Tour de Bruell. A summer dining adventure

I did it!  And boy was it fun.  The Tour de Bruell is a summer challenge issued by Chef Zack Bruell and his team.  The mission: eat at each of his six local restaurants throughout the summer.  It’s an inviting and ambitious task ahead for diners.  Fans of the Zack Bruell Restaurant group have from Memorial Day until Labor Day to complete the Tour.  If they do, there are some delicious prizes they’re eligible for.

This year, I joined a couple of friends, and my husband and attempted to eat at ALL SIX in a day.  I was game, and starving.  And since it was my husband’s 40th birthday he was ready to go big!

Stop one was Alley Cat in the Flats East Bank, known for their spectacular raw oyster selection and fabulous views along the river.  We ordered a dozen oysters, and the seafood board (like a charcuterie board, with things like squid ceviche, salmon pate and seafood sausage)

And we toasted our adventure with a signature cocktail of the Tour, from Floh Vodka, and a glass of the featured Rose.  We drank in the views and the flavors.  Got our passports stamped and we were ready for the next location.

We hit Parallax in Tremont next, Bruell’s oldest of the stops along the Tour.  Their sushi is my favorite menu item there, so we ordered some that included beef for my meat eating husband and we were treated to some shrimp and vermicelli and a sweet apple tart for an early dessert.

Another toast…this time with the featured champagne of the Tour, Nicolas Feuillatte.  We were really settling in now!  Our next stop was supposed to be Chinato, along E. 4th Street.  But at the time we rolled up (or rather crawled) there was too much traffic and no parking so we skipped it and returned two days later.

So instead we went ahead to Cowell & Hubbard in Cleveland’s Theater District. We posted up at one of my favorite seats in the city, a front booth.  We ordered the pasta special, a ramen…and slurped it up.

And when I go to Cowell, we always get the pork stack and the bone marrow.  Both are a “must try” when you dine there.  More drinks and laughs, and another stamp for our passport.

Next we headed to the Intercontinental Hotel, home of Table 45.  They have a new Executive Chef there, Zach Bond, who was eager to tell us all about their new menu approach.  So we were treated to a five course tasting menu at the Chef’s Table.  Very Cool.

We had a perfectly cooked scallop with a jalapeno corn puree, a fresh summer salad with compressed watermelon, a take on Bolognese with smoked sausage, a spectacular Sri Lankan curried lamb and a palate cleansing berry sorbet to finish it off.  We paired the food with more of the featured wines of the tour.  My favorite was the Pinot Noir.  Stuffed? Not yet.  We were in it for the long haul. Once we got our stamp we were on our way to University Circle and my favorite patio in the city, L’Albatros.

It was a beautiful night to sit outside.  And to my surprise, given the hour and the volume we’d already consumed…we didn’t just eat…my husband still wanted to feast!

He ordered our favorite appetizer on the menu, the savory French Toast.  And to be honest, I only look at the menu when I go there just to see if anything has changed.  I ALWAYS get the cassoulet.  It’s just the best.  We got our stamp and called it a (great) night.

Fast forward two days and I popped back over to Chinato to complete my Tour card.  I have been dying to try the Blended Burger Project offerings from local chefs, so since we were their for lunch that was an easy choice.  Delicious and juicy!  And for starters we had a gorgeous tomato salad featuring three varieties of cheese and tomatoes.  Perfection.

tour de bruell completed card

So I did it! And you can too!  Get your card at any participating  restaurant to kick it off. Parallax, Chinato, Cowell & Hubbard, Table 45, L’Albatros and Alley Cat.  Hurry up! If you complete the Tour De Bruell by July 4th you and a guest are eligible to win a chauffeur-driven progressive dinner. (there will be five winners!) Finish by Labor Day and you’re eligible to win a VIP Tour Finale Dinner.  Ten winners and a guest will win a multi-course meal and wine pairings at one of Zack’s restaurants.  While there one of those people will win the Grand Prize, a multi-course meal for 8 guests cooked at your home by Chef Bruell!

 

 

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Natural Wines: Zack Bruell Restaurant Group introduces organic, biodynamic vintages.

Have you ever tasted a wine that was truly alive?  I hadn’t, until I had my first sips (and glasses) of natural wines.  And now, I get it.  It was hard to understand, or believe, that a wine could change dramatically from first open, to first pour, to last sip.  But it happened, each time, as we tasted the new natural wine offerings from the Zack Bruell Restaurant Group. 

