CLE Dinner Club and GHT Pop-Ups: Cleveland Culinary Experiences that Satisifed My Tastebuds and Wallet

Chefs Jonathon Sawyer and Amanda Freitag at the latest Brick and Mortar Pop-Up

After a long day at work, there is nothing I like better than dining out. Although I’ve tried, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that cooking is a fun past-time instead of just a chore.

Of course it’s hard to not want to go out to eat when there are so many great, local options.  At the end of a stressful day, I only need to walk a few blocks from work to find something to soothe my palate and nerves. And our drive home from downtown to Avon Lake is riddled with tempting culinary hotspots like Ohio City, Tremont and Gordon Square.

However, while my tastebuds may be happy, my wallet always isn’t. As Scott and I approach our thirties, money we used to reserve in our more careless carefree days for movies, dining out, and video games is now reserved for home improvements and savings.

And while the cost of a nice dinner out has always been more than justified by the quality of ingredients and the talent in our local kitchens, there are many more nights nowadays when I force myself to stick to a simple dinner at home.

At Greenhouse Tavern’s Brick and Mortar Pop-Up, guests could hang out upstairs on the rooftop and escape downstairs periodically to grab a bite to eat.

Every once in a while, though, we find an experience that makes both our wallets and our tastebuds happy.

Happy Dog’s entire menu, Noodlecat’s amazing happy hour deals and Hodge’s 2-for-$40 Tuesday special immediately come to mind.  And Cleveland blogger BiteBuff (a fellow novice in front of the stove) frequently highlights good dining deals that she’s encountered through her restaurant travels.

Recently, Scott and I attended a couple of incredible back-to-back dining events that were low on cost but overflowing in quality.

A selection of the offerings at Chef Freitag’s Brick and Mortar Cocktail Party.

Greenhouse Tavern tops my list of favorite restaurants in Cleveland (when Scott asked me where I wanted to go to dinner in a few weeks for my 30th birthday, GHT’s fifth quarter and pig’s head dishes immediately came to mind).

In addition to their standard fare, though, Chef Jonathon Sawyer will periodically invite visiting chefs to take over his kitchen for one night only.

These Brick & Mortar Pop-Ups have previously hosted Chefs Jason Roberts, Lee Anne Wong and Jeff Michaud. His most recent guest was Celebrity Chef Amanda Freitag of Food Network’s Chopped.

For her Brick & Mortar stint, Chef Freitag threw a cocktail party on Greenhouse Tavern’s rooftop.  After enjoying GHT’s rooftop on previous occasions, we knew it would be an excellent backdrop that could only be complemented by Freitag’s cooking.

We were not disappointed. Her menu featured a selection of bite-sized servings that may have been small in size but were huge on taste. A variety of these trays were placed throughout the mezzanine area of GHT and passed on occasion throughout the crowd on the rooftop.

Although I’m not sure if anyone was lucky enough to sample everything (I can attribute my sampling of most of the menu to Scott’s repeated trips downstairs to check for new trays), what we did taste we thoroughly enjoyed and we went back for a few seconds after everyone seemed to pass through.

The crowd was eager to try Chef Freitag’s dishes so trays quickly emptied. However, Scott and I bided our time throughout the night and managed to sample most of the menu by the end.

The herb-roasted potatoes with french onion dip, along with the 75 Day Aged Beef Sausage Double Down and Grilled Pimento Cheese Sammies were very appetizing, and I may borrow Freitag’s idea of mixing up kim chee butter next time I serve corn on the cob.

However, my favorite was the Heirloom Beet Borscht.  Everything about this dish — from the vibrant color to the rich texture and taste – resonated with me.  The small cups of borscht were complemented by a dollop of horseradish creme and micro greens on top.  The dish’s plating, taste and balanced ingredients won the night for me.

The ticket price for all of this food was only $19 and both the quality and quantity made this an instant value.

Cocktails, wine and beer were extra. And while you weren’t obligated to order any if you didn’t want to, I still came in under my budget when I ordered a Chef’s Special Smash cocktail.

Topped with a few sprigs of summer flowers, it featured tequila, raspberry puree, lemongrass and ginger.  Perfect sipping while enjoying downtown’s skyscape at the end of the night.

Chef’s Special Smash cocktail – as beautiful as a summer sunset

I wasn’t sure if anything could top Monday’s dinner, but then I attended my first CLE Dinner Club.

Twitter, where would I be without you? I had first read about these once-a-month Cleveland restaurant meetups through the @CLEDinnerClub twitter handle and reached out to cledinnerclub@gmail.com to receive updates on future events.

