28699 Chagrin Boulevard
Woodmere, OH 44122
by Beau Cadiyo
Bite: Michael Symon's name on a restaurant no longer means it's dependably good. For a better burger, go across the parking lot to Fleming's.
25 February 2010
In comments to this post, "JB" wrote that the Boca Burger is gone from the B-Spot menu, and that it has been replaced by an absurdly greasy portabello mushroom burger, so disgusting that his pet pig would not eat it.
If true, some might think that this is a victory for the Cleveland Sandwich Board over Michael Symon. However, I don't think it is. If anything, it is a victory of good ol' common sense and self-interest over hubris and an unexplainable lapse of judgment. I think it likely that Mr. Symon realized that by trying to pass off a frozen, store-bought patty under his own name, he was basically telling people, "I'm Michael Symon, celebrity chef, and I can get away with serving you frozen, individually wrapped pressed-food patties for grievously inflated prices just because it has my name on it! Eat it, stupid star-struck consumer, then praise me for being a culinary genius!" Then, in a moment of reflection - I'm imagining something like when Derek Zoolander looked into the puddle after losing to Hansel - Symon probably asked himself, "Who do I think I am?" Then I see...I see...the ball is cloudy...I see the next day, when Mr. Symon realized that his name was losing cache among discerning consumers, and that he should probably at least try to deliver something besides reheated patties.
Again, the commenter "JB" noted that the new vegetarian alternative is not very good. He also noted that his pet pig wouldn't touch it, but that the little oinker loved the bread. Even if it really is crap, though, at least this time it seems to be Michael Symon crap - something that he decided to put some thought into. For finally putting thought into what he is serving, Mr. Symon should be applauded.
Rumors that B-Spot has changed their bread remain unsubstantiated.
After hiking at Chapin in Kirtland for a few hours, Frank Hoxha and I tried to get a burger and fries at some restaurant on SOM Center Road which bills itself as "a fine dining establishment." The problem is that whenever I go there to dine, it's closed, and this was no exception. We then tried Europa, but they were serving brunch and wouldn't open their kitchen for another hour. "Forget it," I said, "lets get food at Trader Joe's and I'll cook."
We drove up Chagrin and walked up to Eton. Something I saw out of the corner of my eye was off; instead of the bright, open windows of Coldstone Creamery I saw tinted, imposing windows and a dark doorway. "BURGERS BRATS BEER" and "B-SPOT" broadcast from the blackness. I gravitated toward it, and Frank asked if we were going. I nodded, entranced, like adulte Roland to the Dark Tower.
Inside, we sat at the central bar. Above us were faux motorcycle parts, pretending to be stamped out of the metal; the lab stools we sat on pulled up against a concrete bar top. A giant beer-can mural, "B" spelled out in red cans, dominated one wall, graffiti art dominated another, and a third opened up into the mall. In the middle of the room was a giant stag-antler chandelier reminiscent more of an Abercrombie and Fitch store than a burger joint. Things started to look familiar - a Lola Burger, Symon and Michael were tossed casually throughout the menu and on a card proclaiming the house rules. "Excuse me," I said to the bartender, "Is this a Michael Symon restaurant?" "Yes, it is - you stumbled into a Michael Symon restaurant without even knowing it!" he exclaimed, smiling like a salesman.
We looked down the menu. The burgers all looked reasonably interesting, but none stood out as a must-have revolution in Burger Dynamics(tm) - that is, until I saw the veggie burger. Of course! Since That Place was closed, and L'Albatros took over, I hadn't had a truly great veggie burger. Michael Symon, of all people, would be the one to pick up the fake meat mantle! But...could he? I was hopeful: "Excuse me," I said to the bartender, "Are the veggie burgers made on-site?" He shook his head. "They're Boca," he said, for the first time not assuming a guise of pride and confidence. I blinked, trying to hide my shock. Boca burgers? Michael Symon would create a burger joint, brand it with his name, and then serve perhaps the most unappetizing frozen veggie burgers available? It jarred with what I'd read the day before in his new book, advice from the man himself to buy fresh, organic, and local. I looked back at the menu, talked it over with Frank, and picked the Shroomage ($9) with some fries ($3). "This one better be amazing," I thought. I was famished.
