Sawyer’s just opened in the new Van Aken District in Shaker Heights. I met a friend who is moving from Cleveland there on Sunday night. Street parking is a little tricky, but the parking garage is just across the street from the front door. There were not a lot of handicapped parking spaces as far as I could see. I parked on the street around the corner, while my friend parked in the parking garage. Her husband, who has mobility issues, did not join us that night. He is why I always consider parking issues when planning events, but crossing the street is easily doable.
Chef Jonathon Sawyer (James Beard Award winner, 2015 Great Lakes Region) is known for his love of local agriculture and sustainable businesses. I’ve always admired his dedication to reusing and recycling when he built The Greenhouse Tavern, his flagship restaurant that is still open on E. 4th and still has rabid fans. I miss Trentina a lot. I had the pleasure of enjoying the Menu Blanco there once, and it remains a lifetime highlight meal to this day.
Sawyer’s newest restaurant, Sawyer’s, is light, bright and contemporary, with a white-washed industrial feel. My main complaint about Noodlecat was the uncomfortable seats. That is not the case here! The blue chairs against the beige-upholstered benches are really comfortable and add a pop of blue. The green plants everywhere are also a great addition and intersperse the white surroundings with pops of green. As the Scene magazine explained in an article before it opened, “Sawyer’s will be a step up in terms of price, polish and presentation – a grown-up version of Greenhouse Tavern.” The menu features “wood-fired cooking” (with several heavy-hitting wood-fired ovens) and offers nods to several of his restaurants.
Once sat we were offered still or sparkling water. I chose sparkling, which my friend who does not like still table water in restaurants happily shared with me. The water is served in recycled glass containers of 5x distilled sparkling or still water.
My friend and I had to get the beef tallow candle and wood-fired pita bread as a starter. That candle was revolutionary to me back when Trentina opened. It was made of aged beef suet, edible 24k gold leaf, honey and crunch salt, which melted into a dipping sauce for the crusty baguette that was brought out later in the meal. In this version, I doubt it has 24k gold leaf in it, but it was still a delightful beef suet that was perfectly seasoned and melted into a dipping sauce for the wood-fired pita. We shared the one piece of pita, but I also took remains of the candle home to heat up later. I imagine if you have a couple people they would gladly provide enough bread for everyone. Even if you had to pay for the extra bread it would be worth it, the bread was fluffy and puffy and perfect.
I was pleased to see a few other Trentina favorites on the menu, such as the Strangolapreti (which was served with cabbage sauce, grated egg, smoked bottarga, stinging nettles, bergamot orange, ash and olive oil and was one of my favorite bites of the tasting menu – this appetizer version features stuffed bread gnocchi with robiola cheese and Ohio beef brisket) and Trentina Salad. The menu also has a crispy confit of chicken wings, with wings being the huge favorite on the Greenhouse Tavern menu. There’s also a burger and brick chicken that I seem to remember from the Greenhouse Tavern menu. Obviously with a completely new take on things.
I could not decide between a few oysters off the Raw Bar section or the French onion soup (it was a cold night), so I decided to order both. At $3 each or by the dozen for $30, I could pick and choose however many I wanted. I ordered two – one from the East coast and one from the West. The oysters were pristine and served with a range of add-on sauces, including mignonette sauce (a condiment made of minced shallots, cracked pepper and vinegar), a light hot sauce, and a lemon wedge. I preferred the oyster from the West coast, because it reminded me of the salty, briny Jersey ocean of my childhood summers. The East coast oyster was smaller and lighter in taste, not as “fishy.” I can’t wait to go back and order a plate of them and scheduled a dinner for a couple weeks from now with my dining out group.
When we ordered the French onion soup, our server explained to us that since it is wood-fired it was less soupy and more like a concentrated fork-friendly stew of caramelized onions topped with a round of bread and gruyere cheese. This soup was unbelievably delicious. We both ordered it and were thrilled with it. The flavors were zingy and beefy, yet the dish itself was quite comforting. The cheese wasn’t as gooey as I prefer French onion soup to be (I recently enjoyed one in Palm Springs where the cheese was so thick it was served with a pair of scissors to cut it!), but this wasn’t really a soup so I didn’t mind it. It is hard to describe the soup, but if you like the French onion flavor palate you need to try this.
I had trouble deciding on an entree. I ended up ordering the Bistro Steak Frites, which featured a picanha strip loin and Sawyer’s amazing duck fat fries. He got his start here in Cleveland at Bar Cento, and the man can still make a delicious, tantalizing rosemary-infused duck fat fry. I didn’t need a dipping sauce for them because they were that delicious, but it would have been a nice little plus. The beef was served on a bed of pureed root vegetable and topped with a chimichurri sauce. I would order it again in a heartbeat. You can also get a Filet for $50 or a 48 oz dry aged Porterhouse for $101. Both entrees sounded amazing. Life goals.
However, my friend’s lamb special, which was roasted lamb served with hummus and black and green olives, was even better than my entree (which I didn’t think was possible). The lamb was roasted perfectly and had such an amazing flavor. I savored my two bites she gave me. And am tempted to go back before my dining group’s dinner to enjoy it again.
I usually like to visit a restaurant twice to allow for any missteps – especially if a restaurant has just recently opened. Sawyer’s had its soft opening the last week of October. But Sawyer’s knocked it out of the park on this visit and deserves praise for this one visit alone. It is worth the drive to Shaker Heights. Trust me.
Edit: Went again tonight. I had the Fifth Quarter, which tonight was a pappardelle with venison and mushrooms. It was good, but the pappardelle were undercooked. The fried chicken and “pork chop” were both amazing. We also ordered desserts – I highly recommend the s’more. The banana bread pudding and maple bacon creme brulee were also quite nice. Save your money on the apple tartlet.
But be sure to make a reservation. (https://www.opentable.com/r/sawyers-shaker-heights) Right now Sawyer’s is dinner-only Wednesday through Sunday. Weekend brunch and weekday lunch will be added down the road. The restaurant seats 90 and they could accommodate us as walk-ins on Sunday night, but I can’t imagine the place not being packed most nights.
3396 Tuttle Road
Shaker Heights, Ohio 44122