With bicycles hanging above your head, The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland may look gimmicky upon first glance, but the food is something special. No surprise then that it was named one of the Best New Restaurants in the United States by Bon Appetit magazine, and why Jonathon Sawyer has received Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chef award. At dinnertime, I recommend giving control to the kitchen by going with the Tasting Menu, which nets you five courses for $54. Sawyer and his team are committed to regional cooking that showcases local products and unique flavor combinations. With so many delicious-sounding dishes on the menu (including the popular foie gras steamed clams), you can sit back without worry of making the "wrong" selections, and simply enjoy your meal.
Whether you choose the tasting menu or order a la carte, leave room for dessert. Pastry chef Matt Danko divides his dessert menu into "Classic" and "Modern" options. For many, Classic means ordering the Buttered Popcorn Pot de Crème ($7). Danko had been continually changing his pot de crème offerings, but when the buttered popcorn version came out, popular demand made it a mainstay. To make this pot de crème, popcorn is steeped in a cream and milk mixture before being incorporated into egg yolks to make a custard. A dip of the spoon into the finished dessert reveals butter-colored custard beneath a layer of rich caramel. A sprinkling of sea salt on top pulls the whole thing together, as the still-popular flavor of salted caramel merges with buttery creaminess of subtly corn flavored custard. This dessert is a sweet and smooth finish to a meal.
From the Modern section of the menu, Danko combines a number of interesting components to make Rittman Sweet Melon Pie ($9). Using melons from Rittman Orchards (which lie just south of Cleveland), the pie itself features a custardy melon filling inside a slightly crackly crust made from corn flake crumbs. On top, you'll find a layer of dehydrated milk skin that's almost gummy in texture. Other touches include melon gel (agar-thickened) and small pieces of diced, overripe cantaloupe. My favorite part is the drizzle of sweet soy, adding a slightly savory element to this otherwise sweet dessert.