Greenhouse Tavern – One of the Best Meals in America

Well, here is a statement I never thought I would write:
One of the best meals I have had in America was in Cleveland, OH. 
Greenhouse Tavern is run by Chef Jonathan Sawyer, a James Beard Award nominee, a supporter of the Slow Foods Movement, and the man who made Greenhouse Tavern the first certified green restaurant in Ohio. The restaurant’s principles, according the the website, are “the idea that the proximity of the farm and soil to a restaurant correlates to the quality of its food and that environmentally conscious or green business practices are fundamental.”
And red meat. I’m pretty sure red meat is a major tenet of this restaurant.

The restaurant is extremely large – two levels, in fact – in a warehouse-like space. Eclectic and quite casual, I felt comfortable there in jeans, but I would also feel at home there in a little black dress. It manages to be relaxed and special occasion all at once.

We all opted to order the chef’s tasting menu. Four courses for $44. That’s four full sized courses. Including ingredients like foie gras, truffles, and prime beef with very few upcharges. This would NEVER happen in New York. I mean, at a McDonald’s, let alone at a James Beard nominee’s restaurant. 
But I digress:

Bread with Pork Rillettes

jules cleveland 019

Sourdough bread with airy holes and a light, creamy pork pate. Child’s play compared to what was coming up.

Sloppy Jo Nut: Savory Donut with Coffee and Coca Cola Braised Beef and BBQ Sauce

Yeasty bread filled with beef that melted on the tongue without being mushy. Slightly sweet with the subtle, pleasantly bitter taste of coffee sharpening the edges of the thick, rich dish.

Crispy Potato and Sauerkraut Latke with Smoked Fish, Creme Fraiche, Cornichons, and Herbs

 I thought I made great latkes, and I do…but I might have to make these next year. Creamy on the inside, crispy on the outside, with more than a hint of sourness from the sauerkraut.  This was perfect with the delicate house smoked salmon, fresh herbs, and cool creme fraiche. The pickles could have been a bit more tart, but other than that, the dish was spot on.

Foie Gras Steamed Clams with Butter, Red Onion Brulee, Late Harvest Viognier Vinegar, and Grilled Bread

Who the hell could imagine such great clams in the Midwest?! Tender and sweet, more meaty than briny. The broth was so rich, it took me by surprise. Not just from the butter or the sweet onions, but from the pervasive taste of the foie gras, which was apparent all the way through the bite. An unmissable dish.

Crispy Hominy with Pork Skin Cracklins, Pickled Red Onion, and Lime Juice

This was a slap in the face after so much heavy, fat-forward food. Yes, this was fried, but it was lighter than air. The large grains of hominy crunched beneath my teeth and there was no grease whatsoever. The hominy gave off a subtle sweet corny flavor that mingled with sour lime, spicy jalapenos, tangy red onions, and shards of intensely porky cracklins. It was Asian inspired in every way – fiery, salty, sweet, spicy, sour, light, umami…it was a symphony of flavors that was harmonious and exciting. 

Duck Meatball Soup with Fregola Sardo, Aged Pecorino, Greens, and Beef Brodetto

A revelation. I have NEVER had such tender, light duck. Not gamey or fatty – these meatballs were like little dumplings that disappeared upon contact with my tongue, leaving behind only the memory of some soft, light meat. Sure, the pasta, cheese, and greens were nice, but the real magic here was the marriage between the delicate duck meatballs and the strong, rounded beef broth. That broth could really cure what ails you.

Crispy Chicken Wings Confit with Roasted Jalapenos, Lemon Juice, Scallions, and Garlic

The best wings I have ever had in my life. That simple, that down to earth, that perfect. Perfectly butchered wings, with meat that was incredibly juicy-I have never had plumper, more meaty wings. Tossed in a spicy, herby, garlicky concoction that was sticky and delicious. There must have been 18 wings there and we ate them all.
And licked the bowl.

Hand Ground Beef Tartare with Pommes Frites, Three Minute Egg, Salted Fresno Peppers, and Condiments

The best steak tartare I have had in America. The reason was the beef – hand cut, so there was still some texture and pleasant chew. The beef was not sweet or mild. It was deep and strong, like a well aged steak. It was the difference between eating a bone in steak and eating a sloppy joe: there was just no comparison. The three minute egg, spicy peppers, chopped onion, and tangy mustard completed the dish. I can only say that if you like steak tartare, you must get this dish. If you don’t like it, get this dish. Just get this freakin dish.

Grilled Ohio Lamb Burger with Stinky Cheese Fondue, Champagne Shallots, Olive Oil Dusted Pommes Frites and Tangy Yogurt

Once again, the strength and flavor of the meat astounded me here. This lamb was so strong, so amazingly lamb-y that it almost electrified me. It was juicy and cooked a perfect medium, with a funky cheese and acidic shallot topping that re-emphasized the strong lamb-y flavor. Served on a soft bun with a side of tangy spiced mayonnaise, this was the most incredible burger I have had in ages.

