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CLEVELAND, OH. – For several years I’ve traveled to Cleveland for work and always eaten at Iron Chef Michael Symon’s signature “Lola” restaurant. Plans were the same for a trip this week until discovering there was no reservation available until 9:30 for our small group.

Chef Sawyer

Chef Sawyer

A year ago author/celebrity chef Michael Ruhlman, a Cleveland native, offered a recommendation during a visit to the College where I work. He suggested Chef Jonathon Sawyer’s Greenhouse Tavern which is about two doors down from Lola’s. We were able to get a more reasonable 8:15 reservation.

What a fun atmosphere, vibe or whatever you want to call it. The restaurant is hip and noisy. It has antique bicycles as wall decorations. The staff was attentive, though there was a bobble or two, and the food was amazing. Greenhouse Tavern was every bit as good as Lola’s – perhaps the city’s best known restaurant.

Our small group loved almost every single bite. We shared tastes from each plate and the wows were plentiful.

1The biggest wows came from the evening’s appetizer special. It was a blood sausage stuffed Pierogi with shredded elk meat on top lightly seasoned with ginger. It was alternately sweet and then tangy. The elk was tender and the Pierogi cooked perfectly. The balance created between the sweet sausage and the savory elk was as nice as any appetizer I’ve had in any restaurant. A couple more of those would have made a delightful meal.

2I had our waitress’s favorite entree the pork chop – or – Pan Pried Pork Saltinbocca with sage, country ham, pomme puree, and scrapple with red eye gravy. It was a pork lovers’ wallow in a muddy pen.

It featured an incredibly tender rib with a healthy portion of pork fat that just fell off the bone. The scrapple was savory, spicy, and a perfect ying to the sweet pork yang going on elsewhere on the plate. There were multiple slices of tenderloin cooked wonderfully pink – and wrapped in country ham.

The genius of the dish was the scrabble. The small disk was crispy which added texture and had a tartness of sorts that balanced all that sweet, yummy pork.

A bottle of Les Mas de Collines Gigondas paired perfectly with the appetizer and entrée.  The wine was very balanced, earthy, spicy and had a marvelous and long-lasting finish with just the right tannin structure for a great meal. The wine retails at $25-$28 but, of course, was $62 on the Greenhouse menu.

The wine selection was extensive with a big emphasis on French wines. There was a substantial and pricey Rhone list as well as Bordeaux and Burgundy.

The obligatory dark chocolate dessert was good if not great. Wonderful French-pressed decaf coffee topped off the evening. Prices were reasonable for a restaurant of this quality. My entree was $24. The appetizers ranged $11-$20. Entrée selections went from $21-$45.

Any trip to Cleveland should include a visit to Symon’s Lola’s – but now I can say – “Or, Greenhouse Tavern.”