Bar Centro in located in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland. The place is split into two distinct businesses. On one side, the décor has a funky bohemian flair. There is even a Laotian lamp made from cow dung (no where near the food I hope). This is the more eclectic Bier Markt (same owners). On the Centro side, the owners describe the décor as "haute-rustic" warmed by treasures from Northeast Ohio and around the world. The polished bar was crafted from wood reclaimed from an Amish barn built in the 1800s. Design touches include artwork from Southeast Asia and drapery from Peru.
The kitchen is run by Chef-Partner Jonathon Sawyer, who came home to Cleveland from New York City to raise a family and open his dream restaurant. Sawyer is the former head chef of Michael Symon's Lolita and the former executive chef at Parea in Manhattan (Note: Michael Symon was the head chef at this restaurant, but Sawyer ran the day to day operations. It has since changed ownership. Here is the new website).
Back in Cleveland, Chef Sawyer has put together a series of dishes of Roman origin. He utilizes the freshest local and organic ingredients and shows his thanks and his commitment to his local purveyors by listing each and everyone of the on the back side of the restaurant's menu.
Amazingly, the restaurant is open 365 days a year. Even more impressive is the fact that the kitchen stays open until 2am every night. This kind of place could be expected in New York, Miami or LA, but here it is packing them in Cleveland.
Being from LA, the easiest way for me to describe the menu is a pared down version of the offerings at Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton's Pizzeria Mozza. There are about 10 pizzas offered at any given time. Half are "traditional" (bianco, margherita, salsiccia) and the other half are described as "modern" (duck and pumpkin, apple and proscuitto, potato and pancetta, and one with roasted "sugar" onions, chimay grand cru cheese, chilies and oregano).
There are a few antipasto appetizers (grilled prawns, marinated olives, house-cured salumi), a small set of entrees (white bean ravioli, brick oven chicken, and seared hangar steak) and a selection of side dishes (Brussels sprouts with pancetta, wild mushrooms with thyme and cream, roasted fingerlings with fennel and olive). Like Mozza, the menu also features a list of affordable daily specials (meatballs, gnocchi, pumpkin baked ziti).
The night I was there, the restaurant was offering a $10 wine flight comprised of three generous pours of preselected red wines. There was an Earthworks Cabernet Sauvignon from the Barossa Valley (normally $9 per glass), Crociani Rosso di Montepulciano (normally $8 per glass) and one other I am now forgetting. It was a bargain.
For my appetizer, I ordered the venison carpaccio with juniper oil, parmesan crisp and grated, hard cooked egg. It was the juniper oil that set what could have been an otherwise ordinary dish apart. This isn't a new flavor combination (for example Geoffrey Zakarian's Town in Manhattan served up a venison carpaccio drizzled with juniper oil when it first opened in 2001), but Sawyer is careful enough to make sure his version is done right.
I couldn't resist the duck and pumpkin pizza for my main course. The thin crust pizza comes bubbling out of the oven covered in a sprinkling of vento d'estate cheese, thin slices of roasted pumpkin, a generous portion of duck confit and chopped fresh oregano. The robust Italian cow's milk cheese from the Treviso region of Italy stands up to the richness of the confit and the sweetness of the pumpkin. This is one of the better pizzas I have had in a long time.
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