Al Fresco Appetite

Patio dining in summer offers Clevelanders a chance to soak up the sun and eat up fresh ingredients

By Kristen Mott

Johnny Mango

Vegan nachos, a watermelon margarita and Kale Aid from Johnny Mango World Cafe and Bar in Ohio City.
Photo / Michael C. Butz

After suffering through a long, brutal winter, Clevelanders are eager to get outside and enjoy the sunshine. As the temperature increases, the patios of some of Cleveland’s finest restaurants will be filled with guests sipping on cocktails, eating delectable dishes and celebrating the long-awaited summer.

Besides providing an opportunity to dine outside, the warm months also present an exciting challenge for Cleveland-area chefs as they tweak their menus for summer dining.

Guests enjoy The Greenhouse Tavern's East Fourth Street patio. Photo / Jonathon Sawyer

Guests enjoy The Greenhouse Tavern’s East Fourth Street patio.
Photo / Jonathon Sawyer

“In the summer, we take a much more simple, reverential look at dishes and ingredients,” says Chef Jonathon Sawyer, owner of The Greenhouse Tavern and Noodlecat in downtown Cleveland and the soon-to-open Trentina in University Circle.

Rather than create seasonal menus, Sawyer says he likes to change a specific item every week or two.

“That way, we’re always on the season and in the season,” he explains. “We like to see what we’re getting from the Red Basket Farm, Basketeria and all of our farmers, and then change our dishes accordingly.”

Chef Douglas Katz tries to incorporate lighter options into his menu during the summer to better suit diners’ palates.

“People tend to eat much lighter in the summer. As the temperature goes up, you may change to cold food, to sauces that aren’t quite as heavy or to dishes that are more ambient or room temperature,” says Katz, who is chef and proprietor of fire food and drink in Shaker Square and The Katz Club Diner in Cleveland Heights, and chef-partner at Provenance and Provenance Café at the Cleveland Museum of Art in University Circle.

Chef Douglas Katz's tomato and eggplant salad with house-made naan and pickled cucumber salad.

Chef Douglas Katz’s tomato and eggplant salad with house-made naan and pickled cucumber salad.
Photo / Amy Viny

Ingredients play a key role in Katz’s dishes. He often meets with local farmers to find out which products are available that season and then uses the ingredients in specific dishes. A few of his summer staples include strawberries in June, blueberries, zucchini and yellow squash in July, corn, peaches and watermelon in August, and onions and apples in September.

“We try to find something special and we normally go to specific farms and list on our menu where that food came from,” Katz says. “We try to pick sustainable fishes that we can use on the menu and local meats as well.”

Sawyer also stressed the importance of ingredients and says he likes to use apples, wild chamomile, clover and garden greens in his summer dishes. He tends to avoid heavy dishes, like braises or roasts, during hot months.

Fish is a popular summer item at The Greenhouse Tavern, Sawyer says, including one specific dish of pan-seared sable placed atop a combination of fresh, raw and slightly cooked beans and peas that are ground up with fresh mint and cilantro. Sawyer adds that one of his favorite summertime dishes at Noodlecat is the chilled soba noodle salad with wakame seaweed and Japanese flavorings.

Noodlecat isn’t the only restaurant serving up soba noodles during the summer. Zippy Noodles, a June special at Johnny Mango World Café and Bar in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood, features soba noodles, scallions and toasted sesame seeds tossed in a homemade ginger and lemon dressing.

Zippy Noodles are a popular summertime dish at Johnny Mango World Cafe and Bar in Ohio City. Photo / Michael C. Butz

Zippy Noodles are a popular summertime dish at Johnny Mango World Cafe and Bar in Ohio City.
Photo / Michael C. Butz

“It’s a special people always look forward to and wait for in the summer. Customers always ask me, ‘Are the Zippy Noodles on the menu yet?’” says owner Shelley Underwood, adding the dish is also available at other times during the summer.

Johnny Mango’s menu has been consistent for about the last 18 years, but each month Underwood and her team create a special menu item to feature. The specials largely depend on the meats and produce available that month at the West Side Market a few blocks from Johnny Mango.

“We like to try something new every month,” Underwood says. “We usually choose customer favorites from years past.”

Johnny Mango features salad specials in July and tacos in August, including the popular vegan tacos made with fresh zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, green peppers, onion, lettuce, tomato and pepita salsa in hard corn tortillas.

Crafting summer dishes isn’t exclusive to professional chefs. Katz encourages home cooks to experiment with ingredients when creating dishes this summer for family and friends.

“When planning menus, whether at home or in restaurants, it’s really important to know where your food comes from and to start with the ingredients,” he explains. “It’s better to find the great ingredients available at that moment and then find a recipe that works with them than vice versa.”

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