Story by Meghan Walsh | Photography by Amanda Koehn
Mendel’s Kansas City BBQ is smoking up the Shaker Heights food scene by offering a barbecue menu and a dining atmosphere that’s especially unique for Clevelanders who keep kosher.
The restaurant opened with a soft launch at 20314 Chagrin Blvd., across from the Van Aken District during the last week of January. Owned by Mendel Segal, it’s his second restaurant – six years ago, he opened his first, Mendel’s Backyard BBQ & Brew, in Surfside, Fla.
Segal moved to Northeast Ohio last summer after deciding to open the Shaker Heights kosher spot.
“The reception is amazing,” Segal says. “We’re full at least part of the night, every night.”
His interest in barbecue started as a hobby and then progressed to competitions, he says.
“My background is in barbecue – smoking, grilling, that’s my thing,” says Segal, the “rabbi pitmaster.” “I would say meat is my specialty.”
And now with his new restaurant, he and his staff have created a rare space in Northeast Ohio where people who keep kosher can join other diverse patrons to enjoy Kansas City-style barbecue in a prime location.
The restaurant’s menu boasts several of Segal’s specialties, including burnt ends.
Burnt ends are the trimmings from a smoked brisket, where during the smoking process the “point” cut develops a smoky and crunchy texture. A Kansas City classic, pieces are cut into cubes and sauced.
“It’s a real Kansas City dish, and I do it well,” he says. “I’m going to boast that it’s the best in Cleveland. We’re trying to get it official – trying to get taste testers out there trying all of them to see if we can say that officially.”
Customers also enjoy Segal’s signature sauce, he says, which is made in-house.
Starters include brisket truffle poutine, other french fry varieties, chicken wings, shishito peppers, and chicken and waffles. Smoked meats offered include brisket, chicken, beef ribs and a combo platter. Mendel’s also serves sandwiches, tacos, barbecued fish and meat entrees, and salads. Sides include sweet potato fries, coleslaw, grilled corn and barbecue beans.
“I just try to feed people what I like and then develop new things or tweak things based on the neighborhood,” Segal says. “We put a dish on the menu called Cleveland fries which has a little bit of a Cleveland theme. On our lunch menu, we have the Polish boy – so, a kosher version of that. Just trying to bring some local flair.”
Mendel’s contributes to the kosher food scene specifically through its unique structure, Segal explains.
“There’s no question about the ambiance, the vibe,” Segal says. “We’ve got a full bar, wine selection, beer selection. It’s from top to bottom. (It’s) for sure the most extensive menu.”
Visually appealing, the space is textured, naturally bright and brings together a combined western, fancy dining and sports bar aesthetic in one cohesive scene.
Segal says he looked at a few places to house the restaurant and chose this location because it was “starting from nothing.” The unit, which previously housed the Lucy’s Sweet Surrender bakery, was “completely gutted” and remodeled. He also chose the space due to its high-traffic area.
He says he has received feedback from customers that Mendel’s is a fun place to visit and the location is prime because it is in the Van Aken area, which he describes as “hopping.”
“It’s central,” he says. “… It’s a destination area. People are coming by here to shop at the Market Hall or drive by. The street traffic that goes by here is incredible. That’s what really drew me in.”
Yosef Weiss, who frequents the establishment regularly, says his favorite dishes are the burnt ends and smoked brisket.
“Sometimes I just get both because I can’t make up my mind,” Weiss says. “They have my favorite dessert. I never, ever get dessert when I get dinner because I’m a little bit like a health kind of guy, but I always get dessert when I come here. My wife and I, we love it. This is the greatest thing ever: bourbon pecan pie. It comes with ice cream and it’s so good. I’m obsessed with it.”
The Beachwood resident says he and his wife go out to eat a couple times a week, and now they only want to go to Mendel’s.
“We’ve never had a kosher environment in Cleveland like this,” Weiss says. “It’s alive. We finally have a fancy place. It’s a nice place to take your wife for a night out.”
Having lived in New York City for seven years, eating at Mendel’s reminds Weiss of restaurants in New York, he says.
“We can’t wait for the summer,” he says. “They’ve got that garage door, so they’re going to open it up. I’ve lived in Cleveland, I was born and raised in Cleveland, other than living in New York as a single guy for seven years. We’ve never had a (kosher) restaurant where we can eat outdoors here in the summer.”
As someone who keeps kosher, Weiss says he has always envied people he sees eating on restaurant patios in the warmer seasons.
“When I come downtown, I see people eating outside (on) a beautiful summer night, and drinking a nice beer – I always envy that,” Weiss says. “We never had that kosher option here.”
At Mendel’s, he says, “We get a glass of wine which, as silly as it sounds, we never had that option in Cleveland to drink wine while we ate.”
He says the environment is also unique in that at other kosher restaurants in Cleveland, patrons are mostly Orthodox Jewish people, whereas Mendel’s hosts a more diverse group of customers.
“This restaurant is everybody – hipsters, regular people, businesspeople, friends,” Weiss says. “We’ve never had a kosher option like this. I love it.”