Michael’s Genuine will open spring 2019 in Shaker Heights.
Credit: Courtesy Michael's Genuine

Stuffed inside a few worn-out file boxes, James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz collects copies of almost every menu he’s ever written for his eponymous Miami restaurant, Michael’s Genuine. Opened in 2007, the restaurant prints new menus daily, exchanging items like the sweet Florida onions stuffed with spiced lamb, for the short rib with romesco. Schwartz isn’t entirely sure how many menus he’s stashed away, but he estimates somewhere in the mid thousands.

“Hell no, they’re not organized,” Schwartz says laughing. “Well, okay, it’s sort of organized. But then I ruffle through it and mess everything up.”

Schwartz, who owns eight restaurants in South Florida and one in Atlanta, is gearing up to open his first in Cleveland next April. Also, in 2019, Schwartz plans to open two new pizzerias, debut a bohemian-inspired, wood-fired kitchen concept in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood, and take over all food and beverage operations at the COMO Metropolitan Miami Beach Hotel.

“My team and I will be opening five new restaurants in 2019,” he says. “It’s unbelievable. Somehow, I still manage to find time to sleep and go fishing. Maybe not as much as I’d like to, but I make it work.”

Credit: Courtesy Michael's Genuine

Michael’s Genuine, which will open in the Van Aken District, a mixed-use development located nine miles outside of downtown Cleveland in the historic suburb Shaker Heights, will in many ways replicate the flagship in Miami, with the addition of seasonal products unique to the Midwest.

“If you would have asked me last year if I’d ever open in Cleveland, I probably would have looked at you like you were crazy,” he says. “But my friend Jonathan Sawyer, who’s a well-known chef in the area, is the one who really got me on board. He’s been curating concepts for the Van Aken District, and we thought my pizza restaurant Genuine Pizza would be a good fit.”

Fast-forward two years, and something changed. “As we saw the project come to life, we felt like there was an opportunity to do more,” Schwartz says. “We actually opened a Michael’s Genuine in Grand Cayman years ago and realized we could have success with it outside of Miami. Opening it in Cleveland will allow us to bring something more to the neighborhood.”

Schwartz, who won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South three years after opening Michael’s Genuine, has ran numerous restaurants in the past 30 years, but he’s best known for his work with Michael’s Genuine. The vibrant American bistro exudes the kind of warm hospitality many higher-end restaurants never manage to pull off. Then there’s the upscale comfort food made with local, seasonal ingredients, and the menu that changes so often it’s almost impossible to duplicate two dines.

“The philosophy that makes Michael’s Genuine so special is easier to copy nowadays,” Schwartz says. “There’s a lot more access to artisanal products and farm-grown foods.”

In Cleveland, the nearly 3,000-square-foot space, which will offer more than 150 indoor-outdoor seats, will feature a blend of Michael’s Genuine’s core menu items with a selection of Ohio-only specialties.

“We’ll adapt heavily to Cleveland’s growing seasons because that’s what Michael’s is all about,” Schwartz says. “With help from friends like Sawyer, we’ll figure out the lay of the land here. There’s also a big beer scene, which I’m excited to get into.”

Schwartz hasn’t solidified an exact menu yet, but he expects to showcase some of Miami’s favorites, like the crispy pork belly with kimchi, crushed peanuts, and cilantro, the chicken liver crostini with caramelized onions, and the crispy pig ears with chili and lime.

“I’m digging through all of my old menus and bringing back some of Michael’s classics,” he says. “I’m still navigating the sourcing situation in Cleveland, so I can’t exactly say what else will be on the menu. But it will be a nice balance.”

The space itself will be reminiscent of the Miami flagship with a modern and updated energy. “We opened Michael’s almost 12 years ago now,” he says. “This is our chance to freshen it up, but still keep the same cozy feel to it.”

Credit: Courtesy Michael's Genuine

In addition to Cleveland, Schwartz plans to take control of the COMO Metropolitan Miami Beach Hotel’s dining by early January, including the pool and beach areas, the main restaurant, and in-room dining. An outpost of Schwartz’s Genuine Pizza chain is slated to open in Miami Beach within the year, too.

“We’re trying to not look too far ahead and just focus on all the openings we have for 2019,” Schwartz says. “We have some irons in the fire for 2020, but for now it’s all about next year for us.”

When the Philadelphia-born chef isn’t inside one of his kitchens, find him somewhere in the Keys on a fishing boat. This past November, unreachable by cellphone, he spent several hours on the water and caught “lots of tuna and yellow jack,” he says. It’s one of the only ways he knows how to disconnect.

“It’s funny because every time I’m down there, people ask when I’ll open a restaurant in the Keys,” he says. “That probably won’t ever happen. Same thing with Chicago or New Orleans, where my kids live now. But then again, that’s what I said about Cleveland, and now look where I am.”