This review is the second leg of the Cleveland Trifecta
There’s nothing worse than not getting what you pay for. I’m no “fine diner;” I don’t consult dining guides (Zagat’s, Mobil, or the new-as-of-today Michelin guide for New York). Some have called me a picky eater, but this isn’t “picky” due to anything other than the fact that there’s a reasonable amount of food I simply don’t like. I’m not talking about, “my god, I could never eat a cheeseburger from McDonald’s!” but a more straightforward dislike of particular foods (fish, onions, and so on). That makes me a picky eater but not a selective eater. In no way shape or form am I too good for a restaurant; I’ll eat anywhere, but though this doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed certain expectations of a particular restaurant. Especially expensive ones.
Choosing price as the index, restaurants can be broken up into five categories: fast food/convenience food (McDonald’s, Wawa), family dining (Friendly’s, Perkin’s), theme dining (Outback, Olive Garden), upscale dining (there aren’t really national examples of this… though P.F. Chang’s would count while The Cheescake Factory straddles the line between theme and upscale), and fine dining (the restaurants found in the Michelin guides). Very few people have the money to visit these “fine dining” establishments and many areas don’t even have any of these restaurants within reasonable distance. All this is to say that at each price point there are particular expectations. Every now and then a fast food restaurant offers something better than an entree at a Perkin’s-type restaurant, but that’s not expected. These positive “category jumps” are rare, and it’s found much more frequently that a restaurant in a higher category only manages to deliver the quality expected at a lower price point. The Cleveland ChopHouse & Brewery is one of these restaurants.
Looking for a nice-ish place to eat after a full-day of conventioning, I took a walk toward the “warehouse district” of downtown Cleveland (the rough geography has been previously discussed) around 9:00pm (yes, late but not a problem as most places closed at 11). Most every restaurant was in that “upscale dining” category, so wherever I’d choose, a not insignificant amount of money would be spent. Simply, The Cleveland ChopHouse & Brewery was the most eye-catching of the options.
The intentionally sparesely decorated space was dimly lit and moderately full, with a combination of the sounds of jazz music from the speakers and conversations throughout the space. I’m not picky about interiors or decor, so even though it was perfectly comfortable, it didn’t strike me as anything special, but the three (+?) shiny vats (hence the “brewery” part of the name) were eye-catching in their glassed-in section of the main room. A better than neutral experience so far, but the unfriendliness of the hostess was the beginning of the end of any meaningful positive experiences to be had. I don’t need to be pampered or coddled to, but you’d think that in the usually limited interaction (“Non-smoking please” “ok”) there wouldn’t even be room for someone to be unfriendly, but apparently I said the wrong thing. The table was perfectly fine and happened to face a TV. Water service began right away, but that was it for about 15 minutes. No servers stopped by to take a drink order for those 15 minutes until one stopped by after seeing how long I was sitting. Naturally between that order was taken and its arriving, the actual server came by to take my drink order again. Having worked at a restaurant, I know how much servers hate when customers at a table they’re not serving need to get something from the proper server, so I didn’t say anything. When the proper server came by, she was very apologetic about how long I had to wait, but in that “I’m apologizing even though it’s not my fault” sort of way, like when the food is under/over-cooked. Except, in this case, it is usually the server’s fault (more restaurant experience talking here). Oh well.
Bread service began (a small pie pan’s worth of fresh corn bread with honey butter…. rather good), but my now twice-ordered drink was still MIA. Of course once I had enough of the bread, the drink showed up. It was some sort of “Irish Stout” made in the brewery section of the facility, and I’m not beer connisseur, but it was fine, sort of like Guinness without as much of the cigarette butt taste.
At a new-to-me restaurant, no matter how expensive, I have a simple strategy for deciding what to order: pick three things from the menu, ask the server what they like, and pick one that was common with my list. This happened to be Shrimp Scampi. **A note on this selection. Some have said, “Why would you get shrimp at a steak house. You should get beef.” Well, it’s not like seafood is any cheaper at these restaurants, and they claim to specialize in “steaks, chops, and seafood.” Naturally, it took a particularly long time to get to my table, but it (and the mashed potatoes it came with) were “just finished” hot, so at least it hadn’t been sitting in a heat lamp or equivalent (restaurant experience tells you when it’s “just finished” hot or “heat amp” hot). The whole “steak house” thing usually implies slow (“relaxed” might be a better word?) service, but without making a stupid joke about them pulling the shrimp out of the lake, it took forever.
The actual entree was ok. For $26.95 I’m not looking for ok. There’s nothing bad to say about it, but nothing good to say either. It was shrimp scampi, just that simple. No particularly interesting flavors, just plain old shrimp scampi. Some say that the “atmosphere” is included in those prices, but as discussed above, it wasn’t anything special either.
The Cleveland ChopHouse & Brewery receives one-and-a-half stars due to its not meeting expectations set by attempting to establish itself as an “upscale” restaurant. This is decidedly different than confusing hype and product, as restaurants create their own hype/expectations simply by deciding which price point to which they intend to cater. These expectations are as much a part of a dining experience as the food itself, especially for pricier restaurants. If a restaurant in a lower price category receive higher star ratings, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are “better.” They are simply better for the price point. Soon there will be a higher level discussion of star ratings to attempt to establish “rules.” Go Rules!