Restaurant Hospitality named Sawyer a Rising Star in 2008.
This is part of Restaurant Hospitality's special coverage of the 2012
Cleveland-based chef/owner Jonathon Sawyer is a human dynamo, a bundle of exuberance who is always on the lookout for his next big idea while nurturing the ones he’s already gotten off the ground. In four short years he’s launched Greenhouse Tavern, a Parisian-influenced bistro named a Best New Restaurant by Bon Appetit in 2009, followed in short order by the Japanese-fusion Noodlecat and a spinoff Noodlecat kiosk in the city’s historic public market, and Sawyer’s Street Frites, a stand that opened recently in the Cleveland Browns football stadium. He’s getting ready to open Trentino, a regional Italian restaurant, in the city’s busy medical and arts corridor, and he’s negotiating for a second sports arena idea at Quicken Loans Arena, home of the NBA’s Cavaliers.
During the recent MUFSO conference, Restaurant Hospitality editor Mike Sanson managed to get Sawyer — named a Restaurant Hospitality Rising Star in 2008 — to sit for a conversation about his ideas, inspiration and culinary and business vision.
Sawyer opened a lot of eyes with his flagship Greenhouse Tavern in 2009. The first nationally certified green restaurant in the state, the casual contemporary space is filled with reclaimed items. “The big fun of building a new restaurant is making it feel like you’ve been there for 20 years,” he said.
The green building aspect was cool, sure. But Sawyer really drew a line in the sand with his bistro/tavern menu, which spotlights many ingredients from the nearby Cuyahoga Valley and regional artisan producers, right down to the soft drinks. And for a heavily working-class market like Cleveland, it takes a lot of chances. Hand Ground Beef Tartare, a mainstay, is not exactly everyday fare. Ditto Foie Gras Steamed Clams, a luxurious and deceptively simple dish that ended up on the Food Network television program The Best Thing I Ever Ate.
“It’s the epitome of what we do best: Take five or six ingredients, cook them properly and the result (elevates them). It’s a showstopper in the dining room,” Sawyer said.
The chef also challenges his staff to figure out ways to get the most out of their ingredients, a philosophy that put half pig’s heads on the menu following a staff contest. The novel “cuts” sold out the first night; today, Greenhouse sells about 40 a week.