I’m not a drinker and as such I don’t go to bars – ever. After a long day checking out the CIA’s BFA exhibit with my little sister we decided to hit the West Side Market and after picking up some cupcakes from Grandma Freda’s decided that some proper food would be ideal before digging into the cupcakes (for the sake of full disclosure I’ll admit I ate the Red Velvet before dinner.) Having heard great things about Michael Nowak’s inventive cuisine and high end ingredients I’ll admit I was curious about Bar Cento before even going to Cleveland for the day and the fact that they had an extensive list of unique beers certainly appealed to my sister.
Entering the surprisingly larger front-patio area we were greeted by a friendly hostess who asked us whether we would prefer the (loud!) outside area or the more subdued interior – given the fact that techno-esque music blared outside and I heard Pearl Jam’s Black playing inside we opted for the indoors - a great choice as we were treated to Zeppelin, the Doors, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam throughout our meal.
Comfortably seated at a small table near the bar we browsed the menu (myself the food and my sister the beer) and chatted while our quirky server buzzed around the restaurant replacing silverware on tables, placing bread baskets with olive oil (which we notably never received,) and pushing beer/alcohol orders – thankfully my sister ordered a beer or I fear we’d have been pressured to order drinks throughout the meal. Receiving her beer my sister noted it was quite good – to me it tasted like beer. Ordering two pizzas we sat and chatted while watching the cooks in the open kitchen spin dough, chop vegetables, and assemble the pies.
No more than 15 minutes passed before we were brought our well cooked thin-and-crispy pizzas, ideally prepared with just a little bit of char on the edge. The first option, Apple and Prosciutto Pizza with Gorgonzola and red wine was a great blend of sweet and savory with wonderfully sweet and tender skinless apples contrasting eloquently against the somewhat crisp and amply salty prosciutto. Adding a layer of creaminess a small amount of un-salty gorgonzola was added to the dish along with a slight bit of bitterness coming from the merlot. Hints of chives and possibly coriander also crept though with bites towards the center and as a whole this was as good, if not better than the Brie pizza at Spagio in Columbus – with a much better crust.
The second pizza, Sunnyside Pizza with eggs, provolone, pancetta, and lots of black pepper lived up to its name – IE, it tasted like a lot of Black Pepper – and maybe some eggs. A noted fan of all things featuring a yolk I had very much looked forward to trying this pizza but unfortunately any nuance or subtlety was entirely eliminated by the incredible degree of over seasoning. Salty Pancetta, the tongue/mouth-feel of yolk, and pepper pepper pepper. I will admit I appreciated the crispy and perfect crust of this pie, but otherwise a piece of bread with olive oil (which we weren’t given) topped with black pepper would have been nearly on par.
After our meal we were offered desserts (ironically, Jeni’s Ice Creams) but instead opted to eat our cupcakes from Grandma Freda’s while listening to some Nirvana. All told I must admit I was modestly impressed with Bar Cento and the prices were certainly manageable compared to the vastly overpriced and overhyped Lola – I’d like to go back at some point for the chicken and gnocchi. According to my sister, the alcohol list was quite extensive and affordable, so perhaps for beers and bites the place would be better and I bet it would also be a good place to catch a Cavs game – certainly better than average “bar food” and a setting/scene better than the average “dive bar.”