Johnny’s Bar opened in the 1920’s as Louise’s Garden and was renamed Johnny’s Bar in 1952. It has been in the same family for much of that time and that sense of tradition and neighborhood business provided the guest with a feeling that you’ve discovered a gem of Cleveland. It looked like a cozy dive from the street with the deco sign on a building that dates to 1917, but inside there was an old school elegance complete with white cloth covered tables accented with black napkins, a large bar area and animal print carpet. There are other dining rooms as well as a lovely patio named for the originator Louise (whose son Johnny took over). The large menu was a la carte with a couple nightly specials and our helpful and friendly server knew about the various options and could provide wonderful descriptions as well as help to steer your choices. There is a good sized wine list with more options than are listed. We simply described what we were looking for to the owner Bo Santosuosso with a price range and then he came up with an excellent choice.
We started with a couple excellently made martinis while we made our choices. The server brought fresh foccacia to the table with some butter if snacks were needed. It was soft, doughy and herby and the butter tasty. Portions are generous though, so restraint is good.
We split an order of the Sautéed Stuffed Calamari with fresh herbs, sherry and marinara and the foccacia was good for mopping up this sauce. The calamari was incredibly tender and nicely stuffed with bread crumbs and parmesan. There were 3 pieces in the order and our server split them onto our plates, so I didn’t get a presentation picture but trust me they were full of good flavor. The stuffing was excellent and the combination worked wonderfully.
All dinner plates came with a salad that was a nice mix of fresh lettuces. We chose to have vinaigrette with blue cheese crumbles and our kind server, Emma, picked some fresh tomatoes from the garden and added them to our salads. It was nicely dressed with a fun mix of lettuces and tasty blue cheese. It was also a good sized portion and nicely seasoned with fresh ground pepper.
The Filet of Beef au Poivre was served with green peppercorns, cognac, sherry and demi glace. It was a perfectly cooked rare and tender piece of beef with a slightly sweet and peppery sauce. Served alongside was a wonderful potato gratin filled with pecorino and romano cheese and haraicot verte, that were still a bit crisp but really tasty. Also on the plate was a small pecorino flan that was a delicious little round of creamy flavor. It was a terrific plate of food.
Medallions of Veal were plated with sundried tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, roasted red peppers, sherry and demi glace. It was 2 thick medallions that were nicely pink and smothered with red pepper and tomato sauce. The meat was tender and tasty and the sauce good. It also had the pecorino flan on the plate which was just plain excellent as well as some tasty au gratin potatoes.
For dessert we ordered the bananas foster as their regular pastry chef had not made it in to supply too many desserts. No problem here as this was a generous portion of ice cream covered with rich caramel sauce and perfectly cooked banana halves. It was an amazing sweet fix with yummy caramel. This definitely rated a yum x2.
After dinner the owner, Bo gave us a wonderful tour of the rest of the restaurant spaces and we got to meet his cousin Louise who was having dinner there with friends. It was a great evening – put this one on your list if you make it to Cleveland.