Sure, chefs have their favorite restaurants – other than their own, of course. But ask a chef which restaurant they really wished they had opened, and you’re cutting close to the bone.
Chris Hodgson’s covet is Zack Bruell’s L’Albatros in University Circle, a Bruell view of French cuisine.
“Everything is good,” said Hodgson, an award-winner from Food and Wine magazine. “It’s a must-go.” More on that in a minute.
The veteran of Food Network competitions and partner at Driftwood Restaurant Group here, made his declaration to us, as well as to those who compiled the 2015 edition of “Where Chefs Eat: A Guide To Chef’s Favorite Restaurants.” The hardcover book ($24.95, Phaidon Press Limited) and companion app ($14.99) mines the taste of 400 chefs on questions such as best bargains, late night fare, high end, breakfast and that ultimate question of what they see as a pinnacle. Friendship certainly plays a role in choices. As with any critical view, you have to look for authentic comments.
Cleveland is also represented in the book by Jonathon Sawyer of The Greenhouse Tavern and Trentina, but with our limit of five places to quote from the book, we started and stopped with Hodgson.
A year ago Hodgson told us he missed cooking on his food trucks, Hodge Podge and Dim and Den Sum. But these days he’s more apt to oversee catering for Driftwood and brainstorm with partner Scott Kuhn on their growing empire of eateries. Sanctuary, their latest, housed at Beachwood’s DoubleTree Inn. He calls it a greatest hits of all of them.
Without an assignment on the line in restaurant kitchens each night, he and his wife Jacquelyn and their three-month-old, Eliana, have kept in touch with the dining scene.
Here are five of his favorites from the book:
Dante: One of his “high end” suggestions, located at 2247 Professor Ave. in the Tremont section of Cleveland (216-274-1200).
“Dante is one of the best chefs I’ve ever known. His namesake restaurant is my go-to spot in Cleveland for an anniversary. Ginko (directly underneath) is hands down the best sushi in town. There has never been a moment when I doubted my decision to go to either restaurant. Inventive, great quality food and an elegant atmosphere. Dante is that guy who welcomes you in and is genuinely grateful that you are dining with them.”
Fire Food and Drink: At 13220 Shaker Square in Cleveland (216-921-3473).
Hodgson cited the brunch there as something he’d “miss church for.” On the phone this week, he reminded us that he worked for chef and owner Doug Katz. “You can never beat their mussels or their burger or whatever else they skewer and throw in their tandoor oven.”
Eat At Joe’s: Hodgson cited the South Euclid restaurant for its breakfasts (1475 South Green Road (216-381-3101).
“The hash browns there are the greatest pick-me-up,” he said.
Lucky’s Café: The Tremont favorite and another Food Network veteran is another of his breakfast choices, and he describes it as “budget” priced (216-622-7773).
“What (chef) Heather Haviland has done with mac and cheese at Lucky’s Café is fit for the gods. Just make sure you add jalapenos.”
L’Albatros: Hodgson put this one in the “Wish I’d Opened” category (11401 Bellflower Road, Cleveland, 216-791-7880).
“No matter when you go the food execution is unreal!,” he says in the book. “The same can be said for the front of house – always exceptional attention to detail and to the customer.”
We pressed him for menu details.
“Love their trout. It’s just simply prepared, and it comes with green beans, something I enjoy. You have to do the cheese course there, and, of course, the cassoulet. Everything is a must-go, including the mushroom appetizer.”
Our limit was reached.
Grab the book for his favorite pizza spot, late-night choice, pub, bargain, local favorite and other high end choices.