It had been forever and a day since I had a meal at the Greenhouse Tavern up in Cleveland's East 4th District. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy Chef Jonathon Sawyer's commitment to local and sustainable food, it was just that it hadn't been on my radar for so long because of all the other great places that had been vying for my attention. When I asked my friend Edsel to join me for a dedication ceremony on a Friday night at my collegiate alma mater, Case Western Reserve University, he suggested we stop in and check out the current menu at the Greenhouse Tavern afterward. In fact, I thought it was such a great idea that I also invited my friends Nancy and Bob along, too.
It's hard to keep up with the menu at the restaurant because it can change so quickly, depending on what is and is not in season. Thus, even if I were to post this review a week after our dinner, the menu STILL might be different the next time you go. That being said, there are always some staples (like the amazing Ohio Beef burger), although the toppings do change with the season. Tonight's meal was a mixture of some familiar flavors as well as some bold innovative ones. Luckily, I was able to find a four-top table for 7:30 PM on OpenTable the morning of the ceremony.
After arriving at the restaurant and checking in, our hostess sat us upstairs and left us with a copy of the current menu. Here was a shot of the one page menu (top and bottom):
As was customary with every meal at the Greenhouse Tavern, bread and spread were brought to the table shortly after we sat down:
The spread tonight was pork rillette. Depending on the whim of the kitchen and what was available, this could also be duck rillette. However, Chef Sawyer's clear love of the pig means that most times I have eaten here, it's been pork. Ultra creamy and smooth, this made a fabulous shmear for the amazingly fresh and crusty bread. While the Greenhouse Tavern doesn't bake their own bread (I believe it comes from On The Rise Bakery in Cleveland Heights), the bread has always been really terrific.
Because there were so many new and interesting menu items to try, the four of us decided to order three "Seconds" and split them amongst us. First up was a dish known as the Fifth Quarter:
The Fifth Quarter referred to the bits of the animal that most Americans were unaccustomed to eating. This could include offal and other non-organ meats. The Fifth Quarter changed daily and today's representation was pork tongue that had been breaded and fried and served with a spicy mayonnaise. While I know that I have probably already lost about three-quarters of you out there reading the previous sentence, you have to believe me when I tell you that even *I* was hesitant to try this. Once I did, however, all doubts melted away. Honestly? It tasted like a pork "nugget." The texture was soft and reminded me of pork loin. What about the flavor? With a tiny squirt of lemon juice and a swipe of the spicy sauce from the bottom of the plate, the flavors were delicious and well-balanced. If I didn't already know what this dish was, I would've simply assumed it was just a meat nugget made out of pork loin.
For our second appetizer, we selected the Lamb Crepinette:
Crepinette is a cooking technique where a particular protein (lamb in this case) is wrapped in caul fat before being cooked. The caul fat melts away as it cooks and the protein is held in a uniform shape while it braises. Today's sausage had been cut on the bias and plated on a pool of charred eggplant puree, herb salad, and lamb jus. One of the herbs in the salad was fresh mint and I paired a bit of the green with a bite of the lamb and a generous dip of the charred eggplant. With this single bite, I knew why Chef Sawyer was so well-respected ... it was a little bite of heaven. It hit all of the flavors I look for in a well-balanced bite of food: savory, tangy, smoky, and just a bit of brightness from the mint. The seasoning was spot on.
Our third and final appetizer was a bowl of the Foie Gras Steamed Clams:
Served with only a single slice of charred bread, we soon found ourselves flagging down our server to bring us an additional basket of bread to help with the sauce sopping portion of the evening. The clams were good, yes, but paled in comparison to the ultra rich foie gras and sweet onion broth that lay at the bottom of the bowl. Between the four of us, we went through almost an entire basket of bread as we dipped roughly torn bits of bread in that glorious liqueur. I've had this dish twice now and both times I am simply amazed at how simple, but utterly tasty this dish has been.
