The star Miami restaurateur debuts Michael's Genuine in Cleveland this April.
When Michael Schwartz agreed to open his namesake Miami restaurant, Michael’s Genuine, 1,200 miles north in Cleveland, he never thought it would happen in what feels like the dead of winter. It’s technically spring, but Ohio’s temperatures are still quite chilly, especially for Schwartz, who runs nearly a dozen restaurants across South Florida.
“It’s really cold up there,” Schwartz says, laughing. “Their growing season is actually very short. But like anywhere, it’s more about what’s in that region as a whole, so in this case the Midwest. We still have a lot of exploring to do, and every time I’m up there, I discover something new.”
Michael’s Genuine, which earned Schwartz a James Beard Award, is known for crafting light, vibrant dishes with South Florida ingredients. But, naturally, people eat differently in Cleveland, so the forthcoming restaurant will take a slightly different approach.
“That old cliché of sticking to the stuff that keeps you warm is true,” he says. “We surveyed a group in Cleveland on their eating habits, and it seems people eat heavier, especially during this time of year. Some people said they avoid moving beyond their comfort zone, while others said they would be interested in trying new things, especially lighter foods. I guess you could say the results are a pretty accurate snapshot of life.”
When the 3,000-square-foot restaurant opens the second week of April in the Van Aken District, located nine miles outside of downtown Cleveland in the historic suburb Shaker Heights, the backbone of the menu will include the foods that propelled Schwartz’s initial success more than a dozen years ago. It will also feature long-lost favorites from the chef’s menu archives, and a handful of Cleveland specialties.
“The spirit of the restaurant is neighborhood-like and approachable,” he says. “It’s comforting, but it’s not necessarily all comfort food. It doesn’t have to be mac and cheese and meatloaf to be comfort food. Some things you may be familiar with, but there’s also items that are designed to challenge your palate a little bit more.”
It wouldn’t be Michael’s Genuine without the crispy pork belly topped with kimchee and crushed peanuts, the wood-oven roasted octopus dressed in crema, smoked chile, radish, and cilantro, and the steamed mussels in a tomato-harissa broth with sticky black rice. Miami’s house-smoked bacon cheddar burger with heirloom tomatoes on a brioche bun makes an appearance in Cleveland as well, as does the pan-roasted half chicken, the short rib, and the strip steak.
“I’m really curious to see how the restaurant will be received,” he says. “Whenever I open a restaurant, I always think it’ll be a success—and in the end, sometimes it is and sometimes it’s not. That’s part of the process.”
Together with Ohio chef de cuisine Vinnie Cimino, some items exclusive to Cleveland range from liverwurst toast with red onion and yellow mustard, to short rib and ricotta fettucine; and bacon and potato pizza with fontina, gruyère, and caramelized onion. The menu also includes a substantial amount of seafood, including oysters, snapper ceviche, and wood-oven roasted whole fish.
“We’re trying to figure out the whole seafood thing in terms of what we can source here and what we can bring from other places,” he says. “What I’m really psyched about is continuing to explore the food up there. There’s a lot of foraging for wild mushrooms and fiddlehead ferns. We’re trying to bring a brighter approach to eating while also taking into account how people actually eat.”
As Michael’s Genuine Cleveland gears up to launch, Schwartz has already set his sight on his next project: Tigertail + Mary, a vegetable-focused American bistro in Miami’s historic Coconut Grove neighborhood, which will take a similar approach to cooking as Michael’s Genuine. He’s also planning a pizzeria in Miami Beach. With Cleveland, however, the chef has already surpassed 600 employees. “I feel 50 percent scared to death, and 50 percent great,” he says. “It’s a lot of responsibility, but I mostly feel great about being able to offer all of this opportunity.”
“More than 13 years ago, when I was first thinking about what Michael’s Genuine would be, I built the menu mostly around things I wanted to eat,” he adds. “It sounds really selfish, but it’s always been about what I want to eat. I’m imposing flavors onto the public in 2019 in the same way. I’ve definitely moved toward more vegetables and bright flavors with a focus on eating better.”
Michael’s Genuine. 3427 Tuttle Rd., Shaker Heights, 216-230-8022.