Old Blue Eyes casts his piercing gaze across the red-walled dining room as the opening strains of “Strangers in the Night” drift into the ears of diners seated at tables dressed in white linens. The aura of a refined 1960s club permeates every nook and cranny of Trattoria Roma, thanks in part to the assortment of framed Sinatra records and photos displayed behind the bar and the ever-present Rat Pack tunes playing throughout the day. Since its opening 22 years ago, the eatery's owners have fostered a cozy-yet-refined atmosphere bolstered by authentic Roman cuisine forged from local ingredients. This tradition continued eight years ago when veteran employee Shawn Mason took over the restaurant’s reigns from the original owners. Though he brought his own brand of hospitality to the mix, he made sure to uphold the kitchen’s tradition of high culinary standards.
As Shawn cheerfully chats with regulars scattered throughout the dining room and at the bar, his partner, chef Matthew Prokopchak, can be found architecting Italian eats with his crew in the kitchen. Having grown up learning the conventions of Italian cooking from his mother and aunts, chef Matthew integrates some of his family’s recipes into the menu, imbuing his dishes with a sense of history and tradition. He assembles his arsenal of fresh produce –from lush tomatoes to fragrant basil– from local farms. While the menu remains largely unchanged throughout the year, each night the friendly service staff sidles up to tables to detail the day's seasonal specials via verbal recitations or interpretive dances.
Amid the dining room’s ruby walls, a series of Orfeo Tamburi lithographs depicting post-WWII Rome––reportedly the only complete Tamburi collection in the United States––hang in elegant frames. The décor works in concert with the savory wafts of garlic emanating from the bustling kitchen to evoke a vintage Italian atmosphere.
Though it isn?t a matchmaking service, Grovewood Tavern is responsible for more than 150 successful relationships in the past decade, all of which were realized over dinner. The brick-enclosed restaurant specializes in the delicious puppy love between food and drink, hosting meals that pair fine wines, beers, and spirits with bites from a globally conscious kitchen. The courses encourage guests to savor combinations in the moment, but also nod to the history inside the glassware. Trivia and origin stories accompany the drinks, detailing their flavors and the favorable reviews they've received. Some dinners benefit from presentation by expert hosts, including vineyard aficionados and people who know how the ghosts are added to each bottle of spirits.
Outside of these showcases, visitors can still enjoy selections from the tavern's regular menu. Duck-burger sliders and spice-rubbed ahi-tuna sandwiches dispel any worries about stereotypical pub fare, and the entrees' emphasis on local and organic ingredients adds a refreshing ease of conscience to each bite. Grovewood?s catalog of savory meats ranges from Japanese-style barbecued chicken to the bison pot roast, which, according to a 2007 feature in the Plain Dealer, "falls gloriously apart, upon gentle forkage." Chefs accommodate vegetarians and vegans as well. A wealth of meat- and gluten-free options speckles the menu's pages, and the pairing dinners list substitutions for nonveggie helpings, replacing tea-smoked duck breast with grilled tofu and skirt steak with vegan beef.
The independently-owned Mayday offers a variety of unique burgers, made from turkey, black bean, or beef patties with toppings such as Korea-style kimchi and cilantro chili sauce. Patrons pair the burgers with oven-baked fries and draft beer at this hub of the Northside neighborhood, along with trivia, comedy, and live rock and roll, and a two-tiered patio provides a fun atmosphere for the whole family.
The boldness of burgers isn't all Mayday specializes in, however. The subtle flavors of fine whiskey and charcuterie reward more ambitious palates, while a full array of hotdogs?served on homemade pretzel buns?add an upscale spin to comfort food. To top it off, customers can add a fried egg to anything on the menu, just like when we were kids, frying eggs on the sidewalk to top off our summer ice cream cones.
Like a camera obscura built around a dinner table, Home Slice Pizza stays forever focused on its cuisine. Within the brick-lined establishment’s kitchen, chefs toss and fire large and extra-large thin-crust pizzas topped with ingredients as classic as pepperoni and anchovies or as original as artichoke hearts, seasoned steak, and A1 sauce. Under this flavor ornamentation lies the pizzas’ true foundation: cheese. Blends of mozzarella, feta, ricotta, cheddar, parmesan, and romano provide a solid base for creative ingredient combinations and add a gooey warmth to every bite. Not content to be confined to pizzas alone, cheese also douses orders of pan-baked cheese bread and supports focaccia subs flecked with herbs and stuffed with hot ham, turkey, bacon, and veggies.
The chefs at Tres Potrillos are perfectly in tune with the dozens of Mexican dishes that have been enjoyed for generations. They pile pork, shrimp, and chorizo into big and extrabig burritos, top enchiladas with fresh green tomatillo sauce, and craft specialty tacos with wheat tortillas and avocado-cilantro sauce made in-house. If you're in the mood for steak, they've got it cooked with Jalisco-style sauce, grilled up with chicken, or buried in shrimp and melted cheese. To wash down feasts and to help you break the ice with all those balloon animals that show up for Kids Night Thursdays, the bartenders hand out daiquiris, sangria, margaritas, and Coronas.
Some partnerships—Fred and Ginger, Holmes and Watson, Rocky and Bullwinkle—seem predestined for greatness. Such was the case with Jeff and Jill Van Horne. Jeff, a wine collector, married his talents with Jill's gourmet cooking to create The Wine Loft, where their chemistry translates into delicious food and drink pairings. Stepping inside is akin to joining one of their dinner parties, with fellow guests lounging on sofas throughout the space and ordering cocktails or beer from the full bar.
Of course, the starring libation is wine. The cellar below the restaurant can store close to 2,000 bottles at a steady 58 degrees. More than 200 wines arrive at tables by the bottle, and 75 can be poured by the glass, complementing a variety of small plates and entrees. If you aren't sure what libation would best bring out the flavor of your lamb lollipops, servers gladly assist—or, you could attend one of The Wine Loft's wine education classes. These meet monthly to cover topics such as matching wine with chocolate or observing proper wine etiquette, which dictates that whomever uncorks the bottle must plant the cork and raise the resultant tree.