Would you believe you could get perfectly seared sushi-grade ahi tuna in Cleveland, Tennessee? What about a velvety lobster bisque that would have made Pierre Troisgros grin and mumble, "goût délicieux"?
Turns out, you can.
Prior to Catch Bar and Grill opening in March 2011, there were absolutely no seafood restaurants in the entire city and but one fine dining establishment, the Bald Headed Bistro, which opened seven years prior bankrolled by millionaire, payday loan tycoon Allan Jones and described as "Western fine dining in the heart of the South." It boasted several Wine Spectator Excellence Awards; decor salvaged from Jackson Hole, Wyoming; celebrity staff like Wesley True from the television show "Top Chef;" celebrity patrons like NFL Hall of Fame quarterback and beloved Tennessee Volunteer Peyton Manning; and pan-seared elk tenderloin covered in a cabernet sauce.
For whatever reason and no fault of its own, Cleveland has never been a dining destination. However, from 1971 through the late-90s, Roblyn's was the lone place in town where the napkins were tent folded, the salad bar was vast and you could get a nice cut of steak in an elegant setting. Old Fort, with its signature meatloaf and scoops of cottage cheese as a "vegetable" side, is now where Robyln's used to be. Bald Headed Bistro has since gone under and re-branded as True at BHB, an offshoot of the Bald Headed Bistro that serves Cleveland hot chicken and biodynamic wines.
But Catch is now the establishment for fine dining in Cleveland.
Catch Bar and Grill
— What: Intimate and sophisticated atmosphere in the historic Five Points section of Cleveland, Tenn.
— Where: 233 Inman St. E.
— Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.
— Cost: Prices range from $9 for the bowl of shrimp gumbo to $20 for the oysters Rockefeller.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, fine dining is "a style of eating that usually takes place in expensive restaurants, where especially good food is served to people, often in a formal way."
My sometimes twisted but mostly well-intentioned definition of "fine dining" is when a restaurant's chef and staff hold themselves to the highest standards and don't skimp on the details, not even the smallest ones. It has less to do with Strottarga Bianco caviar or foie gras and more to do with craftsmanship, technique and execution. The chef at Catch didn't create anything nouveau, avant-garde or tide shifting and, with the exception of the lemon aioli that accompanies the crab cakes, there's hardly anything on the menu that the average adult couldn't spell, pronounce or isn't at least halfway familiar with. The difference is, I can tell the shrimp for the gumbo were added last, after the andouille, okra and everything else, just to make sure they won't end up overcooked, and the smoked gouda mashed potatoes weren't whipped up from powder but from actual potatoes.
The term "bar and grill" downplays Catch's ambition and fools diners into thinking they're walking to a place with a gazillion television-blaring Atlanta Braves games or NASCAR with dining options in the realm of jalapeno poppers and buffalo chicken wraps.
Catch is different.
The exposed brick and ductwork, the blue drapes, the starched tablecloths and the paintings of sailfish all contribute to an air of sophistication. Expect their Hot Rocks to remind of the Bang Bang Shrimp from Bonefish Grill (which is never a bad thing). Expect the oysters either on the half-shell or Rockefeller to be fresh from Apalachicola or somewhere else on Florida's panhandle. However, don't expect a tuxedoed waiter to pull out the olive oil, dijon mustard and anchovies to make your Caesar salad table side, from scratch. Don't let that last part deter you. Catch never claimed to be Carbone. But it's true what owner and executive chef Michael Poore said in the restaurant's mission statement: "It's not everywhere one can find a true New Orleans style po' boy and Japanese bluefin tuna on the same menu," and that has to stand for something.