The Plain Dealer-Wednesday, 2 September 2015
By Laura DeMarco
Pickwick & Frolic has a comedy club. Pickwick & Frolic has a cabaret. Pickwick &Frolic has a martini bar.
With so much going on at the East Fourth Street entertainment complex, that Pickwick & Frolic also has a restaurant is sometimes overlooked.
But a fine-tuned menu has brought new attention to the Pickwick restaurant, establishing it as a fine-dining neo-classic with a wide-ranging menu that can stand up to any one of the celebrity chef joints on the street. It’s become a destination for diners who aren’t just going to a show.
That’s not to say the restaurant doesn’t have theatrical flair. This is no dull white-linen and steakon- a-plate joint, though they do have a lovely dining room and a full steak menu. Befitting the 13-year-old complex’s dramatic nature, dining at Pickwick means a diverse selection of wood-fired grill and rotisserie items, steaks and chops, creative starters, savory greens, innovative pastas and vegetarian dishes, and sophisticated seafood. Diners can opt for full entrees, or pizzas and burgers for a more casual meal.
There’s also a full bar that oozes Old Cleveland 1940s-style panache — after all, Pickwick does attempt to revive the spirit of Old Short Vincent, the famed downtown Cleveland nightlife street of the ’40s and ’50s. It’s all served in an elegant, but not stodgy, dining room that also channels ’40s flair, or on one of the best-located patios in the city.
We visited on a recent Sunday after a visit to Playhouse Square. It was a perfect after-theater destination, and not just because of its location. With its retro flair and upscale menu, Pickwick was an ideal pairing for a meal after the magnificence of the Playhouse area. Both revive the spirit of old Cleveland for a new generation.
My husband, 8-year-old daughter and I all found something to applaud on Pickwick’s diverse menu, from the starters to entrees.
We began with a few selections from their intriguing starters and pizza menus. A simple Margherita pizza with garlic oil, slices of vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil leaves ($13) was simply perfect: Great taste achieved with just a few ingredients isn’t as easy as it looks, but Pickwick made it seem so.
The Cleveland Sausage Party ($12) was a cheeky nouveau twist on a classic meat plate, a savory serving of corn-breaded kielbasa, beer-braised brats, chicken and apple sausage, red cabbage and slaws. The plump corn-breaded kielbasa was so perfectly crusted and flavored you’ll never want a regular corn dog again.
Going meatless for our third option, we were impressed with the vegan stuffed hot peppers with lentils, chickpeas and sesame with basil marinara ($11), the fiery sauce nicely complementing the surprisingly creamy stuffing.
The entrees matched the starters for success in balancing classic choices with fresh twists. Though there is no children’s menu, our knowledgeable server said theyare happy to make plain cheese pizzas or butter noodles if nothing on the menu suits young diners’ taste. But our daughter was game for the ”big menu,” as mostolder kids should be. She chose the signature rotisserie herbed half-chicken served with Yukon mashed potatoes with natural jus and asparagus ($21). It was bigenough for two or three people — it was a half-chicken — but so tender and flavorful she ate much more than usual. Nicely, one of the staff offered to take the chicken back to the kitchen after it was presented to section it to smaller portions. The fluffy and creamy mashed potatoes were equally hard to stop eating. As with the Margherita pizza, Pickwick made a simple meal seem effortlessly delicious.
Having heard many good things about Pickwick’s expanded beef menu, I bypassed the tempting steaks and opted for one of their most popular menu items:. The Certified Angus Beef handpattied burger with herb butter and roasted tomato relish ($15). It was juicy without being drippy, with the tomato relish providing a sophisticated and savory ketchup alternative. It was served with thick-cut, herbed fries.
My husband opted for one of Pickwick’s most popular seafood items. Though the menu includes quinoa-crusted Faroe Island salmon, sauteed scampi in lobster broth and chipotle chicken and shrimp pasta, he went with the blue cornmealcrusted walleye ($28). Good choice. The thick, pan-seared fish was perfectly crisped outside and soft and succulent inside. It was served on a bed of fire-roasted potatoes, tomatoes, corn and Swiss chard that added a sweet tang without making the fish soggy.
The entrees were the finale to our dinner at Pickwick. We just weren’t hungry for dessert as tempting as the ”ice cream for two,” chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce and the Key lime pie sounded. But we’ll be back for an encore. The spotlight is now on the restaurant at Pickwick, deservedlyso.