Sunday, August 2, 2009

Bar Symon: Restaurant Review

Iron Chef Michael Symon does it again--in Cleveland! Staying true to his hometown roots, Bar Symon is in Avon Lake, OH (a Greater Cleveland suburb) is by far one of the best restaurants in Ohio right now. I whole-heartedly appreciate Symon's loyalty to Ohio, especially when, with his celebrity status, he could open exceptionally successful joints in New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, or any other major city.

Upon walking into Bar Symon I immediately felt at home in this very contemporary yet simple one-room tavern. The wood bar to the left is lined with about 20 stools and about 40 classic and artisan beers on tap. One could find PBR next to Delirium Tremens. Two flat screens add symmetry to the western-throw-back behind-the-bar mirror. What was unique was the TVs aren't intrusive or loud; they give a homey, familiar, American vibe to the bar. The dining room is spacious and open with plenty of table seating. What I enjoyed most about the dining room is that it felt like a contemporary barn, and above the 3 back booths are diagrams of livestock with the cuts of meats illustrated, which I found quite humorous given that meat is the menu's staple. The table settings are very clean and uncluttered with flatware wrapped in a rustic dishtowel. Truthfully, since my college hay-days, I haven't felt as comfortable in a bar as I did in Bar Symon.

As for the menu, we got a little sampling of the main entrees. Being that the occasion was my mom's birthday, the whole McGuire clan could order different dishes and try one another's meals. What I need to stress is that my family loves food, but they mostly enjoy straight-forward, mainstream meals. What's fantastic about Bar Symon's menu is that it appeals to eaters of all kinds--those who like comfort food to fans of offal.

My sister ordered the Mac & Cheese ($14), a rich, savory pasta dish with rosemary, goat cheese, and chicken. It was definitely an fine example of sophisticated comfort food you'll crave again and again.

Because I'm allergic to shelled-seafood (trust me, I'm well aware of how dreadful this allergy is for a foodie), I was unable to try to Mussels ($10) that FD, who has been craving seafood all week, ordered. However, he reported that all 30 of them were delicious, yet afterwards he kicked himself for ordering mussels in Ohio, knowing the best ones only come from and are eaten on Prince Edward Island. On our next visit, he's vowed to experience the Smoked and Braised Pork Butt ($15) or two helpings of the Roasted Bone Marrow ($8).

I ordered the Bar Steak (above photo) with pickled chili, mint, and homemade worcestershire sauce. I had reservations about mint on a steak, but after one bite with all of the ingredients, my taste buds were delighted and thankful to have taken the risk. Also, the chefs got the temperature just right--a perfect medium.

Both my dad and brother ordered the Bar Symon Burger ($9). My dad braved it with the fried egg, cheddar, and bacon. Served on an English muffin, my dad praised the burger throughout the meal and claimed the yolk was not overwhelming at all; in fact the yolk was merely a trace that really brought out the flavor of the beef. Before I could request a bit, he was finished, which meant he really enjoyed it. My brother ordered the burger without the egg, and was impressed with the temperature he ordered--medium well.

My step-mom ordered the Walleye ($17), which she declared as being fresh and flavorful with its grilled lemon, oregano and olive oil.

But the real show-stopper was what the birthday girl ordered: Grilled Meatloaf ($12). A mixture of ground pork and sirloin, this meatloaf was as juicy and sturdy as "Mom's" but way more flavorful with a little bit of heat from the pickled banana peppers and Lola ketchup.

The other gems of our meal were two of the sides: Fried Brussels Sprouts (left) and Brown Butter Whipped Potatoes. I could eat both every day until the day I died and be very happy and fully satisfied. FD, who ordered the Garlic Greens as his side, was completely jealous of my Fried Brussels Sprouts. If you love Brussels Sprouts, this side is a must for you. If you don't like Brussels Sprouts, order this side and I promise you will have a whole new love and respect for those little green vegetables.

Knowing full-well there was a Kiedrowski's birthday cake at home for us, we neglected to order a bar snack (prices ranging from $3-4) of PK's Spicy Pork Crackling or Warm Olives; a house-made grilled sausage ($6-7); an appetizer like the Tomato Soup ($4), Pork Belly Croutons ($6), or Duck Confit Sliders ($6 ea.); or a dessert such as homemade Guinness ice cream ($6). Honestly, I think FD and I didn't want to freak out my family with how much we could eat in one setting given the chance, but we vowed the next time we visit Bar Symon that we're going all out, as we call it.

There was only one drawback to our experience at Bar Symon: the service. While Bar Symon clearly has the beginnings of a well-orchestrated team, I wasn't impressed when our server didn't ask my sister what she wanted to drink, when he didn't bring FD the beer he ordered during dinner, or when he didn't return during the middle of our meal to see if we needed anything. Also, I expected that the manager would mingle among tables, checking the food quality and inquiring about customer satisfaction, much like the manager at Lola did when we ate there earlier this summer. However, such was not the case at Bar Symon; the manager stood by the bar and chatted with the wait staff. Because Michael Symon has an outstanding reputation as a restauranteur and chef, I expect that all of his restaurants--from the fine-dining flagship of Lola to the suburban tavern Bar Symon--to have knowledgeable, friendly, and attentive servers who sell the food with a story AND a hands-on manager who upholds Michael Symon's impeccable reputation.

My only suggestion: The one thing this bar needs are some high-end martinis, like those offered at Lola.

Despite this little glitch in the service and martinis, I plan on returning to Bar Symon every chance I get. And if I lived in the Cleveland area, I would easily eat there several times a month, especially during the week for the daily specials. With the fantastic prices for such high-quality, creative food and the numerous not-so-common beers on tap, Bar Symon is definitely a "when pigs fly" dining experience.

Atmosphere: 4 1/2 stars out of 5
Food: 4 1/2 stars out of 5
Service: 3 stars out of 5


  1. AMR,

    Thanks for the kind words about the restaurant. We're trying really hard to make this a memorable experience from the food and service standpoint. Thanks for celebrating a birthday with us!

    Matt Harlan
    Chef, Bar Symon

  2. If you get there early enough for happy hour, try the peanut butter sandwich.It's a panini with peanut butter, bacon, dill pickles, and hot mustard on a great french (maybe italian) sliced bread. It sounds like a pregnant lady's dream meal, but it is mind-blowingly amazing.