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The Greenhouse Tavern's opening has probably been the most anticipated restaurant opening of 2009 in Cleveland. Fresh off his success at Bar Cento, chef Jonathan Sawyer opened GHT with a focus on farm to fork as well as using green business practices all while providing classic interpretations at an affordable price.
Located in the current epicenter of downtown dining on East 4th, the restaurant (who's logo looks like the back of the Connecticut quarter), is housed in an old shoe factory that hadn’t been used in decades. A wonderful patio area arranges people in a “bar like” fashion in front of the restaurant so that that they face outward toward the bustling pedestrian traffic that flows through this cozy alley. Between the bar people and the building façade itself is space for traditional table and chair seating.
It’s actually a genius use of space that would make William Whyte proud. The bar people are high enough in the air that they aren’t being looked down on by the passersby; while also providing a buffer to those sitting down behind them. My guess is that there was enough room for a certain amount of tables, but perhaps not another row. I think this a classic case of a great idea resulting from an obvious design constraint. I think the only thing missing is the overhead heaters a la San Francisco, to help stretch the outdoor dining by a couple of months.
The space is narrow with a two story central area, with mezzanines on the front and back wall of the restaurant. On the ground floor is a bar to the right, a communal table to the left, and tables and bench seating toward the back. The layout actually reminded us a lot of a wonderful place we ate last year called NOPA. If you’re looking for the kitchen when you walk in, you won’t see it. That’s because it (and the bathrooms) are in the basement. LED lights with a framework using bicycle wheels hang from the ceiling (a very neat touch).
We were initially seated at table #8, which sits along the back wall. At first I thought it was nice, and then the wind kicked up. Many of the tables along that back wall, which are used for parties of two are affected by the ventilation system. If you sweat tying your shoes or are menopausal I think it would be a very comfortable place to sit; for everyone else it is annoying and downright chilly. We asked to move to another table. They happily relocated us at the communal table. The tall chairs are probably great for people who ordering some quick apps and having a few drinks, but they got pretty uncomfortable for a full meal. When you make your reservation make sure you request the mezzanine. I have sent one of the most finicky people I know up there and heard no complaints at all. That back wall is brutal.
I’m not going to go into the blow by blow on the food, but I will start by saying this: If you are a person that is trying to eat healthy, there is no shortage of things to eat on this menu. We had the mussels, asparagus, english pea fritters, hamburger, black cod, and the chocolate mousse for two. I enjoyed all of these on one level or another. There is a great selection of different things to order, something for everyone. I suppose if I had to describe it I called it refined rustic. Nancy Heller of Fun Playing with Food has many photos of what they have to offer.
If I had one criticism it would be that the water is sitting on the table with no cap. I think I’d prefer if they brought it out when the waiter first arrives, that way I know that it hasn’t been tampered with between the time someone else sat at the table and I arrived. I also noticed that the frites were wrapped in a cone of what appeared to be old drink menus. I don’t know if these were overruns or actual menus that had been circulated. I’m hoping it wasn’t the latter.
Some people have complained that they have to pay for the bread and its accoutrements. I prefer not to get free bread since we don’t eat it. I hate to see it thrown in the trash. If there’s something special coming with the it instead of a pat of Land-O-Lakes and you’re a bread fiend, why wouldn’t you be willing to pay for it?
I thought the service staff was actually very engaging. One guy, in particular, was extremely eager to talk about the food, the beer, the restaurant, everything; it was fun. Leslie at Flying Fig and the servers at Alan Wong’s in Honolulu stand out as servers that fielded every question and answered them like you were talking to the chef.
So what are the green strategies that are being employed at The Greenhouse Tavern? I saw ultra chic LED lights utilizing bicycle wheels in the shade frame, which I thought was a very cool design. From what I’ve read, much of what was used in the restaurant was used or repurposed materials. The urinals were of the waterless variety as well as hand dryers. These were the observations I made. I have to believe that there are other strategies that have been employed that I’m not aware of.
I, for one, am very happy that a place like this has opened in such a visible area of the city. I’m sure there are others that are doing some of these things (sustainable business practices) as well, but I think the visibility alone will encourage other restaurants to adopt and hopefully try to surpass the example that has been set here.
In terms of overall experience, food, and price, I think I’d say that GHT is very similar to L’albatros in University Circle.
Table #8 as it was described above, is no more. A wall has been constructed (where these two seats were previously located), and now blocks the strong breeze that used to come from the vent. I'd even go so far as to say that this little corner has gone from worst to first. It now appears to be one of the coziest places in the restaurant, especially in the winter. Nice job, GHT!
The Greenhouse Tavern
2038 East Fourth Street
Cleveland, OH 44115