Restaurateur, Zack Bruell, recently brought on his son, Julian, as the Director of Service.  The younger Bruell brings with him experience from Michellin Star restaurants in New York City.  Inside his first three months, he and Direcotr of Operations, David Schneider, set about introducing ground-breaking wines to several of the ZBRG properties.  This week I was invited to taste some of the biodynamic offerings now available at Parallax and L’Albatros Brasserie.  


What makes a wine natural, or biodynamic ? They require a lot more labor, for starters.  They are made by small, passionate producers, with minimal intervention or modern technology.  No yeast, bacteria or sugars are added.  Simply produced, these wine makers stay true to traditional wine making.  The lack of things like sulfites (only added at bottling for stability) means you should drink it right away.  Alas, the minimum amount of sulfites, however, will not lessen a hangover, contrary to what some believe.  That’s according to Maggie, the wine rep who walked us through each variety. 


These natural wines aren’t filtered, so some, especially the white varieties, appear more cloudy than you’d expect.  And some, like the Chardonnary we tried had a bit of a yeast smell to them initially.  But inside five minutes of the pour, it tasted more buttery, like a classic Chardonnay you’ve come to expect.  These wines evolved rapidly, some “explode out of the bottle,” according to Bruell.       


The Chenin Blanc was a touch more sweet, warm at first.  But in minutes it gave off a green apple tartness to it. You can see how one like this would be a perfect pairing to the richness of Chef Bruell’s food.


The Nerello Mascalese, a field blend from Sicily, was produced from volcanic soil. It was light, like a Pinot noir, and had hints of kiwi and pomegranate.


My favorite was the French Syrah, from Crozes-Hermitage, Rhone.  It had more body, with raisin, tobacco and even light black pepper favors to it. 

The Mourvèdre out of Mendocino County was light, a little sweet and a little dry with strawberry and plum notes.  I thought  it would make for a lovely spritzer, come the warmer months. 


We had a great time sampling these food friendly wines, clearly the next trend in wine making.   To my surprise, the price points were much lower than I’ve seen such wines before. There will be 12 varieties, sold by the bottle on the menu at L’Albatros Brasserie and Parallax, ranging in price from $32-60.  Cheers!

Giving local and gifts for foodies

More and more people are making an effort to eat local and support locally made and sourced products. And the holidays provide a great opportunity to continue that trend, and introduce loved ones to some of your favorite local restaurants and artisans. 

For one stop shopping, try the new Merchants Market in Legacy Village.  The shelves are stocked with things that will please a variety of tastes.  My friend Dane Wujnovich, of  Brucato Gourmet has an incredible Sicilian pizza sauce, in two varieties, that would be a great addition to a gift basket.  The artisan sauces and cocktail mixes from Pope’s Kitchen make for perfect hostess gifts, as would the sweet offerings from Fear’s Confections.  Craft cocktailing fans can stuff stockings or mix up holiday party bevvies with bar ware and mixes from Happy Hour Collection.  Or satisfy the coffee lovers with some beautiful beans from local small-batch roaster, Six Shooter Coffee.

Toast to your health and the New Year with a bottle of Cleveland Whiskey, or a premium rum from Portside Distillery.

Or send a little piece of Cleveland to someone who can’t get home this holiday, with a gift crate full of local goods, artfully packed in a salvaged apple crate from the Cleveland Crate Company.

cleveland-crate-co

Put the flavors of your favorite Cleveland restaurant under the tree, with products developed by a number of local chefs.  Try Chef Doug Katz’s line of recipes and spice blends, Fire Spice Company.  Chef Zack Bruell also makes retail products, including a trio of sauces, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and a line of coffee blends.

I’m a big fan of giving the gift of an experience.  For the foodie on your list, send them on a local food tour, like Taste Cleveland Food Tours.  They offer Tremont, Little Italy and West Side Market options.  Cooking classes are a fun way to connect and bond over what we all have in common, food!  I love the variety they offer at the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking.

And take advantage of restaurant gift card deals this time of the year.  Many establishments, like Pranzo, in Willoughby are offering a bonus gift card of $10 or $20 when you purchase $50 or $100 in gift cards.  People who like to eat out frequently will love The Deck from Cleveland Independents.  The organization of locally owned restaurants produces this yearly collection of discounts (average savings of $10 on a $30 purchase) to nearly 50 restaurants.  Or get gift certificates to their member restaurants at a significant discount (like $35 for a $50 gift certificate).

