Brett Sawyer, executive chef of Ohio City’s The Plum Cafe & Kitchen, grew up eating quail and mushrooms that his father culled from the forest around his hometown of Wellington, Ohio. Years later, he spent six months in France, discovering sophisticated fare, such as dry-cured ham and duck confit. These dual culinary inspirations—the rustic and the refined—continue to influence the choices he makes at The Plum, which, in May, will celebrate three years in business, a milestone for any small business, particularly in the food industry. Brett’s dream has always been to use The Plum to churn traditional rural American, Pan-Asian, and European dishes into unique combinations. The ideal, he says, is to take a familiar dish, deconstruct it, and reassemble the parts into something comforting yet refreshing. Plum mainstays include General Tso’s Whole Fried Chicken and a formidable lamb burger.
Seated at The Plum, echoes of the past can be felt nearly everywhere. The twin deer heads that oversee the dining room were hunted by Brett’s father. Some of the dessert plates are vestiges from the location’s earlier life as an antique store. Finally, the house recipe for coquito, an eggnog-like Puerto Rican beverage, was provided by sous chef Chantz Blakeslee’s mother. Called the Doreen, it contains rum, eggs, condensed milk, cinnamon, and nutmeg, along with ingredients that shan’t be disclosed here. This is, after all, a family recipe.
In-house collaboration is vital, too. Brett operates under the “test it/taste it” principle, inviting his staff to be creative and to introduce new dishes and drinks, some of which end up on the menu. Nolan Tidwell, The Plum’s pastry chef, recently unveiled his Guava Mille Feuille—a puff pastry served with dulce de leche, whipped ganache, and fresh guava—a dessert as stunningly presented as it was clean-plate-club delicious.
Brett’s goal for the future is to continue melding familiar and fresh. He expanded his vision into Battery Park in January, opening Good Company, a sports bar that shares The Plum’s chic aesthetic, but features daring innovations, such as a homemade vegan ranch dressing so savory Brett forewent including the buttermilk alternative, and prime beef burgers served on crustless house-made bread for the kids’ menu. Brett continues marrying the well-loved with the avant-garde, delighting his patrons in the process.
The Plum is located at 4133 Lorain Ave. in Cleveland. For more information, call 216.938.8711 or visit ThePlumCafeAndKitchen.com.