The Greenhouse Tavern
2038 E 4th Street, Cleveland, OH 44115 (map); 216-443-0511; thegreenhousetavern.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Phenomenal restaurant with heavy bent towards sustainability puts out a pair of top-notch burgers
Want Fries With That? Yes, especially the animal frites
Price: Beef burger, $15; lamb burger, $17; both include fries; animal style frites, $13
Cleveland native Jonathon Sawyer, one of Food & Wine's "Best New Chefs" in 2010, made a name for himself before he opened The Greenhouse Tavern three years ago. With multiple stints in New York and Cleveland under his belt, including multiple positions under chef Charlie Palmer and a stint as the opening chef de cuisine at Michael Symon's Lolita, there was no question he had the chops. But when he went out on his own at Bar Cento in Cleveland (he no longer has a connection to the place) and then at The Greenhouse Tavern, he established himself as one of the best and most conscientious chefs you'll find anywhere.
From the commitment to local food sources and suppliers to a heavy reliance on recycled materials throughout the restaurant to the greenhouse on the roof to Sawyer's personal involvement in the Slow Food Movement, Sawyer's commitment to sustainability, passionately articulated in this speech, permeates every aspect of the restaurant. But social conscience only carries a restaurant so far; it ultimately comes down to the creativity and execution in the kitchen. And in that regard, Sawyer is even more impressive.
At a restaurant of this caliber, even the most devoted burger lover will surely have second thoughts on ordering a ground meat patty rather than something a little more special. Fortunately, The Greenhouse Tavern offers a compromise. For $44, diners can customize a four-course tasting menu by selecting virtually any item they want from each section of the menu (and for an upcharge, absolutely any menu item can be had). I ate with two friends and each of us ordered a four-course menu and shared everything as well as an extra burger. It was one of the more gluttonous dining experiences I've had in quite some time and, given the quality of the food, one of the better values I've ever had at a restaurant.
The grass-fed beef burger starts with eight ounces of brisket and chuck from Dee-Jays Custom Butchering in Fredericktown, Ohio. It's unfortunate that there isn't a better word than beefy to describe the flavor of a burger, but the intensity of this thing made it a show-stopper even though I was already full by the time I tried it. By opting for two extremely flavorful cuts of beef, Sawyer avoids any problems of stunted beef flavor that can plague grass-fed meat. Of course, the extra dose of fat from the particularly gooey raclette cheese doesn't hurt matters. The roasted tomato doesn't do anything in terms of fat, but it does add a nice bit of zest to a burger that a raw tomato is incapable of in the middle of winter.
I ordered the burger medium rare and got exactly what I wanted, a nice pink interior with a solid crust around the outside. The toasted bun, a soft buttery brioche roll that was not remotely too sweet, came from On the Rise, a small local bakery whose owner Sawyer met through his involvement with Slow Foods. The light bun had no problem holding up to the juicy burger, completing the simple and outstanding plate of food.
Like the beef burger, the lamb burger also features meat from Dee-Jays and a bun from On the Rise. The lamb burgers are not limited to a consistent blend of cuts, but they do benefit from some beef fat mixed in. The result is a 72/25 burger with plenty of lamb flavor, but without much of the gaminess thanks to the added fat.
Again, medium rare was requested and delivered. The patty came topped with feta cheese and shallots, which worked well, but I'm a little envious of the stinky cheese fondue topping that on the current version of the constantly changing menu. The lamb burger comes with a side of tangy yogurt that is theoretically there for the fries, but I actually thought made for an interesting twist on what was already a delicious burger.
Speaking of fries, I managed to try three different kinds, all of which were great. The beef burger comes with straightforward pomme frites. And by straightforward, I mean marvelous fired potatoes with an extra crispy exterior and a truly fluffy interior. The fries that come with the lamb burger start with that same base but get Greekified with "olive dust," a tangy blend of dehydrated olives, salt, red pepper, rosemary, and a tiny bit of lavender.
As good as both sets of fries that come with the burgers were, they paled in comparison to the Animal Style Frites, which are basically poutines on steroids. Again starting with delicious fried potatoes, this massive plate of food includes two fried eggs, mozzarella cheese curd, a generous amount of brown gravy, Maille whole grain mustard, and some thick chunks of outstanding chewy bacon made from local pork by the same farm that supplies the meat for the burgers. I was past full by the time this heart attack on a plate made it to the table and couldn't stop myself from eating well over a third of them.
I truly loved both burgers I had at The Greenhouse Tavern, but if you go here and order nothing but those, then you are a fool. From the crispy hominy with pork skin cracklins, pickled red onion, and lime juice to the crispy chicken wings confit served with roasted jalapeño, lemon juice, scallions, and garlic to the 40 clove garlic roasted chicken, virtually everything I had was, at a minimum, great. If you live in Cleveland or are going for a visit, gather friends, go to The Greenhouse Tavern, take advantage of the four-course deal, and enjoy the feast.