Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gordon Square District Goings-On

The husband and I decided to start off our evening with a stop at Happy Dog last Friday night. We parked across Detroit, on West 58th Street and noticed lights on inside Spice Kitchen and Bar, the soon-to-open restaurant on the corner. I went up close for a look and spotted Ben Bebenroth, chef and owner, hard at work. He put down his paintbrush to unlock the door for us.

With his dad’s help, he was just about done applying the final coats of taupe, beige and white to the once candy-colored walls. They were putting in some extra after dark hours because the pressure’s on to ready the place for a special New Year’s Eve Preview Pop-Up Dinner. There will be two seatings for the five-course prix fixe menu. Four Bells Sparkling will be on tap for the event, just one of the festive beverages available.

Bebenroth, and his food, have quite the following, so tickets have been selling fast. But as of five nights ago, there were still some spots available. Call 216-432-9090 for prepaid reservations.

Then he’s closing to finish the makeover and organize the staff, but only briefly if all goes according to plan (does it ever?), the restaurant should be completely ready and serving meals Tuesday through Saturday toward the end of the second week in January.

It was nice chatting with Ben, but we were hungry, so we headed on to Happy Dog. The bar was wall to wall people, a rowdy crowd gathered to enjoy the particular peculiar pleasure of DJ Kishka and his annual Christmas show (he does his thing there monthly). I was in need of food, not polka tunes, and I feared the servers would never find us in the bouncing boozing mob. Luckily there was an alternative close at hand: Underdog.

The proprietors of the tavern cleaned and remodeled the basement, turning it into another seating area and underground playroom for grown-ups. It’s been open just a couple of months. A long shuffleboard runs parallel to the bar. There are three old-fashioned pinball machines and a large screen for cartoons. On Thursdays only, a limited number of burgers, 24 to be exact, are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. The rest of the time, it’s the same menu as upstairs: hot dogs and your choice of 50 toppings (as many as you want) that run the gamut from traditional (house-made ketchup, dill pickle and baked beans) and ethnically eclectic (Brazilian chimichurri, Korean kim chee, and Thai chile and garlic sauce), to gourmet (Brie, black truffle honey mustard and wasabi aioli) and kind of out there (chunky peanut butter, caramel applesauce and chipotle hollandaise).

I was restrained, choosing a modest three, and relatively conventional in my selections (Guinness sauerkraut, caramelized onions and barbecue sauce) and very happy with the result. I washed it down with a cold Shiner Bock. The husband ventured into more creative territory with Oaxacan red chile and chocolate mole. An order of tater tots arrived and disappeared in short order too.

We ate, we drank, we ran into people we know and were glad we’d decided to cross the river and make a visit to one of Cleveland’s coolest up and coming neighborhoods.

1 comment:

Pete Menyhart said...

Happy Dog is an awesome place to grab a delicious hot dog & tasty tater tots not to mention washing it down with a cold beverage! Haven't had the chance to check out the Underdog, but from the sounds of it I'm sure it's just as cool! Looking forward to making it down there soon!! Gotta love supporting fellow local businesses!!!