Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cleveland: Market Garden Brewery & Distillery

At first glance, The Market Garden pushes all the right buttons for me. The space is full of energy, I hold the guy in the kitchen in high esteem, the barman has an excellent track record, and they brew their own beer. If there's a match made in heaven - this is it. I knew I was going to like this place. Wait, scratch that. I was going to love this place.

I don't know who put together the space, but whoever it was - they absolutely smashed it. Like an erupted volcano of seating oozing from the center of the restaurant (as it should), stools line the bar, high boys fill the front room, side walk tables run along West 25th, booths march along the side of the space as you make your way to the outdoor biergarten where there is even more seating.. With the exception of the sidewalk tables, which are probably the least desirable due to the closeness and intensity of the traffic on 25th, all of the other areas feel very connected to the overall energy of the place.

Warning: with hard surfaces and lots of people comes a very high noise level. If someone in your crew is sensitive or becomes a complete asshole if they can't hear everything - SIT OUTSIDE. Noise is an issue.   For my money the biergarten is the place to be. Period.

So the space is rockin'. What's the grub like? In a word? Middling.

I think the world of Michael Nowack. When Chef Sawyer left Bar Cento and tossed him the keys to the 'vette, he could have easily totaled it. He didn't. He's quietly continued to crank out thoughtful, well crafted food for the Cento faithful.

In terms of flavors, it just doesn't seem to have carried over across the street to Market Garden. I don't mean to make it sound as though the food is bad - it isn't. I will, however, say that it lacks the kind of imagination and flavor that I had come to expect from Bar Cento. I've been to MG three times and just can't get behind this food. The three trips have included The Mustard & Buttermilk Fried Chicken (I think boneless, skinless chicken breast), The Chorizo Joe (surprisingly bland), and probably the best of the three The Cuban sandwich. I don't know what the story is, but there is a lot of room for improvement. The menu descriptions led my mind to expect something better than I got - and that's never good.

The Pretzel typifies the whole experience for me. Your "snack" consists of a braided pretzel that measures no longer than eight inches long (about the size of a small loaf of free bread at any restaurant, or one of these bagel-like twisty things they sell at Dunkin' Donuts). In fact, it is more like the free bread you get at any restaurant, than it is a proper pretzel's chewiness. Also included are a small dollop of whole grain mustard,and a quenelle of soft cheese. The price? $6! 'Twas the kick in the groin to say the least.

Well, they do brew their own beer. How was that?

I'm all for locally brewed beer. I love craft brew, but I just haven't been impressed with most of the beers I've had here. Of everything I've had, the Pearl Street was probably my favorite (it helps that it was 93 degrees outside when I was drinking it). The Hop Soup and Cluster Fuggle fall short of what I would expect from a beer that is supposed to pack a hoppy punch and goes for $6-6.50 a pint. I think it's a tough sell at that price point. Do I expect 120 minute IPA? No. I realize this stuff costs money to make, and it's being made in small batches, but if I bought it at the store I don't think I'd be compelled to go back for more.

My take is this: Market Garden will never want for customers simply because the location will continue to be fed out-of-towners and those who think "food is food" and "beer is beer". The space is going to pay dividends for years to come (and I'm guessing they're probably paying handsomely for that right). I haven't completely written these guys off, I mean they've been open less than 6 months, so my hope is that they find their mojo and elevate the food and the beer. I'll be dropping in every so often to see if things change course, and as I do, I'll be more than happy to add to this post to reflect any changes in noise level or flavor. I believe in the chef. I believe in the brewer. I believe in the owner. But as of right now a choice has to be made: setting or flavor? You can't have both.

The Market Garden Brewery & Distillery
1947 W 25th St Map
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 621-4000

The Market Garden Brewery & Distillery on Urbanspoon


  1. We felt pretty much the same way during our visit a few months ago, and were hoping the place had improved since then. I don't get their Chorizo Joe--despite the "spicy" chorizo, it had less flavor than a standard sloppy joe. The whole thing is really puzzling considering the pedigrees of both the chef and brewmaster. Months ago we assumed they were playing it safe to drum up business, but it seems like by this time they'd be taking more risks.

  2. I don't know what the brewmaster's excuse is, but the chef is cooking in a closet with one hand tied behind his back. I feel for the guy. He's doing the best he can with what he's been cursed with. Missed opportunity, I'd say. Cento's still rockin' it hard across the street and bier market has a great selection of high quality beer. My dollars will continue to be spent over there.

  3. I 100% agree with you and our reviews speak much of the same in terms of food and beer. I hope they choose flavor over setting!