CLEVELAND, Ohio – For Dave Ferrante, Proof is, well, proof that sometimes you can get do-overs and second chances.
After a lot of planning, Ferrante opened Proof Craft Bar-BQ and Cocktails in late February 2020. Weeks later, the coronavirus pandemic’s restrictions took hold, and Proof was left in a culinary quicksand of sorts. It remained in its quiet void, tucked into the basement of the building that houses Visible Voice and Crust. It never truly found its footing, having to open and close several times during the pandemic.
“We have a nice, tight group of people who have been here consistently for the last year or so,” Ferrante said. “And we’ve tightened everything down really well, and it really shows in our service, our food and our drinks. Problem is no one knows about us. ”
Proof has tweaked the menu and introduced “Rust Belt Bar-BQ” into its name and branding, and is ready for its resurgence as the restaurant world opens up.
Ferrante takes a laissez-faire approach to ownership of Proof.
“These guys are kind of running it,” Ferrante said about his team, which includes Brandon Lassiter, Mark TerVeen and others. “The staff is fantastic. They take ownership, they care. It makes my life so much easier. That’s the key to this place. ”
He added: “I try to provide some direction. I’m a property developer. I don’t want to be in here every day; I can’t. This is not my thing. I didn’t grow up in that business. I want to know what they need, and I try to give them what they need and let them run with that. ”
Lassiter, who most recently served as chef de cuisine at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, is from Virginia and attended Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in Pittsburgh. He has held several restaurant jobs in Northeast Ohio.
“It’s slowly evolving. We’ve kept the same structure, ”he said of Proof’s menu. “We’re giving you a good mix of old-school barbecue and more modern, contemporary plating and dishes.”
Proof is coming of age and fitting in with the neighborhood’s foodie community. Tremont is home to a variety of places from fine dining to more casual, from funky to belly-up bars. The area includes Parallax, Fahrenheit, Dante, Fat Cats, Prosperity Social Club, Tremont Tap House, The Treehouse and others.
“We’ve actually got our own little food identity down here,” Lassiter said about Tremont.
He added St. Louis ribs and portobello-mushroom taco, one of several vegan and vegetarian options to the menu, which will be released today – Thursday, April 21. Lassiter said he drew inspiration from “Southern cookout” fare, like coleslaw on a pork sandwich. He offers a pickled slaw with creamy chimichurri, house barbecue and cotija cheese, for instance.
“We have our traditional smoked meats, but when it comes to our composed dishes like sandwiches, tacos and apps I like to do things a little more contemporary,” said Lassiter, who said the menu is approachable for those who want to nibble on an app as well as barbecue traditionalists who can sink their teeth into a tasty smoked brisket. That brisket is smoked for 14 hours over cherry wood.
Other items include Cuban pork-belly steam bun, smokehouse mac and cheese and Latin pork slider.
Drinks, food, Bourbon and service all have one thing in common: Quality, Ferrante said.
TerVeen is heading up the drinks, going for a mix that offers everything from local crafts to pedestrian lagers – from Millersburg to Miller Lite – along with shelves full of Bourbon.
Known local artist Hilary Gent is curating the art and keeping it fresh, Ferrante said. The art is a pleasant contrast to the cool preserved industrial look of the space, which features mechanical gears and exposed brick.
The patio – set to open Saturday, May 7 – still has the smoker and full-service bar and television. Live music is in the works.
In the past, Proof hadn’t been open on Sundays. Now, Sunday brunch is coming.
Ferrante – who also owns the building that housed Lolita and an adjacent structure – also is planning a Maker’s Mark Bourbon dinner Wednesday April 27, the first of several Bourbon dinners throughout the year.
“It was worth keeping it going,” he said of Proof. “I think the concept is a good concept.”
If you go
Proof is at 2258 Professor Ave., in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. Hours: 4-10 pm Tuesday to Saturday, and eventually will open at 11:30 am on Sunday. Parking is in a small adjacent lot as well as street parking. Here’s a look at Proof as it was coming together in 2020.
I am on cleveland.com‘s life and culture team and cover food, beer, wine and sports-related topics. If you want to see my stories, here’s a directory on cleveland.com. Bill Wills of WTAM-1100 and I talk food and drink usually at 8:20 am Thursday morning. Twitter: @ mbona30.
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