Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Man of Stainless Steel

 As far as I'm concerned, Douglas Katz is a Cleveland Heights hero. He swept in just like the guy with the red cape to rescue the two vintage  dining cars first relocated to Lee Road by Steve Presser years ago. There have been various other owners and operators in the ensuing decade, but nobody got it quite right. If any one can succeed here it's Katz, skilled in both food and business, with a genuine respect for the real estate, the neighborhood and Presser's original vision.

The new venture, which opened at the end of May, is called The Katz Club Diner, and it's everything you want a real diner to be, and then some. The side devoted to eating is all silvery shine, with a traditional long counter and stools, and opposite, along the windows, are tables with comfortable chairs. I'd describe the three meals a day menu as New York City deli meets roadside diner (the kind always owned by Greeks on the East Coast). Of course, because it's Douglas, the ingredients are largely sourced locally and stuff is made from scratch.

   The choices are many. You can start the morning with omelets, pancakes, corned beef hash, or my personal preference lox, eggs, and onions with home fries. Coffee is from top shelf local roaster Rising Star. Bacon and sausage are made in house, as are the muffins, danish and Pop-Tarts you can buy from the coffee counter just inside the entrance.  Lunchtime offers all the sandwich classics: from tuna melt and reuben to burgers and dogs. Dinner options are heavy on all American home-style faves such as meatloaf and mashed potatoes, roast turkey with stuffing, and nightly specials: brisket on Wednesday, liver and onions on Saturday, spaghetti and meatballs on Sunday. I enjoyed the house's clever twist on chicken a la king, the creamy '50s concoction comes over a waffle.

  I watched one teen tuck into a bowl of mac 'n' cheese with a side of onion rings. The guy seated next to her was having a cheeseburger and fries. Clearly, health or nutritional balance were not factors for them. But for those who do care about such things, there's oatmeal, granola,  salads, fish, vegetarian and even vegan dishes.

   And then there are the Jewish staples such as matzah ball soup, stuffed cabbage, noodle kugel and latkes. If you don't have a blood relative or a dear friend to make these things for you, Katz's kitchen is the next best option. On the beverage side the list includes the requisite shakes, malts and floats ( plus a few spiked adult versions) but this East-Coast-born girl was tickled to see the drinks of her childhood on offer such as phosphates, egg creams and a lime rickey.

   The second dining car is another world entirely. It's a dark, swanky lounge with a '40s feel. You have to dial an old rotary phone at the entrance to get buzzed inside. There will be no toddlers with crayons or kids spooning up banana splits. This is the alter ego for the family friendly space on the other side of the door. Here, Sinatra reigns. Grown-ups will relax.  Ice will be shaved, cocktails will be shaken and small plates served.

   I've only eaten at Katz Club twice. But it's in my neighborhood, and I drive by often. Whenever I do, the parking lot is filled. This bodes well for our little metropolis on the hill. Thank you to our very own Man of Stainless Steel.


Anonymous said...

Right on Ms. Taxel. Recently had dinner in the Diner. The vegetarian eggplant sandwich was outstanding. The fries and onion rings are definitely in the superior category. The 7 layer chocolate cake one of the best.
The place was packed and regrettably turning away dozens since the 38 seats don't lend themselves to reservations. Hopefully people will do takeout. Otherwise I fear that no reservations means lots of folks staying away. May have to convert the nightclub into more diner seats to serve the crowds. Matzoh ball soup was serious off in flavor. Hoping they do something for it or it was a fluke.

c. young said...

i admire katz and believe in his talent but good help can be hard to find and i fear he may be spreading himself too thin. we ate there and ordered heavily 3 weeks ago. granted, it was early on and things definitely needed to get ironed out. but the katz club sandwich was nothing special which was surprising... and my clam chowder had the wrong flavor profile with some kind of over dried flavorless bacon (?) crisps on top. there was mac cheese and stuffed cabbage and 3 desserts - i could go on about those as well, realizing everyone has personal tastes. but at the end of the day, the place is very damn cool all around with that gorgeous cocktail lounge and the menu is brilliant. it just needs to live up to all of that with the food... here's hoping it keeps getting stronger in that regard.

Anonymous said...

I must say, I was not impressed. I really wanted to like the food but it lacked flavor and the portion size left one wanting to go eat dinner after.

Laura Taxel said...

It's true that there are some food and service issues that need to be worked out. But given his impeccable track record at fire, I have no doubt that Katz will fix everything that requires fixing. That said, when you pay for a meal you have every right to expect a good experience. That's what Katz and his staff are aiming for. If you don't, be sure and tell the manager so they can address the problem and make things right with you.