EDWINS Restaurant and Leadership Institute has a two-fold mission. The first is to provide formerly incarcerated men and women an opportunity to learn skills in the culinary arts. The second is to become a world-class establishment that serves French cuisine and provides service to its clientele that is second to none. To do the first while succeeding at the second is the challenge that Brandon Chrostowski and his team have chosen to take on at their Shaker Square establishment.
Occupying the corner of Shaker Square in what used to be the Grotto wine bar, the team at EDWINS has transformed what once felt like a slightly overdone Italian rustic tavern into a chic and sexy brasserie highlighted by three distinct spaces: a main dining room with tables tightly spaced (but not overwhelmingly so) with views of bustling Shaker Square and edged by the bar, a cozy lounge area with a bright pink upholstered couch in front of a warm fireplace, and a more intimate and private space opposite the wine "cellar". The tables were covered neatly by white linen and expertly set by the staff.
The service was sharper than I had expected on my first two visits, first with my wife and two children and the second on date with my wife alone. Of the hiccups we experienced were a near delivery of a dessert meant for another table, a couple audible crashes from the kitchen, and small spill of water as it was initially poured at our table. Other than that, the staff was very attentive as a team, our bread plates were never empty, and the wine suggestions each night were absolutely outstanding. The staff had a strong answer to all of our questions and made us feel comfortable with the "industrial French" cuisine that we were definitely not accustomed to.
Each night after getting help selecting a bottle of wine, we began with a selection of cheeses and came away with each bite thoroughly satisfied. Again, I was pleasantly surprised with the ability and knowledge of the gentleman who had the envious responsibility to acquaint patrons with the variety of the 20+ cheeses that were available that evening. All of the other appetizers we tried in our visits were delightful but the stand-out was the ditalini. Be forewarned however if you choose it, it is not a light dish. Either share it or plan to get a salad as your main entree as my wife did on our second visit.
The main courses were also very well-prepared. My son absolutely loved his braised rabbit and my daughter raved about the roasted chicken. I enjoyed the steak, especially the sauce that accompanied it and the potatoes which were neatly stacked alongside it. The scallops I had on my second visit were truly unique and also full of flavor in an unexpected way. The Salade Nicoise that my wife ordered has to be tried to be believed. I was thankful she let me finish it for her.
Finally, last but not least, the desserts. We were thankful we took our server's advice and ordered the souffle along with our main courses. I don't plan on trying to create a souffle in my own kitchen, and even if I ever do, it is unlikely that I will ever do it as well as the staff at EDWINS. For something else unique, I can also recommend the Napoleon: a flaky, though not terribly complex, pastry.
Overall, I look forward to seeing what Brandon and his staff continue to do. If they are as successful with the first part of their mission as they appear to be with the second, the Cleveland food scene will never be quite the same.
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