Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Verve: A New Energy in a Gritty Cleveland Corner

One of the things I miss most about living downtown is my leisurely weekend strolls tradition with Sonia: to the lake, near the tulips (w/ Bettina), to Starbuck's or even the time we snuck into the Cleveland Convention Center and explored every corner of that fascinating building. For those who don't know, it was Sonia's invitation to dinner one Spring evening two and a half years ago that led to a walk near the Q the night of the Cavs last game of the playoffs that set off the events for the script.  A very talented medical professional, Sonia is a creative at heart and her curious soul has propelled us into all kinds of city adventures - she notices what others don't - and this time it was a new restaurant that opened on the corner of Carnegie and East 14th.

We wanted to have lunch and initially decided on sushi, but after passing by Verve, tucked away under a large CSU billboard, we, ok, I, took a u-turn in the middle of a four lane street and we parked in the adjacent parking lot. When we entered Verve, we immediately sensed a new energy, an energy that didn't feel very Cleveland. Unlike the social restaurants in the Warehouse District or the commercially successful East 4th Street gastronomic mecca, with its open, industrial and minimalist feel, large windows overlooking busy Carnegie and sophisticated and professionally-dressed customers filling almost every white tablecloth covered table, Verve felt more like it belonged in (dare I say it?) Chicago.

Sonia and I were seated right away by the nice hostess, who also took my raincoat. Our waiter approached us quickly and provided the menus, that listed items like Verve Fries (hand cut potato with sausage gravy),  Roasted Onion and Garlic Soup (w/grilled fontina cheese bread) and City Chicken (crispy pork and applesauce).  The restaurant menu is like an album of classic 60's rock songs covered by your favorite 90's bands: you recognize the titles, but Verve puts its own spin on things.

After Sonia and I ordered soup and a few salads, I excused myself to go to the ladies room. First,  I noticed that instead of "men"/"women," the doors were marked with framed photos of gender-appropriate children. Very clever and cute. Once inside, in the mirror I also realized that all this time my sunglasses were on me - not on my head, but on my face. I felt so pretentious and silly and took them off,  thinking that, perhaps, the staff was being so super nice to both of us because they thought I was someone far more important than I really am. (It was either the sunglasses or my continuous photo-taking with the iPhone.) But, then, perhaps something about Verve, and the aura of "important discussions happen while people eat our soup" resonated in the subconscious and allowed me to play dress up.

For dessert, Sonia and I split a slice of a chocolate torte, pictured here. The presentation was wonderful, the texture a little dense, but, then my dear friend and I felt like a little escapism that dreary, late-October Midwestern afternoon and Verve certainly delivered. On an intersection sandwiched between the highway ramp, a busy driving street, a church and a three-story white storage building that, with its gorgeous large window arches, since first moving to Cleveland I've wanted to own and convert into a giant creative loft, this new restaurant is filling a void in a part of town that's just one block away from the country's second biggest theater district.  Verve's vitality is just what the doctor ordered. Even Sonia would agree.

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