Chef/Owner Ben Bebenroth – along with Chef Nate Williams and former Executive Chef Brandon Walukas – have overcome the odds and triumphed in a spot that was plagued with problems. While Spice Kitchen & Bar is supported by other revenue streams, including Spice of Life Catering Co. and their on-location Plated Landscapes dinners, the restaurant itself has become the destination. Effervescent Bar Manager David Hridel is in constant motion – mixing cocktails, offering suggestions about daily specials and attending to the six-or-so tables in Spice’s lively, friendly bar.
One late spring evening, we decided to drop by Spice for dinner before a concert at the State Theatre and we couldn’t have made a better choice (love it when you can describe what you have a taste for and the bartender can improvise). I explained that I wanted something light, acidic and fruity. Hridel invented a drink that should be a seasonal special – an expertly mixed cocktail where the sweetness of the berries and the sour of the lemon were perfectly balanced. Sweet but not cloying. The concoction – which he served over crushed ice in a Collins glass – consisted of farm-fresh strawberries, lemon, just the right amount of simple syrup and vodka. Essentially, it was a perfect, potent strawberry-lemonade.
|Strawberry Lemonade + A Draft|
We kept it light for appetizers, selecting two vegetarian options. One was on their Happy Hour menu – a stuffed avocado with chickpeas, sprouts, grilled oranges, crispy red quinoa and almondona dressing. I have never been a quinoa fan, but they made it palatable: it was sautéed to a nice, crunchy texture (this is how quinoa should be prepared). The complex flavors and richness of the avocado make this dish work.
|Happy Hour Stuffed Avocado|
The second appetizer was on the Daily Specials Board: the Foragers Plate – chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms, butter-fried croutons, shaved asparagus and pea shoot salad, champagne vinaigrette, toasted fennel & beet, avocado oil. Again: wonderful balance. The chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms were the stars of this dish, but I can’t say enough about the exquisite beet avocado oil that finished the salad.
Here’s where my dinner companion and I went our separate ways. He decided to order (our favorite) chickpea fries served with Spice’s spicy rémoulade and the Happy Hour chicken wings with lemongrass-ginger hot sauce.
|Chick Pea Fries with spicy remoulade|
|Happy Hour Chicken Wings|
To accompany my pasta, I relied on Hridel’s expertise again, and again he steered me in the right direction. He recommended a perfectly crisp, slightly acidic white – a Vermentino di Sardegna – to complement my pasta. I enjoyed its intense, fruity aroma, fresh flavor and clean finish.
|Vermentino di Sardegna|
For dessert, I went back to the cocktail menu, since something I noticed earlier had piqued my interest –Aperol and grapefruit soda. The drink – named Just a Question of Thyme – combines Boodles Gin, Aperol, grapefruit soda, thyme and thyme syrup. It was a perfect finish to a diverse, flavor-rich dining experience.
|Just a Question of Thyme|
Spice Kitchen & Bar is located at: 5800 Detroit Ave, Cleveland, OH 44102 Phone: 216. 961.9637
Prices: Moderate $$