While Edsel had exactly one thing on his mind for his entrée tonight, I decided to consider one of the (nearly) vegetarian options tonight, the Ohio Corn Linguine Carbonara:
Homemade linguine, fresh local Ohio corn, a poached egg, lots of fresh black pepper, Pecorino, and pancetta pepato had been tossed and plated in a large bowl. When I received the dish, I used my knife and fork to cut through the soft exterior of the egg, thus releasing the golden yolk and watched as it oozed down into the noodles. I gently tossed the linguine a final time to evenly distribute the yolk before twirling a bit on my fork and taking my first bite. Once again, the kitchen showed its prowess by blending sweetness from the corn, richness from the egg yolk and creme, spiciness from the black pepper and saltiness from the pancetta and Pecorino. The fresh pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, with just a tiny bit of chew to the noodles. Even though we had split three appetizers, I found myself ravenously working my way through my bowl until nothing remained.
We also decided to split a platter of the Animal Style Frites:
This was a dish of the Greenhouse Tavern's Pommes Frites that had been topped with bacon, cheese curds, brown gravy, and two sunnyside up eggs. As I brought my camera up towards my face to take the picture, I couldn't help but think that the dish almost looked "angry," the two eggs serving as the eyes to this "Animal." At $11 for this platter of fries, I don't think this would be something one person with any sanity would order as their own side dish, but split amongst four people ... well, we still only managed to eat half of it. While I certainly did enjoy all of the flavors, the frites themselves were simply okay. That being said, I've never been a huge fan of Chef Sawyer's pommes frites, with tonight's version being as good as any other I've tried.
For the final act and as a reward for making it this far down the review, we can now touch on Edsel's entrée. From the moment he suggested we have dinner tonight at the Greenhouse Tavern, he had been somewhat obsessively talking about the fact that you can now order, for a mere $24, half of a roasted pigs head for your meal. Now what we didn't know was that the kitchen only had a small number available per night and if you got there after they ran out, you'd be out of luck. Fortunately, we had arrived about thirty minutes prior to our reservation and when the topic of the pigs head came up with the hostess, she went and talked to the kitchen staff to make sure they reserved one for our table.
It's rare that you'll see a table of four foodies start to clap and make appreciative noises as the food arrives at the table; tonight was one of those times. As the gentleman carrying the very large platter ascended the stairs and began walking toward our table, not only did we actually clap, but people from other tables actually got up to track the migration of the pig's head as it made its way closer and closer. This was what Edsel received tonight:
Served with an Asian style peanut sauce, lime wedges, and homemade coleslaw, this was an impressive looking platter of food. Additionally, four buttered and toasted buns were provided to make pulled pork sandwiches. While there was more than enough to go around, I only wanted a small taste because of all the other food I had sitting in front of me. Edsel was kind enough to serve me a bit of the cheek meat, prized for its flavor and texture. Combined with just a bit of the peanut sauce, coleslaw and a squirt of lime juice, this was probably the most tender, flavorful piece of pork I have ever eaten.
While digging the cooked flesh off of a cooked pigs head is likely too much for most people to handle, we seemed to have little trouble with the concept. Even with the four of us trying to make a dent in the enormous portion of meat, collectively we still walked away with three entire containers full of leftovers from the pigs head alone! Unless you are REALLY hungry, you could definitely split this with two or three other people and just order a side item to complement it.
Too full from dinner to even consider dessert, we asked for our check. After some quick math, it was decided that with a 20% tip, each person's share came to only $45, which for the amount of food we had just consumed (and the sheer amount of leftovers), was a pretty good value. The fact that everything had been spot on and nothing that I tasted tonight was over or underseasoned was a testament to how well the kitchen was operating. If you have yet to try out the Greenhouse Tavern, I urge you to give them a try. You can certainly make an entire meal for less than the four of us tonight. Regardless of how much you spend, you will no doubt enjoy the unique ambiance and wonderful flavors coming out of the kitchen at this Cleveland hotspot.