Friday, August 13, 2010

Lunch With An Old Friend At Bar Cento

I recently received a Facebook message from a longtime acquaintance of mine whom I have known since 1996. I discovered that since we had parted paths professionally toward the end of the 1990's, he had subsequently moved to Chicago to pursue medical school. Seeing that he and I haven't physically spoken in such a long time, coupled with the fact that he was going to be in town over the weekend, he asked if we could get together for lunch. Knowing that Chicago has some really great restaurants, I wanted to take Mike someplace uniquely Cleveland. My first inclination was to take him to someplace like Wonton Gourmet, Ha Ahn, or Superior Pho, but I knew that you could get killer Asian food in Chicago, too. As I started looking at some of the other powerhouse restaurants Cleveland offers, many of them were closed for lunch on Saturday. Fortunately, I discovered that Bar Cento opens up at noon on Saturday to encourage the folks visiting the West Side Market to stop in and grab a bite.

Bar Cento was located at 1948 West 25th Street, Cleveland, OH 44113 and can be reached at 216-274-1010. Parking was pretty much wherever you could find it. I actually parked on the street over by St. Ignatius on West 28th and walked the two blocks over the restaurant. There was a paid lot I could've used, but it was a nice Spring day and I definitely didn't mind the walk. Bar Cento was interesting because it shares a space with McNulty's Bier Markt located physically next door and you can order food from Bar Cento and drinks from the Bier Markt regardless of which part of the building you reside.

Here was a shot of Bar Cento's front window:

While we could've sat outside on the tiny patio, the warmth of the day and the slightly windy conditions made for an easy decision to dine in the actual restaurant itself. I also had decided to snap a photograph of the posted menu out in the sunshine so I would get a better exposure:

What I've always liked about Bar Cento's menu was that it wasn't too much. Sometimes I will walk into a restaurant and the tome that is dropped off at my table is page after page after page of menu items, all of which are vying for space in my brain while I try and decide what to have. Bar Cento's menu consisted of a few choices in various categories and it all nicely fit together on one page. The other plus to Bar Cento's menu was that they try and source as much of their produce, meats, and other items served in the restaurant from local farmers.

As Mike and I were looking over the menu, I asked him how hungry he was. It turned out that both he and I were only moderately hungry. My friend Diane, upon learning that I would be having lunch with Mike at Bar Cento, had emphatically suggested the duck confit pizza. She had recently had it and pronounced it to be utterly fabulous. I figured that Mike and I could split it, gauge how hungry we still were and order something additional if we felt it was necessary. Mike was at first a little leery of a duck confit pizza, but admitted that he was willing to give it a try.

After what seemed to be only minutes (Mike and I really did lose track of time catching up), this arrived at our table:

Cut into six pieces, the thin and crispy pizza bread had been topped with shredded duck confit, blobs of melted goat cheese, thin slices of rhubarb, chopped chives, and drizzled with just a bit of extra virgin olive oil. Here was a shot of my piece:

Upon my very first bite I realized that Diane had not steered me wrong. This was a killer slice of pizza. I was a little worried that the sourness from the rhubarb would be too overpowering, but it was perfectly balanced. The savoriness from the duck combined with the tanginess from the goat cheese combined with the sourness from the rhubarb came together in my mouth in an explosion of flavors. One bite and Mike was hooked as well. The crust was also perfect, slightly chewy but nice and crispy on the bottom, as I have come to expect from this restaurant's stone pizza oven. To be honest, in my mind, Bar Cento and Lolita have the best two Neopolitan style pizzas in the city of Cleveland. It really has been too long since I have returned for a meal at Bar Cento, and today's pizza was a positive reminder that I need to schedule visits more often.

Having finished our pizza, Mike and I were still a bit hungry, so I suggested that we split an order of the Pommes Frites, or Belgian French Fries. As soon as I smelled the rosemary and garlic, I knew our order had arrived:

This paper cone of deliciousness held a cornucopia of expertly fried and dressed French fries. Imbued with the flavors of rosemary and garlic, the perfect amount of salt had been used to season the fries. They were certainly good on their own, but four dipping sauces came with the fries, too:

The top sauce, unmistakably, was ketchup. The other three were variations on mayonnaise. One was a chili-infused mayonnaise, one was a Dijon mustard-infused mayonnaise and the third was a more traditional garlic mayonnaise (aka aioli). All four were good, but like I said, the pommes frites were good enough on their own that we didn't venture into the sauces all that often.

Having now fully sated our appetites, I asked for the check. The total for both of us, including an iced tea that Mike had ordered, with tax, came to slightly under $25. For food executed at this level, I think that this was a solid value and I was only too happy to pick up the check. Honestly, I had wondered what would happen to the food after Chef Jonathon Sawyer left Bar Cento to open the Greenhouse Tavern, but clearly Chef Mike Nowak knows exactly what he is doing and I am here to tell you, it was delicious. Personally, I know that I plan on returning much sooner rather than later.

Bar Cento on Urbanspoon


Nancy Heller said...

Our last visit to Bar Cento (on a Saturday after the WSM) disappointed, because the pizza crust wasn't made to order, but was pulled from a stack in the cooler. The texture suffered.

Reading your description, perhaps they've changed their ways? Was the crust as fabulous as it used to be?

Tino said...

@Nancy: The problem is that I ate at and enjoyed the pizza at Lolita far more often than Bar Cento, so I don't have a whole lot of empirical data to base my opinion. That being said, it was equally as good to anything I remember from both Bar Cento and Lolita.

It had that lovely thin crispy/chewy quality that I love in a good Neopolitan style pizza crust.

The CFT said...

I love Cento, both 1.0 and 2.0. Nancy, for what it's worth, I believe they've pre-prepped the crusts like that from just about day one. Also since day one, they have had good and not so good days for their pizza, I think. In the end, Tino, I'm with you re: good pizzas at Cento and Lolita, but I'm admittedly regionally biased. Not that anyone asked, but I like the menu food at Cento more.

TQ Writer said...

Sound delish. I have really wanted to get to Bar Cento and try the goods there, but it always slips my mind when I want to go out to eat.

Tino said...

@TQ: Me, too! It wasn't until I had to find a place open for lunch on a Saturday that it even found its way back onto my radar. Hopefully my next visit will be much, much sooner.

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