ll be back – again and again.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Part of the reason that people go out to eat is the service, not just the food experience. Food is theater for many. Train the staff and keep on training them and training them. Employee’s can make or break any business and the servers are the life line from the kitchen to the end result the customer. I don’t go for the excuse that a place is new, the prices are not cheaper during the initial phase until they get their acts together. People will remember if something is not good and will tell others their experience and will not return. It can come back to bite you in the back side if you are not careful.

  10. Allison M.
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    still on my places to go by June.

  11. Hayley
    Posted May 4, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    That totally explains our complaint about alcohol selection – and definitely fits with the vibe! Had I known that, I would have definitely asked for a recomendation – rather than our usual drinks. We loved it and will definitely go back!

  12. Kate
    Posted May 5, 2009 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Michelle- I agree that there are always kinks to work out with a new restaurant and I am willing to cut them some slack. But I just dont think there is any excuse to be “out of” 90% of your menu. And I would think both the front and back of the house would be aware of there being a problem with supplies. Unless of course they were just as surprised as we were that they had no food on hand?

    Like I said, a real shame- the ambiance and concept are so great. Our friends mentioned that they didnt even feel like they were in Cleveland because it was such a “cosmopolitan space.” Just wish I couldve had something to eat!

  13. Ohio Businesses
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    For Ohio businesses going green is no longer a trendy fad but a needed action adopted by everyone from all walks of life and from all areas of industry. As more and more people the world over become eco-conscience a demand for eco-friendly goods are on the rise.

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