The first time I met Chef Jonathan Sawyer was back in 2010. It was my wedding anniversary, and I had been reading about his popular Cleveland restaurant, The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland Magazine. I knew it was a place I wanted to try based off the many great reviews I read throughout the year prior to the visit. Since we were in town on our anniversary for a friends wedding, my wife and I decided we had to try the Greenhouse Tavern. We just had that feeling we were in for a special meal. I remember that it was a Friday afternoon, around 2pm, so the Friday lunch rush was over. We walked from our hotel over to East 4th Street, and as we entered, I saw Chef Sawyer sitting outside doing some paperwork. I immediately walked over to introduce myself, and he invited me to sit down. I told him that I am a Clevelander that is now living in Texas, and that I was excited to finally try his popular restaurant. We spoke for about 10 minutes about everything from BBQ to local farming. Well, needless to say, it was my anniversary, so my wife and son were starting to get hangry. I excused myself and proceeded to our table. As we were looking over the lunch menu, Chef comes to the table with a platter of chicken wings, and a platter of these small homegrown peppers. He then wished us a happy anniversary, and said he wanted us to try these two dishes that he was experimenting with (compliments of the house). These two dishes were the perfect start to our first culinary journey with the Cleveland native. Both were incredible dishes, but more then that, he won my family over. The meal ended with him sending over dessert. It was a popcorn creme brulee'. To this day, no creme brulee' has ever come close, and I compare everyone elses version to his.
Fast forward to 2015, Chef Sawyer has become one of the most popular & influential chefs in the world, winning a James Beard Award in 2015, and has been featured on everything from the Food Network to the Travel Channel. He has even competed on the Iron Chef, where in my opinion, he won the battle vs Chef Geoffrey Zakarian (whom was fresh off his Next Iron Chef victory as the newest Iron Chef). Jonathan's love for food & family also led him to writing a best selling kids cookbook called Noodle Kids. Its a book designed to have families come together by cooking together to create a special bond. He now has several restaurants in Cleveland, that include Noodlecat, The Greenhouse Tavern, and his latest sensation, Trentina. All 3 are vastly different, yet incorporate several common local ingrediants. His resume speaks for itself, and it is no surprise to me why he has become as big as he is in the culinary world.
On a beautiful day this past August, Chef invited me, my son Ren, and friend Carl to come down and have lunch with him at Trentina. He told me he was going to give us full access to take pictures, shoot video, and follow his awesome team around for the afternoon. As we entered, we were greeted by his team, and they told us they had something special in store for us. Our meal was essentially a tasting menu and journey through the different homeade pastas and pizzas Trentina has become so widely known for. I will be publishing a video on this site of that fantastic afternoon that highlights why Bon Appetit named Trentina one of the countries best new restaurants of 2015.
While sitting down with Chef, we spoke about his connections to the local community and how he believes in sourcing his ingrediants from local farms. For one, you get the freshest ingrediants, and secondly, he is able to support and boost the local economy. Its a win win. His passion for food is insane, and quite infectious. At one point during the meal, he pulled a jar out with some fermented strawberries he has been putting together. He then pulls out his pocket knife, and starts slicing us some of these delicious little fermented berries. After we sampled some berries, he took us back to the kitchen to spend some time with one of his pasta makers. While we were learning the pasta making process, he brings us in a pizza from his bad ass wood burning oven called, the Turtle. The pizza had a creme sauce and was topped with sliced potatoes and three cheeses. It was absolutely a perfect snack while hanging out with the kitchen staff. Eventually, we went back to our table, where we were served 5 different pasta dishes, 3 different desserts, and an afternoon with heavy food coma. It was easily one of the most memorable lunches the three of us ever had.
If you are in the Cleveland area, and are looking for one of the best meals you will ever have, just find any one of his 3 restaurants. If it is Italian you crave, than Trentina is a must hit spot. If you want to go big, I recommend you do the Chef's Tasting Menu. It can be a little pricey when you go big, but it is worth every penny. If you are on a smaller budget, they have reduced lunch prices. They even have a free pizza day every week, where you simply need to follow them on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram. Through social media you can learn what days they offer free pizza with any meal. The thing that Chef Sawyer cares about most is that when you eat at his place, you feel like family, and you leave happy and wanting badly to come back. His staff goes above and beyond to ensure your experience will be world class.