Joe G. works with local chefs throughout Northeast Ohio to offer a one-night $40 prix fixe menu that focuses solely on the food and chefs’ mastery. The end result is a low-key evening spent exploring some of Cleveland’s best restaurants in good company.

After not being able to attend the last few times, I was finally able to attend the most recent CLE Dinner Club at Luxe.

Luxe’s Chef Brian Okin started his CLE Dinner Club feast with these beautifully stuffed zucchini blossoms (this was also the cleanest my plate would be for the rest of the night)

My previous trips to Luxe have only been for brunch, and with Chef Brian Okin recently taking over in the kitchen, I had been very eager to try it out for dinner.

Chef Okin strayed a little from CLE Dinner Club’s typical format and served everything family style – giving us ample opportunity to get to know our tablemates while picking and choosing what we wanted to try.

There was no picking and choosing for me, though. I sampled everything – and there was a lot. 

Saying there was “a lot of food” doesn’t do this dinner justice. As Bite Buff described in her review, this was a case of “Man vs. Brian Okin.”

Before I knew we had so much left to the dinner, I helped myself to a second spoonful of pork belly and poached egg. It tasted too good to regret, though.

After serving a delicious and colorful selection of stuffed zucchini blossoms, crispy brussels sprouts, their trio of Mediterranean dips, pizza and pork belly with poached eggs, I was already full and ready to leisurely finish my cocktail before heading home.

I wasn’t the only one who was already content with what we had been served at this point, since a few of us refilled out plates with more of the savory pork belly before realizing we still had more dinner to go.  In fact, this was only the first of three courses for the evening.

This selection of plates was followed by three large salads featuring prosciutto and melon with arugula; kale with ricotta and avocado; and shaved asparagus and fennel salad.  All three highlighted dramatically different tastes but I think the kale salad was my favorite.

Chef Okin still wasn’t done with us yet, though.  Looking back I don’t know how, but I managed to make room for the evening’s main attraction: a 6-dish list of entrees that still makes my mouth water just reminiscing about it.

From walleye in a dill sauce to chorizo sausage with creamy risotto; chicken and mushrooms; Himalayan rice and beans; and shrimp and grits with Ohio sweet corn, each dish packed a lot of flavor and showcased the range of Chef Okin’s ability.

Bad blogger! I’m pretty sure this dish was the sausage and risotto but by this point was so overwhelmed by all of the tastes (and the food coma I was slipping into), I forgot to note it.

However, it was the kangaroo that was the evening’s adventurous masterpiece. While I usually don’t prefer particularly gamey meat, I was glad to take a chance on this dish which was paired with blueberries and caramelized onions.

It tasted like a more intense cut of beef and the onions and blueberries lent a subtlety to temper the kangaroo’s flavor. After discussing the dish with a friend who used to live in Australia, she said it can be very easy to ruin kangaroo meat. Fortunately for everyone at the table, Chef Okin’s was a success.

My only wish is that the kangaroo was regularly on Luxe’s menu so I could bring Scott back. Because after telling (ok, maybe boasting) about it, he’s on a desperate search for kangaroo now.

Kangaroo, blueberries, potato and caramelized onions made for a hearty ending to CLE Dinner Club’s evening

Similar to the Brick and Mortar Pop-Up, the $40 did not cover beverages — which I actually prefer.  It allowed me to make the choice of how much I wanted to spend on drinks (which wasn’t much since I was driving).

Simply put, Chef Okin outdid himself. I don’t know if I’ll ever sit down to a dinner of that magnitude again.  And definitely not for $40. While Chef Okin had us all calling uncle by the end of dinner, I’ll take a defeat like that any day!

Thanks to Chefs Sawyer and Freitag as well as Joe G. and Chef Okin for hosting 2 events that demonstrate I can still enjoy extraordinary dining in Cleveland while balancing my budget.

6 thoughts on “CLE Dinner Club and GHT Pop-Ups: Cleveland Culinary Experiences that Satisifed My Tastebuds and Wallet

  1. Bite Buff

    So glad that you enjoyed your first dinner club outing! I hope to see you at more, and actually sit close enough to chat. We were quite the group that night. Also, thanks for the links to my blog.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: CLE Dinner Club and GHT Pop-Ups: Cleveland Culinary Experiences that Satisifed My Tastebuds and Wallet | ~ * ~ Family & Friendship & Food ~ * ~ | Scoop.it

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