Brewing up something new in The Flats

Ambitious trailblazer, Chef Zack Bruell is taking on two new projects much different than his previous endeavors. The restaurateur is entering into the brewery business, launching a new brew pub in the old Cleveland landmark, The Watermark, on the East Bank of the Flats, just a stone’s throw from his oyster bar, Alley Cat.
The name is TBD, but the establishment will have instant street cred, thanks to his partner on the project, Luke Purcell. The Great Lakes Brewing Company veteran is leaving the Godfather of the local brewing industry after more than 20 years for the chance to brew out of his comfort zone.
julian-bruell

Source: Facebook

Bruell is also bringing his son, Julian into the mix in Cleveland. But this is by no means a passing of the baton, or changing of the guard. And Bruell tells me this is not the beginning of a succession plan. The chef tells me his son can teach him things about the front of the house that will help elevate the service and overall experience at all of his restaurants. Most recently, the younger Bruell has worked as the General Manager at Sauvage, and the service manager at Jean George’s in New York City, places with multiple Michelin stars.
Chef Bruell says after handling the tough crowd of NYC diners, his son is fully prepared for his role in Cleveland. He also admits, it was hard for him to accept and understand that service is more important than the food itself. But he now believes that it is. Bruell tells me he’ll put his food up against anybody’s in the country. This move, he says, will help take the restaurant group to the next level.
For starters, 27 year old Julian will be spending a month at a time at each of Bruell’s properties (Parallax, Chinato, Cowell& Hubbard, Table 45, Alley Cat Oyster Bar, L’Albatros Brasserie) to assess and raise the service and front of the house. The elder Bruell expects his son, a millennial, to relate to staff better than he can, and in turn, help recruit, train and retain good talent. That’s something he and almost every other chef in the city has been struggling with during Cleveland’s restaurant boom.
Then, the younger Bruell will contribute to the new brew pub. Chef says he doesn’t profess to be a beer person. For that, he’ll lean on Purcell.
luke-purcell

Purcell, right, will join Bruell in his new brew pub business.  Source: Facebook

What’s really interesting about this partnership is that traditionally a brew pub’s menu is developed to compliment the beer. But this time, Zack tells me, they’ll be developing beer varieties to compliment and cut through the richness of his food, much like wine usually does.
Purcell tells me he is looking forward to thinking in reverse. He expects to be working on wheat varieties with more of a tart finish, and some sours, very on trend now, to provide the acidity his partner is looking for.
Right now they are shooting for an April opening, which would require them to start brewing come February. Purcell knows it’s an aggressive schedule, but he is excited and eager to work on something so different. The Watermark is being gutted as we speak. Can’t wait to see what they brew up.

The Calling. A toast to Jim Nantz and Chef Zack Bruell

“Hello, friends” (in my best Jim Nantz voice) Such an iconic sports figure and such a charming personality.  The legendary CBS Sports broadcaster is joining forces with a legendary Cleveland chef, Zack Bruell, for an excellent summer pour…courtesy of The Calling.

zack and jim nantz

I had the honor and privilege to attend a luxurious event this week, a multi-stop wine tasting featuring the wine label from CBS Sports Commentator, Jim Nantz, and his partner, Peter Deutsch.

The free, public event, offered pours from The Calling, with a side car of back story from Nantz, Deutsch and Bruell, three pretty excellent story tellers.  We were first offered their Chardonnay, a beautifully balanced 100% Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County.  Tasting notes include stone fruit, citrus, melon, toasted nuts and vanilla bean.  It was creamy, which to me, is rare with this variety.

Next we were poured an incredible Pinot Noir.  Probably the best I’ve had in memory.  100% Pinot grapes from the same region mentioned above.  I could taste cherry, and cranberry.  What a velvety wine! Price point around $35.

And finally, we were offered a spectacular Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County.  It’s 89% Cab, 5% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot and 100% DELISH!   It presented blackberry and plum tasting notes, with a hint of coffee and a lingering finish.

