Let me start off this review by saying that we have eaten great meals at Fire many times in the past and therefore have an expectation of very good food when we dine there. That being said, for some reason we have only been there once in the past year. I blame our toddler, sorry buddy. That’s one of the side effects of having young children: driving anywhere to dinner that is more than a half hour away is just dangerous. In that time, babysitters could melt down and rivers of tears could wash through our living room. Fortunately that never happened, but it was always in the back of our minds. My wife and I have both agreed that it is time to put some of our old favorites back into the rotation. Fire was near the top of the list of places to revisit.
On one particularly gray and drab Cleveland afternoon, a friend of mine suggested that we head down to Fire for lunch after we finished a meeting. Perfect coincidence that he would mention this restaurant. I said that it sounded great, particularly because it was Friday and that meant getting a free dessert with our lunch (Friday’s and Saturday’s- free dessert with any entree ordered). He smiled at that and the plan was set. Who doesn’t want a free dessert?
Fire Food and Drink is a unique restaurant, to say the least. You can simply feel the energy in the air when you walk into the establishment. The bar is fun and friendly, stashed off to the right of the entrance consistently filled with people engaged in conversation and libations. The main dining room has an open, welcoming feeling to it. There are areas of exposed brick through the plaster and huge mirrors hang on the walls, which tends to make the space feel bigger and gives ample people watching opportunity. The artwork is fun and fresh with macro shots of produce such as mushrooms and wild ramps. Anchoring the rear of the restaurant is the open kitchen where the chefs are busy cooking up delicious dishes.
As we entered the restaurant, we were greeted by the hostess and directed to our table. Along the way, we passed four servers and each one of them said hello to us. Strange that this would stand out to me, but it did. It was really nice. We were seated at a table very close to the kitchen which gave us a great opportunity to check out what was happening in there. The tables around us were almost all full with people immersed in conversation and smiling. Always a good start to a meal to see a packed house full of happy patrons.
We looked over the menu and there is a tremendous amount of diversity. With unique salads like the Crispy Duck, Mushroom and Arugula Salad with a braised leek vinaigrette to the Mushroom Flatbread with gruyere and caramelized onions. Yum. There is a shrimp fried rice (this looked delicious coming out of the kitchen) and one that I am going to have to order in the future: gnocchi with hanger steak, mushrooms and spinach ragout. Sounds incredible. I was torn between all of these and, of course, my Achilles heel, the burger. The burger is a local grass-fed beef burger (from Miller farms) with cheddar, tomato relish, mustard aioli and garlic herb fries. There is an option for a local fried egg as well. The price was steep at $17 for the burger and fries and another $3 for the egg. It’s been a while since I have spent $20 or more on a burger- the last time was in New York City at the 21 Club for lunch. That was a really good burger, so I figured that I would give this one a shot with all the fixings.
I’ve been fairly disappointed with the burgers around Cleveland. So many places lay a claim to fame with excellent burgers that are simply mediocre. The first thing that I will say about the Fire burger is that there is nothing mediocre about it. The burger arrived piping hot, offering an incredible aroma that was full of promise. The plate was chock full of the housemade garlic-herb fries that were just crying out to be eaten. My friend at lunch answered the cry and responded with an immediate smile. The fries are really terrific- crispy on the outside, soft in the middle with just enough seasoning as to not overpower the palate but make you want more. These are some good fries. The burger was really large and the juices were flowing. We snapped a couple pictures and I cut into the beast. The center was a perfect medium, with a rosy pinkness that begs to be devoured. No gray burger here! I’m not quite sure what Chef Doug Katz has done to make such a good burger, but there really are no words to describe how good it is. Let me say this alone- I would pay $20 for this burger anytime. I was actually a little sad to eat the last bite, knowing there would be no more after it. What a terrific burger. Needless to say, no fries were left on the plate either.
My friend ordered the On the Rise Hoagie with Shaved Proscuitto and Melted Burrata Cheese ($11). Well, he’s a vegetarian and didn’t want to order the Tawny’s Vegan Vegetable Plate so he asked our server if they would substitute the proscuitto on the hoagie with some mushrooms or something. She said she didn’t think that would be an issue and headed to the kitchen with the order. Sure enough, his hoagie arrived with some balsamic reduced mushrooms in the place of the proscuitto. Now, you’d think after such a glowing review of the burger that there would be no place left to go for a hoagie. Well, this was probably the best vegetarian sandwich I have ever tasted (and I’ve had quite a few). The burrata cheese with the mushrooms and tomato relish harmonized together. I think that it may have been a happy accident that this sandwich came together so well. My friend was thrilled with the hoagie and the wonderful housemade potato chips that it came with. I have to admit that warm, nicely salted chips are a really nice touch with any sandwich.
We ordered dessert and while we were waiting Chef Ian came out from the kitchen, introduced himself and chatted with us for a few minutes. We had noticed that Chef Doug was not in the kitchen and were happy to speak with Chef Ian. My friend thanked him for substituting the mushrooms and told him what a wonderful sandwich it was. I told him that the burger was cooked perfectly and the flavors were a knockout. You could tell that he is proud of the food that comes off the line while he is in the kitchen. It was good to speak with him and another nice customer service point that he made it out of the kitchen to speak with many of the tables.
Dessert came next. We both ordered the chocolate bread pudding that has white chocolate chunks, bittersweet chocolate sauce and housemade coffee ice cream. The ice cream is very tasty and I thought that the bread pudding was pretty good. When I ordered it, I asked for it to be really warm because I had heard from a couple other people in Cleveland that theirs were just lukewarm (sigh). Mine showed up lukewarm as well, which doesn’t do this dessert justice. The outside has a nice crust and just inside that crust there is a nice gooey layer. In the middle, it just feels dense because it isn’t hot enough. The flavors are spot on and I was glad that I ordered it anyhow.
Fire is a place that has had a lot of thought put into it. From the staff to the menu and all the way to the decor, each area works in concert with the other. The food is delicious, the service is spot on and the atmosphere is warm and inviting. This is the recipe for restaurant success and it shows. If you choose to dine here for lunch (only open for lunch on Friday and Saturday) and love a good burger, this is one to try for sure. The hoagie was delicious, too, and make sure that you get the fries. Really tasty. From what I saw, all the other diners were thrilled with their dishes as well, so my guess is that you are going to enjoy whatever it is that you order. I’m looking forward to coming back with my wife for dinner sometime soon- the tandoor roasted organic prairie pork chop with jalapeno spoonbread is calling my name already… and I can’t wait to dig in again.