While waiting, we talked over the interior design and location. What struck me was that this seemed about as far from Symon's other restaurants as one could get. Lola opened as an extremely high-class place in the middle of an area experiencing "redevelopment"; Lolita picked up Lola's special spot in Tremont. They set the standard for the areas, too; next to Lola, for example, La Strada - otherwise quite attractive - looks tawdry. Downtown and Tremont are nicer now, but there are still some parts that don't feel that good or that safe - that still feel a little gritty, even though they've been mostly gentrified. The Shops at Eton Place are the polar opposite - Chagrin Boulevard is about as white and suburban as one could get. B-Spot seemed to be trying to bring a bit of sanitized grit to the neighborhood, but the exposed metal, the beer cans, the stag chandelier all felt fake, non-Symonesque. More confusions came out: while B-Spot has a high-school diner throwback atmosphere to it, when we were there, it was patronized almost exclusively by families and older couples and staffed by 20- and 30-somethings. This, I realized, was the true Symon franchise; Lola is patronized by businesspeople, Lolita by older hipsters. Neither can be copied and then exported with ease. B-Spot is the version that he can replicate and take to every mall in America if he wants to. However, looking around Eton, it started to feel more ridiculous - B-Spot is sandwiched between Barnes & Noble, The Powder Room Makeup Oasis and Boutique and Europa International Salon-Spa. I began to have visions of the genesis of the restaurant: a middle-aged suburban housewife was married to a successful businessman. They have connections, and, somewhat bored, she decided to get Michael Symon to open up a restaurant nearer to her 10-acre lot so that she wouldn't have to travel so far to eat his brand. They put up some money, he signed off on their design and Coldstone Creamery closed. I looked to the right and recognized them: next to us were a 50-something couple, drinking beer and sharing a salad. It was simply a wide, shallow bowl of lettuce, with a few rings of onions, a tomato, mushroom and feta cheese on top, perhaps with olive oil and vinegar. Frank's face scrunched up when they started moaning orgasmically with every bite; Symon had apparently hit their B-Spots. "It's just a bowl of lettuce," Frank hissed at me.
The burger and fries arrived. The small portion of Lola fries were good, but nothing stupendous, and certainly not worth $3 - McDonald's up the street could have sprinkled rosemary on theirs and it would have been as tasty for far less. We sampled the six sauces which were placed in front of us in squeeze bottles and rejected them all - most were apparently house-made, but all tasted heavily of powdered curry. The fries were better on their own. Biting into the burger, juice squirted out - a good sign. However, after chewing through a strong charcoal flavor, I was left with sticky bread smeared across my teeth. "Excuse me," I said to the bartender, "what kind of bun is this?" "Orlando Egg," he replied, grinning widely. Orlando? Imagine another celebrity chef proudly embracing boca burgers and mass-produced buns in his restaurant. Perhaps it wasn't even pride - perhaps he was flaunting it to other celebrity chefs, showing them how powerful his name was: who else but Michael Symon could sell a boca burger on Orlando bread for $7? I kept eating, determined to find something to like about the sandwich. Burger, bun, griddled onions, portabella mushroom cap...I swore there was supposed to be another topping. Only in the last two bites was I reminded what that something was: bleu cheese. It was strong, but there was just a tiny pocket of it, nestled within the onions, and not enough to flavor more than those two bites. Frank had a bite of my burger and a few fries; later, she said that she entered hungry and left not wanting to eat. I finished, left a tip and we left.
On the way out, we passed families and couples seated around tables, most not talking. They were all waiting, with the sort of blank, expectant stares one might see at political rallies or tent revivals. They were there to worship Symon. I felt like we had temporarily joined a mass movement but were escaping the fold, losing only 40 minutes and $15. I wanted to cry out to them to stop, to be critical, to think about what they were doing. I didn't fear for their safety, though; Kool-Aid wasn't listed among the available drinks.