Fans of wine, Nantz, and Bruell could meet up with the trio at L’Albatros Brasserie, Table 45, Parallax or Alley Cat Oyster Bar, and hear about the goal of this new vintage: become the new great American premium wine brand. The big name broadcaster chose not to put his name on the bottle.  Instead he wanted the wine to stand on it’s own. He and Deutsch got together after a chance meeting at a restaurant in Connecticut right after Deutsch had just finished reading Nantz’s book about his father, Always By My Side.  Nantz had long wanted to get involved in the wine industry.  Both wanted to start an endeavor to honor their fathers.  Several years later, they have a brand their fathers would be proud of.

tour de bruell card

Nantz said he is competing to win.  In fact, he said he wasn’t even going to enter the arena unless he was going to win.  Sip for yourself and be the judge.  The Calling is the official wine of this year’s Tour de Bruell. (I got my first stamp this week!)  You can get it at all Zack Bruell’s restaurants and Heinens grocery stores.

 

RestauranTOUR: Behind the scenes as Zack Bruell opens Alley Cats

There are fewer things more stressful for a chef than the opening of a new restaurant.  Yet seasoned restaurateur, Chef Zack Bruell, appears cool as an English cucumber as he readies his new river’s edge restaurant, Alley Cats.  

The oyster bar will be the first tenant to open in the new Flats East Bank project, a massive development that promises to revitalize a once-thriving entertainment district in Cleveland.  If the way in which Bruell is finishing Alley Cats is any indication, Clevelanders and their visitors, have a lot to be excited about.

Alley-Cats-Construction

Bruell invited me to tour Alley Cats as he makes finishing touches, and prepares for inspections and a soft opening.  I could feel an almost tangible sense of urgency as soon as I walked in to the construction site.

Alley-Cats-Construction-WorkerAlley-Cats-Patio

Electricians, carpenters, and various other contractors working feverishly at this stage of the process.

This two-story building, and enclosed patio went up in about three months.  “That’s insane,” Bruell tells me, chuckling.  

But since he was making such a substantial investment in the building and the property, he wanted to get it up quickly to try and take advantage of the precious, and unfortunately short, summer season along the Cuyahoga River.

Alley-Cats-Garage-Door-View

The brutal northeast Ohio winter took its toll, delaying construction on the building itself and the roads/sidewalks leading to it.  Bruell tells me he was ready to open around the 4th of July, but it looks like it’ll be the first week of August before the doors actually open.

Alley-Cats-Lighting

The lighting is the first thing that caught my eye in the dining room.  It’s something Bruell is extremely particular about in all of his restaurants. (Cowell & HubbardChinatoParallaxL’AlbatrosTable 45Kafeteria, Dynomite)

Even the fixtures in the kitchen must meet his standards of dim, soft, flattering light for his female patrons.  Something, I have to say, I’ve appreciated every time I’ve dined at one of his establishments.  

Alley-Cats-Prep-Kitchen

He shook his head as he saw the fluorescents installed in the prep kitchen.  Even the light from those, he said, was too cold and would spill into the dining room.  Not acceptable.  They’d need dimmers too, he decided on the fly.  Add those to the list of last minute changes he’d have to make before they’d be ready to open.

Alley-Cats-Open-Kitchen

Alley Cats, like the rest of Bruell’s restaurants, has an open air kitchen.

“Human beings are drawn to fire….it’s a primal instinct,” the chef tells me.  

Alley-Cats-Openkitchen

In it they’ll make casual, Southern California inspired food.  Bruell intends for people to dock their boats along the adjacent boardwalk and stroll right in to the “shore restaurant,” flip flops and all.  It’ll be a much different kind of vibe than the rest of his places.

Alley-Cats-Bridgeview

The fixtures in the rest of the dining room are “industrial cool,” his take on grunge.

Alley-Cats-Bar

 And the seating is an inviting combination of banquet and communal tables.

Alley-Cats-Dining-Room

However, he added partitions (also industrial looking) throughout the floor to help maintain an intimate feel in the 110 seat dining room.  It’s certain to help ward off the sense of emptiness during slower winter months too.

Alley-Cats-Partitions

But until dreaded winter descends upon us, and while summer still lingers, the views from the open air dining room, (complete with garage style doors) are classic Cleveland.

Alley-Cats-Boardwalk-View

As I walked out of the dining room and through the enclosed patio and private dining room, I caught a glimpse of some wood trim that was being artfully stained.  Picture a sophisticated driftwood look…appropriate given the waterfront venue.  Can’t wait to see where that pops up.

Alley-Cats-wood-trim

There was still plenty to do as I looked around, but Chef Bruell assured me they are close.  He can taste it.    

Alley-Cats-Patio