Crop Bistro & Bar‘s mission is to deliver “inventive American fare” by “cultivating flavor through innovation and commitment to sourcing the cream of the crop.” After speaking to an affable Steve Schimoler, the executive chef/owner, I definitely can read between the lines of his restaurant’s tagline. Steve does believe in “cultivating…through innovation”. As a matter of fact, after a successful career as a chef, owner and entrepreneur, Steve is clearly more than a chef and notes that himself when he refers to his passion for cooking, product development (e.g., Steve discovered, amongst hundreds of other discoveries through his career, a method for incorporating liquids into butter; hence the now widespread distribution of intensely flavored butter sold nationally), food science and business. Crop doubles as Steve’s test kitchen and concept center as well as his restaurant, allowing him to constantly test out new flavors by producing an ever-changing menu. His creations are enjoyed by his regular clientele and those who come from afar to try his food. Me and my business partner happened to be on a plane to Cleveland and saw an article on Steve. We arrived at our hotel about 20 minutes before Crop’s kitchen was closing and called ahead to make sure they’d remain open ’til we arrived. They happily obliged. We arrived and sat outside while Steve explained the menu and the methods behind each dish – fascinating stuff including putting the hangar steak into a vacuum to “force” the meat’s pores to open up prior to infusing it with flavor and guaranteeing it would be an ultra-tender experience for the diner.
We ordered several dishes, including the “Cherry Bomb”, a “dumpling” that looks like an oversized popper that is actually a plum tomato stuffed with chorizo and cheese then wrapped in wonton skins before being flash-fried and plated on top of a creamy corn puree. We also tried the Pork Belly, tenderized and served in rectangular form, presented with simmered leeks. Even before we had a chance to order, Steve brought us two lattes – no, not coffee, but lobster juice with tender chunks of lobster meat flavoring an “espresso” comprised of the crustacean’s own juices. This latte was one of Steve’s experiment’s in heightening flavor to the point of optimal purity – an exercise that I appreciated greatly. We moved on to a few main courses – a plate he calls “Four Little Pigs”, something that solely based on title, I couldn’t resist ordering. It came with pork served four ways, a take on BBQ with different parts of the pig sided by a compote of Roast Fennel and Apple. The way I ate it was by taking a piece of each of the four pork parts together, definitely a flavor experience that pig lovers will enjoy. We also ordered a signature dish, “Chicken Fried Duck with Aged Cheddar Grits and Black Bean Sauce.” The duck, fried like chicken a la the Texas cornerstone dish of Chicken Fried Steak, was delicious. The duck was juicy and tender, uniquely combined with its crisp and tasty coating. We also couldn’t stop ourselves from ordering another appetizer on the menu, Spring Fling Popcorn, which became the centerpiece for our table during our main course. The dish was a popcorn salad where the popcorn played the part of the lettuce and came dressed with sesame oil and various spices. It was a surprisingly addictive flavor that definitely had an edge to it, likely from some type of red pepper spice. Finally, the dessert course was selected by Steve, who kindly had the kitchen send out a variety of plates that included a chocolate tort with habanero ice cream. The ice cream was SPICY and when combined with the sweet molten chocolate cake gave rise to trickery of the taste buds – interesting combination. A vanilla pound cake with a peach sauce was also brought out. By the end of the meal, we had struck up some interesting conversation with Steve about Cleveland and some of the interesting characteristics and dynamics of the city, many of which were reflected in the very restaurant in which we just enjoyed our meal.