Opening Night: Alley Cat Oyster Bar

It’s been a delicious and interesting journey observing a restaurant go from concept, to construction, to service.  Over the weekend I was invited to dine at the soft opening of Alley Cat, Chef Zack Bruell’s newest restaurant, and the first tenant to open in the revitalized Flat East Bank project on the banks of the Cuyahoga River.

        Alley-Cats-Happy-Hour Jen and Danielle at Alley Cat

I invited my parents, and a colleague, Danielle Serino, who likes Zack’s food even more than I do.  It was a picturesque night along the river, perfect for the open air dining room and a glass of wine on the deck while we waited for our table.Alley-Cats-Bar3Alley-Cats-Bar2

I took it all in, amazed that just ten days prior, on was on a hard hat tour…and this was what the bar looked like then:


The dining room was buzzing with clients, vendors, friends and foodies.  And the vibe was as cool as the display of oysters at the bar.


As is expected on the very first night of service, we sat down nearly an hour after our reservation.  But I could see the kitchen was slammed.  “I’m ready to get my ass kicked,” Bruell told me over the phone earlier that day.  His open kitchens are part of the experience at this, his eighth restaurant.


Bruell was using the evening to begin to iron out the execution of the menu, and the logistics of the whole place.  Guests were invited to donate to the Marjorie & Ernest Bruell Cancer Fund (his parents) in exchange for pretty much anything they wanted on the menu.


We started with a round of appetizers, the Fried Calamari with Kimchi, which was very tender, as was the Steamed Middle Neck Clams.  But the favorite by far were the Alley Cat Stuffed Oysters (with watercress, chicharrone, fontina and breadcrumbs)


They were also serving a limited variety of their fresh, raw oysters.  So mom tried one of each.  (Pemaquid, Chincoteague and East Beach Blonde) She liked them all but didn’t have the experienced palate to really tell the difference.


For an entree, I went adventurous and tried the Grilled Octopus with smoked paprika aioli and succotash.


Dad (like me) is a sucker for lobster, so he selected the Lobster Roll, butter poached with green goddess dressing.  Creamy and sweet!


My mom can never resist scallops when they’re on the menu.  And Zack does them better than anybody in town.  These were off the Catch of the Day section of the menu and were served with lemon grass cream.


And the menu item I can’t resist at any restaurant: HUSH PUPPIES!  I could make a meal of them.  These were fantastic.


I rarely order dessert when I’m out for dinner, but tonight was about sampling the new menu and giving feedback to the kitchen.  So…we took one for the team and ordered three to split! Dad’s favorite was the chocolate caramel cake, Danielle preferred the banana cream pie, but my favorite, hands down, was the coconut cheese cake. (evident by the fact that I dove in and finished most of it before I remembered to snap a picture)


We were full and happy by the end of the meal, and excited for what’s to come in this space.

danielle and zack and jen

I congratulated the Chef on the way out, thanked him for a great meal and wished him luck working out the kinks.  He sighed and told me that a line cook already walked out on the job on night one.  It’s going to be a rough first couple of weeks.  Stay tuned, and hungry!