I can’t overemphasize how incredible the meat was. It really showed me that when you buy locally, your products are just that much better.

And now…the raison d’etre…

Animal Fries with Bacon, Fried Eggs, Mustard, Mozzerella, and Gravy

Poutine x 1,000. And the best poutine I have ever had – and I have had it in Montreal! Freshly cut fries, some crisp, some delightfully soggy underneath the onslaught of peppery gravy, stretchy mozzarella cheese, salty nuggets of thick bacon, and two fried eggs, bright yellow yolks spilling richness all over the glorious mess. The small puddle of mustard was pungent and sharp, delightful when mixed with the other decadent flavors and textures. Delicious. Indulgent. Ridiculous. You won’t make a dent in it. Don’t let that stop you from ordering it.

Buttered Popcorn Pot de Creme with Caramel and Sea Salt
Lighter than mousse, richer than creme brulee. I didn’t taste the popcorn, but I did taste clean cream and sweet butter. The caramel was just barely burnt, adding depth to the rich dessert, and the salt brought out the caramel’s sweetness. This was an incredible ending to an incredible meal.

As we finished this eating extravaganza, we opted to buy the kitchen staff a round of beers (an awesome option on the menu that I would love more restaurants to offer). When we went downstairs, ringing a bell, to announce that we had bought the beers, the staff was so jovial, so appreciative, and so obviously happy to be at work that it reinforced what I had felt all night – that Chef Sawyer must be an AWESOME guy. Though I didn’t personally meet him, anyone with this much passion, creativity, dedication to local and sustainable food, and with an enthusiastic front and back of house staff, simply has to be a wonderful person.

This is the kind of restaurant you WANT to patronize. It supports local farmers, responsibly raised livestock, and the kind of man whose staff (seemingly) genuinely looks forward to going to work. I have never had a meal like this. So meat-centric, so locally sourced, all products that I have had before, but never in these combinations. The prices are SO fair and the food is SO good.
Cleveland blew so many New York restaurants away with this meal.
And it certainly blew this food blogger away.


  1. I clearly need to go to Ohio asap. (I never thought I'd say those words).

  2. Char Nolan says:

    Cleveland is actually packed full of amazing restaurants. I am always amazed by something new when I visit.

  3. Samantha Huff says:

    I'm making my parents take me there IMMEDIATELY. Well by immediately I mean the next time I'm home for a weekend. Looks so freaking amazing! Beer list?? I bet they have some wonderful Great Lakes beer on tap!! YUMMMM

  4. Looks fantastic! We need more restaurants like this.

  5. Sippity Sup says:

    In ALL of America? Obviously ou haven't eaten at my house. Seriously though, you know that dinner party game where you can choose anyone in all of "timedom" to have dinner with? Well, you'd make my top 10 or maybe 14… GREG

  6. Crystal @EatDrinkClev says:

    All jokes aside, the Cleveland food scene rocks! I'm so glad you got to experience the Greenhouse.You could spend a week eating your way through Cleveland and still have more places you need to try. I live here and my list of must try places is never ending! Thanks for letting out our secret – we'd love to have more foodie tourists head our way. If this write up doesn't tempt you enough, he'll soon be selling his homemade vinegars which are amazing and one of his "secret" ingredients. And Jonathan is truly as wonderful and sweet and dedicated as you imagined!

  7. Anonymous says:

    I have had the chicken wings and the pot du creme. Have to agree, they were true "food memories."

  8. Anonymous says:

    Looks like it's time to update your best ________ I ever had list. Greenhouse is one of many great stops in Cleveland. I love when I get to visit.

  9. Fritos and Foie Gras says:

    @Sarah-haha welcome to the club!
    @Char-You are so right!
    @Samantha-the beer and cocktail list was outstanding! I actually had a great bourbon drink there!
    @Hungry-You said it!
    @Sippity-Your comment made my day. Possibly my month.
    @Crystal-I am so in love with your city! You should be getting foodie tourists there – there is so much to love!
    @Anon-so glad you agree!
    @Anon-the steak tartare is DEF my new fave!

  10. As an Ohioan and one who has been to Cleveland many times I was excited when I saw your Ohio tab. I am new to your blog and I loved this post about The Greenhouse Tavern. I hope we can try it this year when we make our yearly pilgrimage!

  11. This assessment is spot on! I had one of the best meals of my life at the Greenhouse Tavern, and it was an 8 or 9 course tasting menu for less than $100.00! I am no vegetarian, but my wife ordered the meat free version of the tasting menu, and it was the best vegetarian food I have ever eaten. Nothing was from the menu either, all made special for that evening. This restaurant is a gem that cannot be missed. Also, if you see anything with pork belly on the menu, you must order that dish, no questions asked. He is a genius with the pork belly. YUM


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