The Cleveland Metroparks entered a new realm in the summer of 2014 : the restaurant business. This is the third winter Merwin’s Wharf has been serving customers on the east bank of the Cuyahoga River near downtown Cleveland.
In today’s story from the Quick Bites larder, WKSU’s Vivian Goodman reports on the restaurant’s appeal for food and nature lovers alike.
It’s nature plus nurture at Merwin’s Wharf, named for Noble Merwin, one of the Flat’s first saloon keepers. Today, Executive Chef Jarrod McCarthy is in charge.
“This is definitely the first of its kind for the Metroparks.”
Nature near downtown
He thinks they picked the perfect location.
“Literally seconds from downtown, a big metropolitan area. But if you look out the back patio, it’s almost like being in a park.”
It actually is a park, Rivergate Park, acquired by Cleveland Metroparks in 2012.
You can see it, and the river, and even glimpses of the lake through the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows.
“When it was really cold last week, there were literally thousands of gulls,” says Chef McCarthy. “One of our natural resources team came out, and these ones that were on the river going up and down were actually migrating."
Popular on Sunday mornings
Meanwhile foodies are migrating down by the river for Sunday brunch and giving good reviews:
“The biscuits and gravy, very good.”
“The chorizo hash. Yep. I had a good breakfast.”
Other choices include: mini sloppy joes, fruit salad, bread pudding, sweet potato pancakes and one of Chef Nick Lonzo’s favorites: oatmeal pancakes.
“A little thicker than normal, not as fluffy. Tastes like a cookie.”
Amy Claussen’s here from Lakewood, perusing the menu.
“I am actually doing the scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and the black bean and sweet potato hash, so I’m excited to try that one.”
Fits the mission
Metroparks spokeswoman Sue Allen is excited, too, about the park district’s first restaurant ever.
“It really fits into our focus of drawing people to recreational resources within the city. And of course with everything that’s going on downtown in terms of people who are living downtown,
working downtown, and eating downtown as well.”
Since Merwin’s Wharf opened, it’s been busy night and day, attracting a varied clientele.
“They’ll come in here for a full meal. They’ll come in here with their families. We see people coming in here for a drink or some coffee and a big pretzel after they’ve been to a show or a concert.”
A monumental pretzel
Chef Lonzo is proud of that big pretzel. So is his boss.
“Twenty-four ounces, made fresh every day, “ says chef McCarthy. It’s definitely one of our big signature items and it’s enormous. It’s huge. It’s something that’s made for probably four people, six people.”
Topped with flaked garlic salt, the pretzel swarms over a big dinner plate and comes with beer cheese and house-made wharf mustard for dipping.
Like everything else at Merwin’s Wharf, the pretzel’s made from scratch.
“We have a guy that comes in at 5 o’clock in the morning, “ says McCarthy, “and he twists pretzels all day.”
To run the busy kitchen, McCarthy’s glad to have Chef Lonzo.
“Wildly talented. I actually hired him away from one of the restaurants on Playhouse Square.”
A former pastry chef, Lonzo changes the menu often, especially dessert.
“We just play around with, ‘Hey I saw that on TV’ or ‘That would be delicious.’ Today we have a date and toffee cake. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Prices? Depends what you’re hankering for.
“You can come and have a $10 sandwich,” says Chef McCarthy, “or you can come and have a $28 steak.”
Leah and Brad Hurley didn’t have to travel far for brunch at Merwin’s Wharf. They live in Ohio City.
“We had some friends who came here when it first opened and said it was really cool. So we decided to come out.”
Cool in the winter, too
“I just like the location. I think that it’s cool, and I think it’d be really cool in the summer.”
But why wait, says the Metroparks’ Sue Allen.
“To be down here on a winter day is really spectacular, and you are not going to get any closer to the river than you would right here on a snowy day.”
You can rent a bike from a rack on the patio, take a hike, row, or skate, and let Chef McCarthy and crew help you refuel.
“We just had some kayakers come in this morning because it’s not freezing cold, “ says the chef. “The skate park opened up across the parking lot. It’s kind of a hub of activity right in the middle of Rivergate Park.”
Warm up outdoors
Diners can warm up next to the firepit on the 3,000-foot landscaped patio, and watch freighters come through, or spot a Great Blue heron stand tall while geese fly by.
“One of the plans for Merwin’s Wharf,” says the Metroparks’ Sue Allen, “ is to have our outdoor recreation and our outdoor education folks be really a part of the experience, with kayaking, possibly canoeing, things that are safe recreation, and have more learning opportunities available.”