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 25 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 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. These standards have allowed the restaurant stay successful through the decades, now celebrating its 25th anniversary.
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 d?cor 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.
As a young Lebanese man living in Cincinnati, Andy Hajjar found himself longing for the tahini, mint, and feta flavors of his family’s home cooking. Once his mother and brother joined him in the US, the three of them decided to start a deli. Their corner establishment quickly burgeoned into an award-winning restaurant, Andy’s Mediterranean Grill, where they continue to share family recipes without asking relatives to adopt every diner first. Their talent with seasoning lamb—which they grind, chop, marinate, and even serve tartar, if a diner orders in advance—landed Andy on WCPO Channel 9, where he showed the audience how to make lamb burgers. When preparing skewers of charbroiled tenderloin, cilantro-flavored sea scallops, and flatbread pizzas, the kitchen also relies on fresh ingredients and house marinades. Diners can also sip dozens of beers or wines, including some from Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey, as they relish the old-fashioned coziness of a wood-burning stove and the modern joys of a flat-screen television. On weekend evenings, belly dancers appear, and on any evening guests can lounge on black-and-red striped cushions in the wood-paneled hookah room. The Hajjars also sell marinades, salad dressing, and Turkish coffees through Andy’s International Market, which helps customers stock the pantry in their own apartment, home, or sandcastle.
Outfitted with black tablecloths, framed art, cushy booths, and carpeted floors, Black Pearl’s dining room is a comfortable space that leaves plenty of room for romance to flicker in the low light. In this, it’s well matched to the menu: a selection of pastas, steaks, and seafood with options to suit occasions ranging from a quick lunch to a grand night out. Tender prime rib stars in both hearty surf ‘n’ turf entrees and a slew of sandwiches and salads. The Blade noted that the signature cut—a carryover from the restaurant’s previous incarnation as HJ’s Prime Cut—“continues to be superb,” while also praising lake perch that’s “tender and sweet, with a light breading that doesn't overwhelm the delicate flavor of the fish.”
Beyond the dining room with its arched windows and hanging lamps is a fully stocked bar whose tenders pour beer and mix martinis, including a line of signature drinks made with midnight-dark Blavod Black vodka. Armchairs clustered around low tables and a single flat-screen television introduce a clubby vibe. But the restaurant's most intriguing seats may lie just beyond the front door, where curving half-walls painted with a Rothko-esque design swoop around a party-friendly circular table.
There's nothing even slightly metaphorical about the name of Beau's on the River. With a glassed-in dining room jutting out over the rapids on pillars, it's about as literally on the water as a place can get without being a boat.
This sister restaurant to Beau's Grille opened only in May 2013, and while the views may be all new, the cooking has been a long time coming. Akron native and executive chef Billy Thurman started working in the restaurant business at age 14, and by age 25, he attained his first position as executive chef at The Twilight Cafe in Florida. Eventually, he moved back home to be closer to his mother and sisters, and he brought his wife, children, and 18 years of experience along with him.
Chef Thurman puts that experience to work in the kitchen at Beau's on the River, where he helps craft an expansive menu of inventive fine dining. He coats ahi tuna with coconut sticky rice and pairs grilled chicken with lime cream and corn salsa. And of course, as guests dine, floor-to-ceiling windows frame the majesty of the tumbling falls and the hungry phalanx of fish fighting against the currents for fallen crumbs.
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.